A Shadow of the Batgirl Deep Dive – Opportunities and Errors

TITLE: Shadow of the Batgirl
AUTHOR: Sarah Kuhn
ARTISTS:
Nicole Goux, Cris Peter (Colorist), Janice Chiang w/Saida Temofonte (Letterers)
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Graphic Novels For Young Adults
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: January 29, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

There’s always been something special about the Cassandra Cain character. A certain X-factor that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s her unique origin story. Or the fact that she initially couldn’t communicate the same way everyone else did. Maybe it’s the diversity element. In the late ’90s, she was a young Asian girl among Batman’s other apprentices, who were primarily white males with dark hair. Perhaps it’s all that and more.

In any event, Cass may not be the most popular Batgirl there’s ever been. But she has a special connection with her fans. Thus, I was pleased to see her get the YA graphic novel treatment.

I enjoyed Shadow of the Batgirl. It’s a fresh and modern look at Cassandra Cain, and I’d argue the young-adult lens is perfect fit for her. But the book has some blaring flaws that I can’t seem to get past.

Cass’ origin is essentially unchanged. She’s the daughter of world-famous assassin David Cain, who trained her since birth to become a living weapon. Her regimen was so all-encompassing that she never learned to speak. Her language was combat. But when she runs away from that life to start anew in Gotham City, she must discover for herself who Cassandra Cain really is. But she won’t do it alone. She’ll have help from a few new friends. One of whom, a librarian named Barbara Gordon, knows quite a bit about the legendary Batgirl…

The Barbara Gordon stuff goes exactly where you think it’s going to go. Actually, Shadow of the Batgirl as a whole goes where you think it’s going to go. Which isn’t a bad thing. It hits all the right notes for a story about a young hero trying to find herself.

What’s more, Nicole Goux’s art is a tremendous fit for Cass. I don’t know if I’d call it “edgy,” as the promo copy on the back of the book does. But there’s an obvious Eastern influence to her work which fits the character like a glove. Personally, I found Goux’s art to be better suited to the dramatic and the dynamic. Her action sequences have a hard-hitting feel to them. Naturally, that’s an awesome quality to have if you’re working on Cass. Generally speaking, if Cass was fighting or moody, Goux was at home. Colorist Cris Peter also deserves a lot of credit for complimenting Goux’s work so well. His palette is a few shades darker than standard, and a little bit deeper. When Cass is in the dark, the result is delightfully moody.

While Cass’ supporting cast could easily have consisted of just Barbara, perhaps making for a more intimate feel between mentor and student, Sarah Kuhn fleshes out our supporting cast. Case in point, noodle shop owner and resident wise old sage Jackie Fujikawa Yoneyama. She’s got a nice Mr. Miyagi feel to her, offering wisdom, guidance, and even discipline to our young heroine. Like a surrogate parent, or the book’s answer to Alfred. Generally speaking, I enjoyed Jackie’s scenes a lot.

I was less fond of Erik, our love interest. There’s nothing wrong with him, per se. He just doesn’t do much to stand out. I’ll give Kuhn credit for making him sensitive and even a bit vulnerable, in contrast to Cass’ remarkable physical prowess. But other than that, he’s really only there to be pined over.

While very much enjoyable, for my money Shadow of the Batgirl has one major problem, one minor problem, and also misses a big opportunity

The minor problem involves Cass’ Batgirl costume. Not the thrown-together one we see her wear for a good portion of the book (shown at left). Rather, it’s the one she ends up with at the end. The one that’s supposed to be her officially-endorsed costume. Granted there’s a makeshift quality to that one as well, as Cass makes it herself. But the book lacks that all important awe-inspiring moment where she takes the legacy and the grandeur of Batgirl on her shoulders. Come to think of it, Cass’ original Batgirl costume wasn’t much to write home about either.

