Thursday, July 22, 2010

Batgirl #12 Reviewed

This issue of Batgirl has very much a 'coming of age' feel about it as we witnessed the concluding part of the 'Batgirl Rising: The Flood' story-arc and with it the end of Stephanie Brown's first year in the role of Batgirl.

Having leapt from an aircraft piloted by Wendy Harris at the close of issue #10 this issue opens with Stephanie plunging towards Calculator's compound in deep in Slaughter Swamp. In the compound, she knows, is Oracle - Barbara Gordon - who's being held captive.

As Steph's parachute opens she reminds herself of the magnitude of the task in hand and her responsibilities to her friend Barbara - the one person who's ever really cared about her - and just as importantly to herself, as she reminds us who she is ... Batgirl!

Inside the compound, and more precisely inside Calculator's mind, we see a young Noah Kuttler imprisoned in a cage. As Babs - or a least Kuttler's impression of Babs - approaches the small child she's violently attacked from behind and sent tumbling to the floor.

Elsewhere, Stephanie has entered the compound only to be faced with some elaborate - and life threatening - security measures. Wendy meanwhile, is in communication with Steph from high above the compound. Bemoaning that she isn't able to help more Wendy wistfully recalls the motivation for her and her brother to run away from home and join the Teen Titans: to protect the world from men like her father, the Calculator.

As Steph skillfully evades the first of the deadly security measures she stumbles - literally - upon the lifeless body of Marvin, Wendy's brother. No doubt sensing the emotion in Wendy's voice Steph questions whether she ought to have said anything to Wendy at that time. Wendy meanwhile, with tears running down her cheeks, comes to a decision - she feels she can't help Steph while she's piloting the aircraft - and warns Steph not to touch anything for fear that her father has planned further deterrents.

Too late!

Elsewhere in the compound, and still in Kuttler's mind, he and Babs tumble through an apartment door - 'You stole my daughter from me' he accuses Babs, 'I saved her from you' she retorts. Moments later the physical and verbal tussle is interrupted by a crying baby - or more to the point two crying babies. Immediately realising what this 'vision' represents Kuttler discovers the bloodied body of his wife who had taken her own life. With her attacker momentarily distracted Babs seizes the opportunity to distance herself and begins the search for a way to separate her thoughts from those of the Calculator.

However, with their thoughts immediately rejoined Babs witnesses Calculator beating up on a bound and bloodied Kid Eternity, while moments later he's seated and calmly explaining that he can, and will, end their mental ordeal - and that he has no intention that either of them will survive the evening.

'Back in the real world' and Stephanie has discovered the device that will, in a matter of seconds, terminate Calculator's army of drones ... and in turn potentially destroy Gotham City. Unable to reach Wendy on the comms unit Stephanie takes aim with her grappling gun, fires into the device and yanks its core away.

Catastrophe averted? Sort of. With the device disabled Steph faces a second, altogether more challenging opponent - a giant 'creature' formed from power or data cables. As the creature targets Steph she's aware of tremendous crashing noise as Wendy plunges her aircraft into the compound, taking out the creature at the same time.

With nothing now to stop them Stephanie and Wendy set out to find Barbara and rescue her from the Calculator. Having done so Wendy - once again with streams of tears on her face - makes sure that her father 'won't be bothering anyone for a very long time'.

Later on, outside Gotham City University, Babs and Stephanie talk about their ordeal - Kuttler is in New Arkham, everyone who had been infected no longer remembers and Steph acknowledges that without Babs to lean on for support she was grateful for Wendy's backup. As Nick Gage arrives to meet Babs Steph excuses herself and joins Wendy who, while looking over a family photograph album, talks of needing a fresh start in life. Steph, clearly understanding where Wendy is coming from, offers her support.

Time passes and we find ourselves with Steph - again as Batgirl - in Devil's Square where she encounters a somewhat comedic villain named Blimp Master. Relaying this information back to their 'Firewall' base Babs reveals that Wendy - appropriately enough code-named Proxy - will stand in to help Steph on those occasions that she - Oracle - is unavailable.

