Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Batgirl #6 Reviewed

As regular readers will know my reviews of the current Batgirl series are published each month over at The Batman Universe editorials site - here's my review for the latest issue:

Batgirl #6

It's felt like a long month since turning the last page of Batgirl #5 and seeing Stephanie Brown, lying on the floor, having been shot in the head. Sure, I knew she'd be okay but I was genuinely taken-aback by the conclusion of the issue and I was looking forward to seeing how the story continued.

Batgirl #6 - Batgirl Rising, Core Requirements, part 2 of 3 - begins with Stephanie dropping in and out of consciousness as she receives treatment in the back of a Gothmed ambulance. As one painful memory after another crosses her mind she wakes with a start on the realization that she's been shot.

With Stephanie 'missing in action' Barbara Gordon is back at the Batcave scanning the emergency service radio frequencies for information about her whereabouts when her systems lock onto the codename that Stephanie gives the medics. Realising that the ambulance is heading to West Mercy Hospital - where Steph's mother works - Barbara distracts (and this is the understatement of the year!) the medics long enough for Stephanie to escape their attention.

Atop the Gotham Police HQ Commissioner Gordon, accompanied by Detective Nick Gage, meets with Batman to discuss the kidnapping of young Francisco Gracia. From a neighbouring building Stephanie - now dressed as Batgirl - spies on them before being interrupted by the young Robin. As we discovered in issue #5, the two just can't get along and inevitably start bickering - with hilarious results! Forced to intervene Dick - in 'guardian' mode - breaks the pair apart and sends them both away for a time-out.

Furious with his young associates behaviour Dick is reminded by Barbara that Stephanie and Damian aren't the first Batgirl and Robin to have trouble getting along ... a comment both Dick and Barbara immediately regret as, for a moment, the mood between them turns sour.

Having temporarily settled their differences, at least enough to semi-agree on a plan, Stephanie and Damian break into Jordanna Spence's apartment and confront Francisco's girlfriend - what does she know about his disappearance? Why aren't the kidnappers demanding a ransom? Where is he?

In the meantime, Dick finds himself under attack as he pilots the Batmobile high over Devil's Square. As he reacts to avoid a collision he discovers his attacker is none other than Roxanne Sutton - 'Roxy Rocket' - who sends a figure resembling Francisco Gracia tumbling to earth. Rescuing the young man Dick discovers it's not Francisco but Freddie 'Riot' Frankenstein who in turn replicates and begins attacking the Batmobile.

As Dick struggles to keep his vehicle airborne we witness an angry roof-top exchange between Francisco and his father in which the older man explains that he knows he's made mistakes in his life but his plan will help him to clear his debts. As Jordanna had earlier told Stephanie, Gracia Senior is a gambler, often doing very well, and just as often very badly ... he's in debt to 'Roulette' and his only release is to help her.

Elsewhere, with the Batmobile grounded and Dick injured, Barbara orders Stephanie and Damian, who along with Jordanna are following Roulette's plans to hunt down and kill Batman via an on-line video feed, to find Dick and bring him home.

Once again, another great - fun - issue of Batgirl. Without wanting to dismiss the storyline itself, which is certainly strong enough to maintain my interest, at the moment the true joy in this book for me is following the 'cast' as they develop their individual and group personalities.

The bickering, or banter, between Stephanie and Damian is brilliantly written by Brian Q. Miller and one of the highlights throughout this issue. Carrying on like brother and sister, their verbal dueling is genuinely funny and it must be said, at times quite charming - Stephanie describing Damian/Robin as a 'little badger' and Damian responding to Stephanie's declaration that she's been shot in the head by replying that she's got brain damage and he's not surprised had me chuckling.

The art throughout the issue, literally from cover to cover, is magnificent. I can't at the moment think of a book that's offering better interior art than we're seeing from Lee Garbett and Phil Noto's covers are great: I loved the sense of mischief between Stephanie and Damian as they are interrupted by Dick on this cover. Take a look at the look on Damian's face - he's startled that he's been discovered but at the same time he just can't hide the joy he's feeling!

I enjoyed the 'villains' in this story - Roulette, Riot, Roxy Rocket, and to a lesser extent, Doctor Phosphorous - and I'm looking forward to seeing them hunting their prey through the next issue.

Aside from Stephanie and Damian's relationship I again enjoyed the exchanges between Barbara and Dick and the way the mood between them quickly swings from affection, to irritation and back again to affection. I struggled somewhat to understand Barbara's actions in preventing the ambulance carrying Stephanie from reaching the hospital - would she really make the vehicle crash and risk injuring the medics, passers-by or an already injured Stephanie? I don't think so and this 'misjudgement', so early in the issue, troubled me throughout my read. Likewise, the ease with which Stephanie (or more to the point Mr Miller) shook-off the gun-shot wound to the head was a little ... unsatisfactory - clearly I was relieved she was okay but I did feel just a little cheated after the jolt with which the previous issue ended.

These criticisms aside, this really was another excellent issue of Batgirl - great writing, quality artwork, fun without ever being silly, a real 'page-turner' that at the same time satisfied me and left me wanting more: quite possibly the most enjoyable book I'm picking up at the moment.

Batgirl #6
Written by Bryan Q. Miller, art by Lee Garbett & Trevor Scott, cover by Phil Noto
DC Comics, 32 pages, $2.99

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