The major issue, at least in my mind, is almost funny. But it annoyed me and left me scratching my head for the first half of the book. When she first comes to Gotham, Cass creates a home for herself at the library. It’s there that Barbara is teaching a young writers class. The subject of which, at least while Cass happens to be watching, is Batgirl. We hear Babs say things like, “There’s nothing boring about Batgirl – she’s a hero!” and call her “Gotham City’s beloved daughter.”

In Shadow, Barbara is in her wheelchair but has yet to become the information broker to superheroes known as Oracle. The book doesn’t tell us what put her in the chair, but it seems like she’s still grieving. Thus, I could understand her using this writing class to work through some of her feelings about not being Batgirl anymore. The problem is the book never refers to it as such. So when we find out Babs’ secret, it feels very strange. Even egotistical. Certainly not behavior befitting either a hero or mentor.

Sadly, the book’s worst offense is that it doesn’t capitalize on what really made Cassandra Cain special in the first place. She wasn’t just unique amongst the Batman family. She was different than any other superhero you’d ever seen because she lacked conventional communication skills. Cass could barely speak, so she’d have to find other ways to express herself.

So many teens and young adults struggle to accept qualities that make them different, stand out, and in certain cases a little bit freakish. They see them as liabilities rather than potential strengths. While a dramatic example, Cassandra Cain certainly falls into that freakish category. I don’t think the book should have centered around her communication issues. But instead of giving her a standard YA love interest, why not use those pages to show her facing those challenges? It’s certainly not something you’d see in any other book. (At right is a small example from Cass’ original Batgirl run in 2000.)

Instead, Shadow opts for a more conventional route. Which is a shame, as Goux and colorist Cris Peteri certainly have the artistic chops to handle the increased emphasis on visuals rather than dialogue.

I definitely recommend Shadow of the Batgirl, especially for those who aren’t familiar with Cassandra Cain. It’s good book. In fact, I believe if it could have been a great book, had the raw materials been used a little bit differently…

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Weekly Comic 100s: Kylo Ren, Gwen Stacy, Superman, and More!

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

TITLE: Star Wars: The Rise of Kylo Ren #3 (of 4)
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
ARTISTS: Will Sliney, Guru-eFX (Colors), Travis Lanham (Letterer). Cover by Clayton Crain.
RELEASED:
February 12, 2020

Once again, the most interesting part of this Kylo Ren origin story proves not to be Ben Solo’s fall to the dark side. Rather, it’s Luke attempt to revive the Jedi Order.

What we see doesn’t even have that much meat to it. It’s just Luke working with his students as children, and then a bunch of short scenes to give us a glimpse of what their lives were like as they grew up. But as we’ve been waiting to see this part of the story for so long, any morsel of information feels mountainous.

TITLE: Gwen Stacy #1 (of 5)
AUTHOR: Christos Gage
ARTISTS: Todd Nauck, Rachelle Rosenberg (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer). Cover by Adam Hughes.
RELEASED: February 12, 2020

The part of “spunky teen girl detective” will now be played by Gwen Stacy.

In a post-script message to fans, editor Nick Lowe tells readers the idea for this mini-series is to add to some of the classic Spidey stories with Gwen, and fill in some details along the way. But it works quite nicely on its own merits. Todd Nauck’s art has a modern feel, but with a retro twinge. It feels like a natural successor to those Spider-Man stories from the ’60s and ’70s.

Though frankly, that Adam Hughes cover alone is worth the price.

TITLE: Superman: Heroes #1
AUTHORS: Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Greg Rucka
ARTISTS: Kevin Maguire, Mike Perkins, Steve Lieber, Mike Norton, Scott Godlewski. Cover by Bryan Hitch.
COLORISTS:
Paul Mounts, Gabe Eltaeb, Andy Troy, Nathan Fairbairn. Alex Sinclair (Cover).
LETTERERS:
Troy Peteri, Clayton Cowles, Simon Bowland
RELEASED:
February 12, 2020

This issue is supposed to be about all the superheroes and supporting characters reacting to the big Superman/Clark Kent revelation. But there’s an absolutely beautiful scene between Superman and someone we’ve never seen before: Clark Kent’s high school chemistry teacher.

