Monday, September 20, 2010

Batgirl #14 Reviewed

As promised I have returned, refreshed and re-energized after a few days away following The Tour of Britain and with my bank balance in a sorry state thanks to a hugely enjoyable day buying comics and 'stuff', as well as meeting creators and fellow comics fans, at the superb Exeter Comic Expo.

I'll write about the Expo in a bit more detail later on this week (I'll spare you the cycling talk unless you're really interested?!) but to get us underway after my break here's my review of Batgirl #14 - while you read this I'll be working my way through a weeks worth of emails and Google reader updates ...

Batgirl #14

We're promised 'Terror in the 3rd Dimension' in Batgirl #14 and as the story opens we see Batgirl - Stephanie Brown - and Supergirl - Kara Zor-El - struggling to release themselves from their captive: as Stephanie explains, she was just hoping for a quiet, normal, evening; kicking back, relaxing with a friend - instead, these friends find themselves in a grip of a monochrome Dracula!

Much earlier, at the Brown household, we are witness to a much calmer scene as the young Stephanie is slumped over the table clearly less than engrossed by the game of Scrabble she is playing with her mother - we're told Babs is away on Birds duty 'again' and new friend Wendy is working back at Firewall.

At that moment the door bell rings and Steph leaps into the air - saved by the bell - apologises to her startled mother and races to the door where she's delighted, relieved probably, to discover her friend Kara, hovering in the air in Supergirl guise. The girls say their hellos as Mrs Brown joins Stephanie at the door - and in the nick of time Kara switches to her 'civvies'.

After some quick introductions the two young women set off for what they hope will be a 'normal' evening - of course there's no chance of that when Batgirl and Supergirl get together!

Having headed to the University campus Kara's enthusiasm gets the better of her as she takes in the sights of sounds of college life. Kara suggests they head to a keg party, have a pillow fight and Steph realises that Kara's experience of college life is, at best, limited.

As the two continue their catch-up they're hit from behind and knocked off their feet by a young man who's in a desperate hurry - as documents litter the air the young man mutters that he's got to get to his lab before ...

As the man scurries away Kara spots the student theatre and discovers they are screening a 3D revival of 'Vampyres Bryde' and talks Steph into going in.

Across campus in the 'requisite super-collider lab' we witness the clumsy, desperate young man who knocked Steph and Kara from their feet arguing with a security guard - it seems that the project is being closed down due to a lack of funds but the man - Newton or Newt - is having none of it: he needs to project to continue to earn credit and if it's results that the authorities are after he'll deliver results he says. As he pulls on a lever the lab equipment - presumably the aforementioned super-collider - comes to life with a rumble, a cloud of smoke or steam before, much to the guard and Newts surprise, overwhelming the pair of them.

Back at the campus theatre a packed audience of students is lapping-up the film: some enjoying it more than others. As Steph and Kara tuck into their popcorn they are blinded (figuratively) by a flash of white light coming from the screen in front of them. Removing her 3D glasses Steph is startled to see a number of figures - Draculas - coming out of the screen and into the theatre. Not realising what was happening Kara continues to marvel at what she believes are the 3D effects of the film before listening to her friend, removing her glasses and agreeing with Steph that the situation calls for a 'team-up'.

With the audience either having fled the audience or being otherwise distracted Batgirl and Supergirl join forces to bring down the first of the Draculas.

Scanning the frozen figure Kara proclaims that the body is empty, literally, as the aforementioned Newt looks on with a mixture of wonder and puzzlement: his experiment - to create a three dimensional construct - appears to have worked as the lab overloaded the theatre, and the film in particular, bore the brunt.

Furthermore (and here's the science) as the film runs at 24 frames a second there would be 24 Draculas on the run! The only way to stop them, it seems, is to drive a control rod into the empty body ...

So, as Batgirl and Supergirl work their way around the city they are able to take care of Dracula after Dracula - until they are left with just one more to find: Dracula number 24, who they eventually track down to a roof top overlooking Gotham City. As the two young women consider their next move they are startled to find their prey has disappeared - only to reappear behind them moments later ... and we're back where the book started with the two friends lives in jeopardy.

Spotting a stake some yards behind them Batgirl and Supergirl manage to wrestle themselves free, grab the weapon and 'shoonk' - the final Dracula is gone.

