Friday, June 18, 2010

Batgirl #11 Reviewed

After the dark, threatening close to Batgirl #10 this, the third of the four part 'The Flood' story-arc, opens with quite a different tone, and it's immediately clear not everything is as it at first seems ...

Barbara Gordon wakes from her nights sleep with a bit of a start and sits up in her bed as Dick Grayson enters the room, gives her a kiss and urges her to get up and dressed. As her extended family relax, Barbara is racing around the kitchen preparing what appears to be a Thanksgiving dinner, accompanied by the sound of a complaining young Damian Wayne and the loving words and embrace of her father.

Throughout these scenes of happy family life Babs questions to herself what she's seeing, what she's feeling and as happy as she is she knows something is wrong. Moments later she's reminded of her friend Stephanie Brown and there's a somewhat familiar visitor to her front door ...

Cutting to the Calculators compound, deep in Slaughter Swamp, we witness the motionless body of Barbara, laid out on an examination table, with the Calculator sat alongside her talking to the decomposing body of his late son Marvin.

Appreciating that Barbara may be the key to some of his unanswered questions, Calculator plugs himself into his own laboratory equipment that is in turn connected to Barbara with the intention of seeing or reading Babs thoughts.

Over at the Gotham Port Authority Stephanie Brown - Batgirl - has evaded capture by the massed ranks of Calculator's zombies and has been pursued by an equally 'possessed' Man-Bat. Out-running her assailant Steph takes a minute to catch her breath, only to find herself snagged by another familiar adversary - and this time it's Catwoman.

Acutely aware that her priority has to be to help Barbara and that time is not on their side, Steph draws on her inner strength, fights back and with a swift blow sends her opponent to the ground. As one 'zombie' danger is averted another appears - Huntress, or as Stephanie herself acknowledges '... questionable-morals-action-Huntress'!

As her next challenger steps forward Steph gets an unexpected incoming message over her comms unit - Wendy Harris, who we saw trapped at Firewall in the previous issue. While continuing to combat Huntress Steph and Wendy clumsily, awkwardly, introduce one-another before we get a possible glimpse of Wendy's future as the young woman activates the surveillance functionality of the Firewall's computer, attempts to guide Steph to safety and then in turn traces Calculator's location.

While Wendy considers what else, if anything, she can do to help rescue Oracle, Stephanie has more immediate problems on her hands - she's been tracked by Man-Bat ... surely she can't escape this time?

While Stephanie fights for her own safety we return to Barbara who is engaged in a fight of her own as she is confronted by the thoughts of Calculator. Set in a library housing Barbara's memories and experiences she fights to keep her intruder at a distance.

Returning to ... well, returning to reality and as the rain gets heavier and the sky is lit by lightning and the sound of thunder we see the silhouette of Batgirl and Man-Bat fighting high above Gotham Harbor. Realising that perhaps she's more than met her match on this occasion Stephanie looks for an escape when, again, the voice of Wendy Harris echos across the comms link.

As Steph looks down on an airfield runway she's taken aback to see The Ricochet - a vehicle she's more than familiar with of course - piloted by none other than Wendy herself.

Having freed herself from the clutches of Man-Bat, Steph jumps to the ground where she's met by Wendy - and with hoards of zombies closing in on them Stephanie realises they have only one option is they are to ensure their own safety and rescue Barbara ...

Despite limited appearances throughout this issue, for me Barbara was undoubtedly the star of Batgirl #11. A real highlight in this issue were the Barbara 'dream' or 'thought' sequences - I find them difficult to describe so fully appreciate Bryan Q. Miller's vision and imagination to conceive and write these - particularly the chapter of this tale where Babs and Calculator fight over her thoughts and memories which I thought was possibly some of the best writing we've seen in this series to date.

What's absolutely clear to me is that Miller 'gets' Barbara - or perhaps I should say the Barbara he writes rings true for me: her strengths, her weaknesses, her fears, her ambitions and her regrets - as I say, some of the best writing I feel we've seen so far.

Personally I found the 'Batgirl versus Catwoman versus Huntress versus Man-Bat' scenes just a little drawn out although I concede that this gave us an opportunity to see Wendy Harris come to the fore and possibly give us a taste of things to come. To this point she's felt somewhat redundant amongst the supporting cast and, on the basis that the character is likely to around for a while I welcomed seeing her particular role developed.

On artwork duties we've again been spoiled to have such a talented team on the book. As I feel we saw with an earlier issue of Batgirl, having more than one artist work on an issue doesn't necessarily work but the respective styles of Lee Garbett and Pere Perez are uniquely different (if I'm right in suggesting that Garbett drew the first half of the book up to the Babs 'thoughts' sequence) and yet at the same time complementary. If indeed Perez is taking on art duties when Garbett moves on then I believe the book, and it's readers, are in safe hands. Returning to the 'dream' sequences for a moment, again credit must go to the artists for their respective interpretations - I particularly enjoyed Perez's portrayal of Babs in the library scene.

Furthermore, an acknowledgement is due also to Walden Wong for his bold sharp inks throughout the first half of the book and likewise to Guy Major for his sensitive colouring - most definitely a feature of his time on Batgirl. With another eye-catching, if in places little busy, cover from Stanley 'Artgerm' Lau creation of this book is truly a team effort.

Another hugely enjoyable adventure from the Batgirl creative team - this issue felt a little like the calm before the storm (no pun intended) that I'm expecting with the final part of this story-arc.

Batgirl #11
Written by Bryan Q. Miller, pencils by Lee Garbett and Pere Perez, inks by Walden Wong and Pere Perez, colours by Guy Major, letters by Travis Lanham, cover by Stanley 'Artgerm' Lau
Published by DC Comics, 32 pages, $2.99

As always when I review Batgirl I'd like to point you in the direction of a couple of great sites that will appeal to anyone with an interest in the Batman family. In addition to carrying my reviews of Batgirl and Birds of Prey you'll find all sorts of Batman and Batgirl-related news, commentary and conversation over at The Batman Universe Editorials blog - part of The Batman Universe network, and at The Batgirl to Oracle Podcast message board.