Clark thanks him for helping to show him the value of hard work, and assures him that despite his powers, he never cheated. Despite being tempted to, of course. It casts this strict, Mr. Feeny type character as a hero in his own right. That’s exactly how (most) teachers should be seen.

TITLE: Superman #20
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTISTS: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Oclair Albert, Alex Sinclair (Colorist), Jeremiah Skipper (Colorist), Dave Sharpe (Letterer)
RELEASED: February 12, 2020

I think I’ve made it pretty clear by now that my favorite thing about Bendis’ influence on the Superman books has been the emphasis on journalism. In this issue we spend a good amount of time in the newsroom of The Daily Star (The Daily Planet‘s competitor) as they process the whole Superman/Clark Kent reveal. We happen to get a very intriguing return as well.

This United Planets story is finally starting to get interesting. As a representative of Earth, Superman is about to take on something of a political role. Things are about to get complicated. Very complicated…

TITLE: Alienated #1 (of 6)
AUTHOR: Simon Spurrier
ARTISTS: Chris Wildgoose, Andre May (Colorist), Jim Campbell (Letterer). Variant cover by Bengal.
RELEASED: February 12, 2020

Slow. Down.

I like this idea a lot. Three outcast high schoolers whose minds become telepathically connected by an alien thing in the woods. Great! Lot of fun to be had there.

But Alienated #1 is so fast-paced that it’s hard to really sink your teeth into anything. I get the sense these characters have been developed and thought out. But perhaps Spurrier figured he only had six issues to work with, and wanted to cram a lot of stuff in early. Why else would he come out of the gate so fast?

TITLE: Marvels X #1
AUTHORS: Alex Ross, Jim Krueger
ARTISTS:
Well-Bee. Cory Petit (Letterer). Cover by Ross.
RELEASED:
February 12, 2020

I think David, our young protagonist, is the only character I’ve ever seen pray to a superhero. Outside of Homer Simpson, that is. (“Please save me, Superman!”) But that was obviously for comedic effect. David seems serious as a heart attack as he prays to Captain America in this issue. Weird, huh?

This series takes place in an interesting time frame. As David makes his way through New York City, it’s clear the age of heroes is over. But we obviously haven’t made it to the dystopian future of Earth X yet. We’re in that in-between period. That’s…intriguing.

TITLE: Batman: Pennyworth R.I.P.
AUTHORS: James Tynion IV, Peter Tomasi
ARTISTS: Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Chris Burnham, Marco Takara, Diogenes Neves, David Lafuente, Sumit Kumar. Cover by Lee Weeks.
COLORISTS: Adriano Lucas, Rex Lokus, Nathan Fairbairn
LETTERERS:
Travis Lanham, Tom Napolitano
RELEASED: February 12, 2020

Not much to see here. Yes, it’s cool to see the whole Batman “family” come together out of costume. But by and large, this one’s pretty missable. Unless you want to see Barbara Gordon act like a complete asshole. Then you’ll love it.

The issue even contorts the timeline in a weird way. At one point it’s said that the tenth anniversary of the Wayne murders came not long after Damian died in the pages of Batman Incorporated. Wait…what? Yes, I know Damian was created using comic book science. But that timeline still doesn’t add up.

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Epic Covers: Gotham Knights by Brian Bolland

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

When you hear the name Brian Bolland, especially in the context of Batman’s world, you think of The Killing Joke. That’s understandable. Nearly 30 years later, DC still goes to great lengths to make sure none of us forget it.

But Bolland has revisited the Dark Knight at various points since, usually via cover work. Such was the case in late 1999/2000, when DC called on him to do the covers for their new Batman series, Gotham Knights. Between April of 2000 and January of 2004, almost every issue of Gotham Knights was adorned with a Brian Bolland cover. Thus, Bolland got to cover a lot of ground he likely wouldn’t have otherwise been able to. We saw him draw characters like Nightwing, Huntress, Spoiler, and even Cassandra Cain as Batgirl. While Gotham Knights was essentially a third string series, during that timeframe is boasted some of the best covers in all of comics.

