Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Batgirl #10 Reviewed

When I discovered that regular, and one of my favourite, artists Lee Garbett was being joined by a second artist - Pere Perez - for this issue I was, I have to be honest, a little concerned. No sooner had I recognised and acknowledged that Batgirl was pretty much everything I could want from a comic book along came change - issue #8 featured a new artistic team and left me disappointed and while the last issue saw a return to form I still had reservations.

Thankfully I needn't have worried.

Batgirl returns with the second part of a four-part story arc - Batgirl Rising: The Flood. With the rain still falling the issue opens deep in Slaughter Swamp, Calculator's deceptively spacious base of operations, where in the shadow of a huge satellite dish and transmitter Calculator himself is chatting away - partly I suspect to himself but also to the lifeless body of his late son Marvin - about his plans to, as he sees it, teach Oracle a 'lesson in humility'.

On the roof-tops of Gotham City, meanwhile, an unsettled Batgirl - Stephanie Brown - is on patrol. She's unsettled because Barbara Gordon, working back at the Batcave while in constant communication with Steph, is herself unsettled - neither woman is too sure quite what's unfolding before them, just that something bad is just around the corner.

As their conversation continues, Stephanie intervenes to break up a gang of motorcyclists who are harassing some young women. In between delivering kicks and punches it becomes clear to Steph that the history Barbara shares with the Calculator is at the heart of her concerns. Conscious that she's a target Barbara urges Stephanie that for her own safety she ought to keep a low profile - maybe underestimating Steph's abilities to look after herself. Maybe sensing the scale of the danger ahead.

Later, at Gotham City University, Detective Nick Gage has called on Assistant Professor Barbara Gordon: trying the door and realising that Babs isn't around Gage lets himself in. As curiosity gets the better of him he inspects a file that's open on the desk - and realises he and Barbara have a mutual friend as he discovers a newspaper cutting featuring some of Stephanie's recent exploits as Batgirl.

Lost in his thoughts for a moment Gage doesn't realise that he's no longer alone in the room and Stephanie surprises him as she introduces herself. When the two had met previously Stephanie was in Batgirl mode and she's relieved that Gage clearly doesn't recognise her. Given that she - as Batgirl - and Gage had been flirtatious towards one another previously Steph becomes more than a little embarrassed as Gage hints at his burgeoning friendship with Barbara and she quickly changes the subject.

Across the city Wendy Harris has entered the lift in Barbara's apartment building and, with the help of a laptop computer has overridden security protocol and is heading for the sub-basement. As the lift heads down Wendy finds herself musing over the curious things she's encountered recently - Professor Gordon is up to something, 'that Stephanie girl', Tim 'Wayne ... or Drake', 'ninjas' and as the doors open she discovers she's been led to Firewall - the new Oracle control-centre.

Back in Slaughter Swamp the clock ticks down ... three, two, one ... and Calculator ignites his plan to teach Oracle a lesson.

Returning to the Computer Science Lab at Gotham U. and with her back turned towards the class, with her students concentrating on their computer screens and mobile phones Barbara is unaware of the strange zombie-like behaviour that's overcome her audience ... 'target acquired'. In the hallway Stephanie passes an equally strangely behaving Jordanna ... 'target acquired'.

The order is given: 'detain the target'. Turning to discover that she's under attack Barbara strikes out to protect herself as Stephanie - now in uniform - joins the fight before fleeing from the building with Barbara. As they make their way towards the car park they realise that they're outnumbered and surrounded. As the zombies engulf them Barbara is knocked to the ground and urges Batgirl to save herself and run - Batgirl of course refuses to do any such thing as she continues to fight back. As the issue closes we see Barbara's 'frozen' body lifted high above the heads of her attackers and carried away as Batgirl loses her footing, falls to the ground before discovering that she and Barbara have been fighting with some very familiar faces.

As I've already indicated I certainly enjoyed this book. Whereas the series as a whole so far has focused quite heavily on characters and their development this issue featured a lot more action than we've been used to and as such the book felt faster-paced and a little darker - menacing even.

For what is a fun, even light read, the Batgirl title demands commitment from me as a reader I find. I enjoy Bryan Q. Miller's 'layered' approach to storytelling - by layered I'm referring to the practice of overlapping narration and dialogue from one scene to the next - and it works particularly well in this issue as we jump about from location to location.

The artwork styles of Garbett and Perez complemented one another - different enough to be distinctive without being so different that the book felt disjointed. Maybe had they both been drawing the same same characters then a lack of consistency might have been exposed but (if I've followed the artwork correctly) with Perez drawing the 'middle third' of the book this pitfall was neatly avoided.

Once again Stanley Lau delivered a superb cover for this issue - although I generally prefer a 'cleaner', less busy look and did appreciate what I saw as a nod towards those great comic book covers of the 50's and 60's that screamed drama and excitement at the reader.

Although a fairly low-key scene I enjoyed the early exchange between Barbara and Stephanie. It's clear from Babs words and demeanor that she knows how much she hurt Calculator and, of course, how much he hurt her and the Birds of Prey.

In a similar vein I enjoyed the scenes between Detective Gage and Stephanie where Steph so nearly let on that the two had previously met. I thought the panels where we saw a shy and blushing Steph were particularly sweet - another reminder that she's still a young girl - and I also enjoyed the 'coded' conversation that the two enjoyed where Steph told Gage that it wasn't just Babs that was looking out for him.

The appearances of Wendy Harris continue to tease - just what have the creative team got in store for her? I'm convinced she's got a role to play in the book - I think I've said before that I suspect she's being lined-up as Stephanie's handler - but we'll just have to wait and see.

What I do know is it was nice to see her smiling for once!

As an aside, I enjoyed the appearance of a couple of 'notes from the editor' in this book - while such notes might be considered a little unnecessary by some for me it's an acknowledgement that every comic is someones first comic and an indication that the creators value their new and old readers alike.

Another excellent issue from the Batgirl team - if there's a better combination of great characters, strong writing and distinctive, eye-catching artwork being published at the moment then I've not come across it: highly recommended.

Batgirl #10
Written by Bryan Q. Miller with art by Lee Garbett and Pere Perez, cover by Stanley "Artgerm" Lau
Published by DC Comics, 32 pages, $2.99

DC have published an eight-page preview along with the solicitation for Batgirl #10 at their website.

My reviews of Batgirl are also published at The Batman Universe Editorials blog - part of The Batman Universe network, and over at The Batgirl to Oracle Podcast message board.