Some time later, back at the Brown household, Steph and Kara are hanging out in Steph's room: pyjamas on, feathers falling to the ground - there's the pillow fight! As Kara picks up on trouble back home the two friends strike a deal: next time either of them starts to feel alone, they are to give the other a call.

With that Kara is gone and Steph heads down to the kitchen where her mother has prepared breakfast. Making her apologies for bailing on family game night Steph explains to her mother that she really did have the best of evenings.

Three words describe this issue of Batgirl for me: fun, fun, fun! Since I first heard writer Bryan Q. Miller talking about it on episode 10 of Batgirl to Oracle I'd been looking forward to reading the book and it certainly exceeded my expectations.

The story itself very much had the tone of one of those 1950s horror films: the core plot-point, in this case a machine that could create a multi-dimensional object from a one dimensional image, being deliberately over complicated - as demonstrated by Newt's explanation just over halfway through the book in what must be the largest speach bubble in this series to date! - and dare I say 'unbelievable' while maintaining a simple 'goodies versus baddies' theme. That's how, to me at least, the book read and, as I suggest, I thought Mr Miller did a fine job of finding the tone.

I found the 'friendship' theme between Steph and Kara in this issue particularly poignant - I suppose as I've followed her story over the past year I'd assumed Steph was acutely aware of the support that's around her, most notably from Barbara Gordon - and this was a timely reminder that she's still at heart a girl who's finding her way in the world, in her world.

The dialogue throughout this issue was a joy - light, fun, at times throw-away, at times remarkably sensitive without ever feeling unreal, unnecessary or making the individuals look or sound foolish. The early exchange between Steph and Kara, as they strolled the campus grounds was particularly enjoyable as Kara articulated her idea of what a 'normal' evening is for a university student - she really did come across to me as being endearingly naïve at that point. Likewise I enjoyed Kara's behaviour during the screening itself as she clearly hadn't grasped quite what was happening before her eyes - and the comments between herself and Steph when reality dawned!

As is so often the case with this title I appreciated the pacing of the story, from the slow, mundane opening scenes featuring Stephanie and her mother, through the sense of adventure and possibilities as the two friends shared a 'typical' evening out, through the chaos of the overloaded laboratory equipment and the chase for the 'duplicate Draculas' to the once again sedate, calm, genuinely touching scene as the story closed.

Turning my attention to the art throughout this book - what can I say that I haven't said a hundred times before? To say that I'll miss Lee Garbett's pencils on the Batgirl title would be an understatement of massive proportions. From the first issue of the relaunch I immediately connected with Mr Garbett's take on Stephanie, her Batgirl, Barbara ... the 'tone' of the Batgirl series comes as much from his fine, detailed, delicate pencils as much as Mr Miller's fluid writing, Trevor Scott's inks, the fantastic colouring of Guy Major, Travis Lanham's lettering and the eye catching covers of Stanley Lau and Phil Noto.

Lee Garbett's eye, and talent, for detail is evident throughout every panel - from the oft-acknowledged emotive facial expressions, tone-defining and fluid movement and the often beautiful locations. As has been stated numerous times before I consider that we've been truly blessed that Mr Garbett was tasked with defining the look and visual 'feel' of Stephanie Brown and of Batgirl ... as he now leaves the book with this issue I'd like to express my gratitude for a job incredibly well done, I look forward to following his work on his next book and I look forward to perhaps one day seeing him return to the title.

Throughout the series we've been treated to a number of exceptional covers and this issue is a fine example of this - if you were looking at the cover in a shop or on-line how could you not want to buy this book? It screams of something different, something unique with the two heroines front and centre surrounded by identical monochrome Dracula's, with an illuminated theatre (cinema) display supporting a pair of 3D glasses!

If, by some remote possibility you haven't already jumped on board with Batgirl then now would be a great time. This is a fantastic, stand-alone issue that gives a subtle insight into the mind-set of the central character and introduces a very welcome 'guest star' wrapped around what was a hugely enjoyable, engaging story.

Top marks to all involved.

Batgirl #14
Written by Bryan Q. Miller, pencils by Lee Garbett, inks by Trevor Scott, colours by Guy Major, letters by Travis Lanham, cover by Stanley 'Artgerm' Lau
Published by DC Comics, November 2010