While great many of them would most certainly fit into the “epic” category, I’ve picked my five favorites for this space today.

Issue #18 – Aquaman and the Giant Penny.

Brian Bolland is widely known as the man who drew Barbara Gordon getting shot and paralyzed by the Joker. So when one thinks of his art, the word “funny” doesn’t often come to mind. And yet, here we are.

Gotham Knights #18 is about Batman summoning Aquaman for help retrieving some Batcave artifacts that went underwater after the big earthquake in Cataclysm. Bolland uses this premise to to get a little cutesy with iconic Batcave set piece. Aquaman is a character that gets played for laughs a lot. But what I appreciate about this piece is that it’s not necessarily making fun of Arthur, or using the whole “he talks to fish” bit. Arthur is in on the joke. Bolland doesn’t draw him in a cartoony way, but the combination of the shrug and the expression on his face almost evokes a Looney Tunes vibe. It’s difficult not to smile when you see this thing.

Issue #25 – Batman in Handcuffs.

Most people associated those bladed gauntlets with Batman, and that iconography is what makes this image work.

Gotham Knights #25 tied in with the Bruce Wayne, Murderer? storyline going on at the time, which saw Bruce go to prison. Bolland captured the spirit of that story perfectly by placing Batman in handcuffs. And don’t discount the iconic symbolism of those either. For better or worse, handcuffs are a symbol of American justice. With this relatively tight image, Bolland tells us that Batman is now entrapped within the system he’s supposed to be serving.

Issue #32 – The Grandfather Clock

I wouldn’t call this a famous image. But it’s gotten a decent amount of additional exposure over the years. It’s easy to see why.

While issue #25 took place as the Murderer? storyline was beginning, Gotham Knights #32 was part of the wrap up. It showed us 24 hours in the life of Bruce Wayne/Batman. So it’s fitting that Bolland’s cover show is the grandfather clock, the entrance to the Batcave. The unofficial threshold between billionaire playboy and caped crusader. And you have the great juxtaposition of both identities standing back to back. An awesome cover for an awesome issue.

Issue #43 – Batgirl Debuts

Another piece that got a good amount of play after the fact. Bolland delivers an epic tip-of-the-hat to the classic Carmine Infantino cover for Detective Comics #359 from 1967, Batgirl/Barbara Gordon’s “million dollar debut!” The classic never dies, kids.

There’s a sentimental aspect to this one, of course. Bolland wasn’t very nice to Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke. So for him to render here like this, in her crowning moment, is pretty cool. It’s almost a sense of justice for the character. Though ironically, the issue was more about Jason Todd than Barbara herself.

Issue #45 – Man-Bat’s Close Up

Oddly enough, I remember not liking this one when it came out. It’s so damn gruesome and detailed. Look at the nose. The ears. The fangs.

But of course, that’s the point, isn’t it? There aren’t a lot of epic Man-Bat covers. But this one definitely fits the bill.

This one also has a great Universal monster movie vibe to it. Between the lighting from below, the positioning of the head and neck and the wide-eyed expression, it brings to mind the promotional art for the original Wolfman or Mummy movies.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

 

A Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1 Review – The Never-Ending Joke

Batgirl & The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1, 2016, Yanick PaquetteTITLE: Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1
AUTHORS: Julie Benson, Shawna Benson
PENCILLER: Claire Roe. Cover by Yanick Paquette.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: July 20, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been looking for a reason to write about The Killing Joke, what with the animated movie coming out. I didn’t expect to find it here. But I’ll take it!

Someone is sending information to mafia families using the name Oracle, Barbara Gordon’s handle during her days in a wheelchair. This obviously strikes a personal chord, and Batgirl asks Black Canary to help her investigate. Babs is looking to get the Birds of Prey back together. But Dinah isn’t interested (“I’ve moved on. So have you.”). Still, she tags along for her friend’s sake. They cross paths with Huntress, who inexplicably knows some big secrets. But the identity of this mysterious new Oracle? That’s still a secret.

