Sunday, December 20, 2009

Batgirl #5 Reviewed

About half-way through reading this book and it occurred to me - and I might be the only person who this hadn't previously occurred to - Batgirl is a TEAM book.

I'm not talking particularly about Batgirl being part of the 'Bat-family' but it occurred to me that, for me at least, the character 'Batgirl' is Stephanie Brown AND Barbara Gordon - both of them. At the same time.

I think it was the use of the word 'I' in Barbara's narrative, just a couple of pages after Stephanie had said the same, that helped me realise this - I'm not sure if it's a technique that's been used in the previous issues or whether I just hadn't noticed it - and it's part of the reason I'm enjoying the book so much.

Issue #5, Core Requirements, part one of three, opens in Devil's Square as the city Fire Department tackle a huge fire that has engulfed a social-housing project known as the Gracia Global Housing Development. On hand to witness the destruction is 'Real Estate Mogul' Stefano Gracia along with his son, Stephanie Brown's university class-mate Francisco.

At the same time, Commissioner Jim Gordon and Fire-Chief Nguyen are talking about the blaze with Nguyen remarking that he'd never seen flames quite like these and he hoped none of Gordon's 'men' were inside the building.

No men, but there is a girl inside the building - Batgirl of course! - and she's certainly got her hands full wrestling with 'Diesel', a giant of a creature who is spraying gasoline, flame-thrower like, in her direction. With Barbara on the comms-link offering support, Stephanie turns to 'Mama Oracle's secret weapon': freeze-batarangs!

Unable to contain Diesel for long, it looks like the situation is getting out of hand for Stephanie as Barbara warns her that 'company' is on the way. Thinking this means the police Stephanie is surprised - 'offended' she says - to discover that the company is none other than Batman and Robin. With three-on-one Diesel doesn't stand a chance and is eventually overcome and knocked to the ground. With Robin pounding Diesel, Batman realises there's a gasoline leak ... 'Batgirl to the rescue'.

Later, Barbara and Dick are back at base discussing - arguing mainly - the events of the evening with Dick questioning Barbara's judgement of Stephanie's abilities. Barbara reminds him that his own 'protégé' doesn't have a great track record either. With tempers now at boiling point Barbara pushes Dick just a little too hard - as he storms off he warns her that if she doesn't control Stephanie, he will.

Another day, and we're with Stephanie in the library at Gotham U where she overhears - 'earwigs' where I come from! - the aforementioned Francisco and his friend Jordanna discussing the building fire and the loyalty he feels towards his father. As Jordanna leaves, Stephanie sees an opportunity to find out more and asks if there's anything she can help with. Taking in some fresh air, Francisco feels that Stephanie is prying just a bit too much about his father before realising that they are being followed ... Damian.

Across town Barbara is waiting for her father when she's spotted by Detective Nick Gage who is also there to meet with Commissioner Gordon - they've been set up! After some very brief flirting the two start bickering before Gage grabs his coat and leaves, with Barbara realising that she's still frustrated from her earlier row with Dick.

Later that evening, Stephanie discovers Francisco sat alone in a diner. Changing into some clothes hastily borrowed from Barbara she says 'hi' just as a gang of masked gunmen enter. Despite Francisco's instructions to leave she tackles the raiders only to find herself outnumbered ...

This was another cracking read from the Miller/Garbett/Scott creative team. Yes, some of Stephanie's dialogue appears a little clichéd but for me that part of her charm, she's 'storming': trying to prove to others - and herself - that she's confident and up to the job. Besides, she's still a young girl, what else should we expect? As I've suggested before, I'm really enjoying Barbara's role in the book and what's more I'm enjoying seeing the Stephanie/Barbara relationship develop.

The inclusion of Dick and Damian in this issue made for some interesting character exploration - there felt a tangible undercurrent of tension throughout the scenes involving Dick and Barbara while it's clear that Stephanie and Damian - like bickering siblings - just aren't getting along. My only disappointment with the Stephanie/Damian interaction was that we didn't get to see the results when Damian was 'rescued'!

Furthermore, it'll be interesting to see how the Barbara/Nick Gage relationship grows - with Batgirl possibly having a crush on the detective through the earlier books it could be interesting to see how - if? - this theme develops.

It's often said that there's no such thing as good or bad art, rather there's art that we either enjoy or don't enjoy, and I'm certainly enjoying the art on this book: from Phil Noto's striking, eye-catching covers to the warm, bold - confident - interior artwork and panel layout.

'Team Batgirl' goes from strength to strength.

Batgirl #5
Written by Bryan Q. Miller, art by Lee Garbett & Trevor Scott, cover by Phil Noto
DC Comics, 32 pages, $2.99

As I've mentioned before, my Batgirl reviews are also being published over at
The Batman Universe Editorials blog - part of a great source of news, reviews and discussion for all Bat-fans.