Batgirl Rising concludes with a scene in a cell at Gotham Central Lockup where the occupant - Johnny C, last seen I believe in issue #9 - chillingly declares that he's looking forward to seeing Batgirl again because 'she's gonna need all the help she can get' ...

As I say, this certainly felt like a 'landmark' issue, in the same way that a 50th or 100th issue of a book feels different to a 51st or 99th, and as such I've found this a difficult issue to review in isolation and therefore found myself looking at it in the context of such a landmark.

Over the past year we've followed Stephanie and Barbara on what has been a challenging and, at times, uncomfortable journey. A year ago Steph and Babs set out without apparently knowing where they wanted to go - or even sure of their motivation for making the journey - and along the way there have been harsh words, any number of 'I'm out of my depth' situations, lots of bickering, plenty of laughter - to the point that through the pages of this particular issue it's clear that both women now have a clearer picture of what the future holds for them.

We've seen Steph's confidence in herself and her abilities grow and at the same time we've witnessed Barbara's willingness to trust and believe in the new Batgirl.

The inclusion of Calculator as the central villain in this story-arc felt to me, at first, just a little predictable but as the story unfolded I came to appreciate the opportunities his inclusion permitted - Barbara's complicated past, Wendy ultimately breaking out from under her father's shadow, Steph appreciating the parallels with her own father ...

Speaking of Wendy! With her initial, albeit at times brief, appearances in the series it became apparent that she was destined to play a more significant role in Steph and Bab's lives and sure enough, as predicted, she's set to become Batgirl's new 'handler' on those occasions when Barbara is 'unavailable'. I most definitely welcome her inclusion in the Batgirl team and I'm looking forward to seeing her character develop.

I can't say that I've particularly warmed to Wendy's personality so far but then I think it's fair to say that Wendy herself hasn't been particularly fond of herself. Through the pages of this issue I believe we've seen a change in Wendy's outlook on life and as she again learns to like herself the reader will have the chance to do likewise.

From the very first issue the books creative team - on this issue Bryan Q. Miller, Lee Garbett, Pere Perez and Waldon Wong - have consistently found the right tone: fun, funny, purposeful without ever taking itself too seriously and this issue maintains that tradition. I enjoy Mr Miller's writing technique of using of a few words of dialogue as scene transitions and, not for the first time, the 'I'm Batgirl' declaration at the start of the book gives us an insight into Steph's mindset. This time I felt the words were spoken with steel and determination whereas earlier in the series Steph appeared to use them as much to remind herself as inform the reader.

As with the previous issue I appreciated the 'thought' sequences - they may not have made for an easy read at times but they were in themselves quite thought provoking and I found them all the more powerful on second or third read.

I'm not too sure about the idea of Wendy crashing her jet into the compound to aid Stephanie - any more than I was sure about Barbara remotely crashing an ambulance in an earlier issue - but if these instances are the closest the book comes to 'silly' moments then I'm prepared to go with it.

The artwork throughout this issue is, as expected, magnificent: Lee Garbett, inked by Waldon Wong, and Pere Perez make a great team and I think we're lucky to have such talented artists working on the book. I particularly enjoyed the 'I'm Batgirl' splash page early in the book - I love the expression of determination on Batgirl's face - and I found the scenes with Wendy and Steph sitting under a tree getting to know one another really quite touching.

Continuing the theme, Stanley 'Artgerm' Lau provided another superb cover showing Batgirl bloodied, customer torn and yet with a smile that speaks to me of her determination and satisfaction. [Note to DC: this would make a fabulous poster!]

Once again we have been treated to a really great read from what has become a really great series. If there is a better, more enjoyable series being published at the moment then I've not seen it.

It's been a good year to be a Batgirl fan - here's to the coming 12 months.

Batgirl #12
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 John J. Hill, 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 Batgirl to Oracle Podcast message board and The Batman Universe Editorials - part of The Batman Universe network.