In reviewing how Babs became Oracle, we flash back to The Killing Joke. We see Claire Roe’s take on some of the famous shots from that story: Joker in the Hawaiian shirt, Barbara getting shot with the coffee mug in her hands, her laying looking up at him. Interestingly, Roe puts Barbara in a tank top and pants, as opposed to the skirt and blouse she was wearing in that story.

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #1, Killing Joke flashbackI read an article recently on DC’s refusal to put The Killing Joke behind them. Though heralded as a landmark story, it’s unquestionably brutal and cruel. It also spawned an era of creators seemingly trying to mimic The Killing Joke by having female characters face awful acts of violence (see Women in Refrigerators). Yet the story lives on. Why? For the same reason DC won’t give up on Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns. Name value.

Those three stories were arguably the three tentpole works of the “grim and gritty” movement in the ’80s. If you’ve been into comics at all over the last 30 years, chances are you’ve at least heard of them. In one way or another, they’re masterpieces that changed the industry. So by connecting those stories to their new books, DC creates a bridge to readers that have either left them behind, or simply aren’t reading comics anymore.

That’s one of the reasons why the first several issues of the New 52 Batgirl series weren’t just about Barbara being a superhero again. They were about her recovering, and coming to grips with being able to walk again. Just like in this issue, in 2011’s Batgirl #1 we relived the Joker shooting scene, and went over Barbara’s trauma. Eventually Babs even winds up confronting a nameless henchmen from that story.

I’m not disputing The Killing Joke is a great story, albeit one that inspired a bunch of bad creative choices. I just hope a day comes where we don’t have to go back to it every time Barbara has a new series. There are other stories out there, after all…

Huntress church sceneSo what’s with Dinah not wanting to put the Birds of Prey back together? The New 52 Birds of Prey series wasn’t exactly their highest of highs. But Babs and Dinah are still good friends. Why the cold shoulder?

Huntress makes her first appearance in a church confessional. I’m not as familiar with this version of Helena, but it looks like she’s as much a believer as her pre-New 52 counterpart was. The visual messaging in the church scene makes sense, particularly the shot of her walking out. By that point, you know her mission is to kill mafia hitmen. To say the least, she’s become a lapsed Catholic. You’ll notice this version of the Huntress costume doesn’t include a cross necklace.

The panels in the confessional are lit very interestingly (some shown above). Colorist Allen Passalaqua does great things withthe faint light coming in from the church and the resulting shadows on Helena’s face. The panel where her elbow is on the ledge is the best in the book, giving us an image more natural than what we see in most superhero books.

In contrast, Batgirl has what I’ll call some “mouth issues.” Not Barbara. Just Batgirl. I can’t decide if Claire Roe draws it in a way that’s somehow conspicuous, or if she just came out a little toothy. In certain panels, she almost looks like a buck-toothed Pipi Longstocking in a cowl. It’s one thing if that’s the look she’s going for. I don’t think it is.

Batgirl and the Birds, just a nameIt’s hard to believe, but Birds of Prey turns 20 this year. The group has had a variety of incarnations. But the most successful, at least creatively, have always had two ingredients: Barbara Gordon and Dinah Lance. At its core, Birds of Prey is a buddy superhero series about two women who bonded through their work and found friendship. If you’re missing one of them, you don’t have Birds of Prey. Thankfully, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey has its core intact. Now they simply need to built on top of that. With two female writers and a female penciller, I’m hopeful they build a series unlike any other on the stands.

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A Batgirl #48 Review – Video Games, a T-Rex, and…Mind Wipes???

Batgirl #48, 2016, coverTITLE: Batgirl #48
AUTHORS: Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart
PENCILLER: Babs Tarr
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: February 3, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

“It’s a Birds of Prey reunion!” That’s basically what the cover is saying to comic book fans. In retrospect, it’s a wonder DC fouled up the New 52 incarnation of that book. The Birds of Prey concept has a lot going for it. But at its core it was about the friendship between Babs and Dinah (and sometimes Huntress). Considering how well Batgirl has been going, and how Black Canary factors into it, Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr might just be the heirs to Birds of Prey. Come to think of it, is DC even doing anything with Huntress right now?

But I digress…

Fragments of Barbara’s memory have gone missing. The question is, why? And what does it have to do with her brain apparently being tampered with? Thankfully, Black Canary is there for a little extra back-up. But not before Batgirl and Batwing take on Co-Op, a villainous duo with a flair for gaming.

Batgirl #48, Babs Tarr, Batwing picnicConsidering how much history there is in the Barbara Gordon/Dick Grayson romance, the success of Barbara’s romance with Luke Fox has been a pleasant surprise. And then they had to taint it in this issue by reminding us that he’s Batwing. Luke Fox works just fine as Barbara’s super-smart boyfriend who’s now helping her in a new business venture. He doesn’t need to be a superhero. In fact, that was part of what made Batgirl #45 so cool, when Babs chose Luke over the muscular, dashing and daring Dick Grayson. That’s not to say Luke should be helpless, and I know the Batgirl team weren’t the ones who made him Batwing. But c’mon. Can’t that whole concept just be left as a relic of the reboot?

These Co-Op villains are pretty fun. They’re written pretty tongue-in-cheek, but that’s part of their charm. And their presence gives Tarr and and the artistic team a chance to go all out with a blaze of colorful, cartoony madness. Our villains are dressed like TRON characters, one of them is riding T-Rex, our heroes are placed inside a pro wrestling arena and are fighting a big luchador. It’s one of the nuttiest sequences we’ve seen from a DC book in quite awhile. I’d be more than okay with seeing these guys again.

Batgirl #48, 2016, Babs and DinahTarr really gets a chance to show off her versatility in this issue. We go absolutely crazy near the beginning of the issue. Then in the middle we have some cartoony anger and snark when Babs and Dinah come across a few Black Canary fans (shown right). Then at the end, we get a dramatic scene where the other characters are terribly concerned for Batgirl’s wellbeing. While it couldn’t have been done without Fletcher and Stewart’s writing, make no mistake about it, Babs Tarr’s art is the element that truly ushered in this new era for Batgirl. Look no further than this issue for the evidence.

Our main villain is someone Babs has seen in a nightmare, and who has in-depth access to her mind. Going forward, this has the potential to be something very scary, and very personal. It’s something very much befitting the upcoming 50th issue, and they’re even tying it back to their first story, collected in The Batgirl of Burnside. Batwing notwithstanding, Team Batgirl has yet to let us down. And I don’t see that trend changing in the near future.

Images from batman-news.com. 

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A Batgirl #45 Review – Dick Grayson: Wedding Crasher

Batgirl #45TITLE: Batgirl #45
AUTHORS: Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart
PENCILLER: Babs Tarr
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: October 28, 2015

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead for Batgirl #45.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m a big fan of Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson as a couple. I was as stoked as anybody when DC let Gail Simone work with them again during Convergence. That being said, the Batgirl team does real justice to Barbara by not putting her back with Dick in this issue.

There’s no supervillain in Batgirl #45, and no real crisis for Babs to overcome. Instead, we find ourselves at the wedding of her friend Alysia. Our herioine is entrusted with keeping the ring safe for the bride. But when Dick shows up before the festivities and playfully swipes the ring, things get complicated.

***For the events leading up to this issue, check out Grayson #1, Batgirl Annual #3 and Grayson #12.***

Batgirl #45, Dick Grayson, Babs TarrIt would have been very easy to put Barbara with Dick. That option is always going to be there, and it’s always going to work. But that’s not what happens here. In this issue, Dick is actually positioned as the antagonist. It’s one of the few times in this era of “Dick Grayson, sexy super-spy” that we’re put in a position to not like him. He’s not malicious or cruel at all, but he’s clearly in the wrong. It’s surreal, but it’s done in the interest of playing up Barbara’s confidence and independence. As readers, we already knew she had those qualities. But this issue accents them wonderfully.

Simply put, Barbara stands up for herself when Dick tries to insert himself into her life romantically. She takes him to task for interrupting this special day, and that he must face the consequences of faking his own death, and what that did to the people he cares about. What makes this such a strong moment is that she’s right, and we admire her for being brave enough to put Dick in his place. It’s something he needed to hear, from the character perhaps best qualified to tell him.

Barbara’s behavior in the early part of this issue is also very true to her character. She essentially becomes the Miss Fix-It of the wedding party, and literally pulls out a “Wedding Day Survival Kit.” Not only does this work with Barbara’s personality, but having been to a whopping three weddings this month, I can tell you firsthand that every bride wants a character like that around.

Batgirl #45, Babs Tarr, wedding survival kitFrom an artistic standpoint, Tarr gets to be more flowery and formal in this issue than any she’s done so far. Her work, paired with colorist Serge LaPointe’s lavenders and pinks definitely give this issue a visual uniqueness. Tarr’s rendering of Dick Grayson is also impossibly hunky, and a great representation of the temptation Barbara feels to cave in and be with Dick.

The issue ends with a mysterious teaser, likely about the next villain Batgirl will take on. Solicitations indicate Babs’ mind may be failing her, and The Spoiler will be involved. If how they interacted in Batgirl Annual #3 is any indication, things will continue to be fun going forward. And considering how fun this series has been since Fletcher, Stewart, and Tarr took over, what more can we ask?

Image 1 from newsarama.com. Image 2 from popoptiq.com.

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A Grayson #12 Review – A Hero’s Homecoming

Grayson #12 (2015)TITLE: Grayson #12
AUTHORS: Tim Seeley, Tom King
PENCILLER: Mikel Janin
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: September 23, 2015

***Unfamiliar with Grayson? Check out our review of the very first issue!***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Full disclosure: I’ve been absent for the past few issues of Grayson. That’s not to say the series has necessarily taken a downturn. But lately, the arrival of certain other books (Secret Wars, We Are Robin, Black Canary), pushed it down the priority list.

This issue, however, merited a look. After deceiving the world into thinking Dick Grayson/Nightwing died during the events of Forever Evil, Dick returns to Gotham City to come clean to his surrogate family. This includes the amnesiac Bruce Wayne, who as Batman, was the one who sent Dick to infiltrate Spyral in the first place. And speaking of Spyral, they’re not going to let Agent 37 leave without a fight.

Grayson #12, Mikel Janin, Bruce WayneSeeley, King, and Janin use a unique device in this issue. Each time Dick reunites with someone, we get a splash page with a black background and various pieces of actual dialogue from the 75-year history of Batman’s world. Naturally, they correspond with Dick’s relation to that character. This not only gives the reader a very real sense of what the dynamic was between Dick and the character in question, but it’s a fitting substitute for the repeated and redundant “You’re alive!” moments we might have seen under a different creative team. It’s also extremely cool that actual dialogue is used. These quotes can actually be traced back to specific issues. You certainly can’t say effort wasn’t made in terms of research.

The device works best with Bruce, who due to events in Batman, has no memories of his time in the costume. The original Dynamic Duo look like a distant memory here, which is fairly sad. But the Grayson team makes good use of its time in the Snyder/Capullo sandbox, particularly when Dick has to protect his former partner, using the very skills Bruce taught him years ago!

The reunion between Dick and Damian is the only one that bucks the “You’re alive!” moment pattern. Apparently, Dick had no idea Damian had been resurrected. From an in-story perspective, that’s really weird. Dick knew Bruce was trying to bring Damian back. He even made a brief appearance in the Robin Rises story. How could he not have known? Is Dick feigning surprise for some reason?

Birds of Prey #8, 1999, Greg Land, Nightwing, OracleWith the splash page/quotes device, this issue harkens back to the pre-New 52 continuity in a way that still maintains a certain fluidity. But surprisingly, Seeley and King harken back to something very specific in the reunion between Dick and Barbara: The trapeze scene from 1999’s Birds of Prey #8. Written by the great Chuck Dixon and drawn by Greg Land, the issue saw Dick take Barbara on a date of sorts to Haly’s Circus. In an empty tent, Dick and the partially paralyzed Barbara go swinging on a trapeze, in a sequence that culminates with a kiss. To my knowledge, this is the first time this event has been mentioned in the New 52 continuity, and it’s really cool to see them show this moment such reverence.

On the flip side of the memories coin, this issue has plenty of flashback images featuring “Red Nightwing,” a.k.a. Nightwing in the red and black suit. If we’re using quotes and plot points from the pre-New 52 continuity, can we at least acknowledge that Nightwing wore a black and blue suit at one point? Yes, I understand it’s probably an editorial mandate. But still, you’re killin’ me…

The conclusion to this issue does the Dick Grayson character a lot of justice. While Bruce Wayne is a natural loner, Dick is a people person, and is more than comfortable as part of a team. In Grayson #12 we see that is a strength, not a weakness. Not only did Seeley and King nail the character, they showed us that with Bruce on the sidelines, Dick Grayson may in fact be the glue that holds the Bat-Family together.

Image 1 from craveonline.com. Image 2 from comicbookresources.com.

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A Batgirl Annual #3 Review – Ladies Night

Batgirl Annual #3TITLE: Batgirl Annual #3
AUTHORS: Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher
PENCILLERS: Bengal, David Lafuente, Ming Doyle, Mingjue Helen Chen
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: July 29, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In my experience annuals are, by and large, nothing to get too excited about. More often they’re not, an annual is simply a bonus standalone issue of a series that’s a little longer, and a little more expensive. No more, no less.

Batgirl Annual #3 is a rare exception to that rule.

Penned by series writers Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher, the issue pairs Babs with a several different heroes as she works to uncover the secret of a superweapon with a power to destroy the world. The mystery willl reunite our hero with Dick Grayson (sort of) and Batwoman, as well as introduce her to The Spoiler, and later Olive and Maps of Gotham Academy.

Batgirl Annual #3As good comics are prone to doing, Batgirl Annual #3 switches artists to coincide with Batgirl switching partners. Bengal gets the lion’s share of the issue with our inciting incident, and Barbara’s run-in with Dick and the Spyral crew. Bengal’s European/Asian style is a nice fit for this version of Batgirl. It’s light and funny when it needs to be, and has a certain intensity when it’s called for. As for the story itself, Babs and Helena Bertinelli agree to work together in a manner so quick it’s unintentionally funny. It takes less than a page. You’d think someone as smart as Barbara Gordon would be a little more cynical about a new partner in the field. As for Dick and Barbara, their being so close, with the latter completely oblivious, is seemingly played for comedy at times. At one point their fingers are nearly touching, yet Batgirl can’t tell there’s another human being mere inches from her. Purely from a fan perspective, I was feeling Dick Grayson’s agony at deceiving her. So the comedy not only landed with a thud, but was out of place.

Bengal passes the baton to David Lafuente for Babs’ brief meeting with The Spoiler. As a huge fan of the Stephanie Brown Batgirl series, seeing Barbara and Steph at the same age is surreal. Still, I suppose they mesh well. Lafuente is certainly no stranger to drawing teenage superheroes (see Ultimate Comics Spider-Man), so I’ve got no issues with his work. Stewart and Fletcher also do Stephanie justice.

From a writing standpoint, the Batgirl/Batwoman team up is fine. But Ming Doyle’s art is, at times, very awkward. This is particularly true of her work on Barbara’s face, so much so it takes you out of the story. Her figure rendering, particularly during a battle scene, leaves something to be desired as well. Doyle has done some great work, but it won’t be found here.

Batgirl Annual #3, Mingjue ChenWe cap things off with what looks like something out of an old Disney 2D animated film. In this case, that’s a good thing. Minjue Helen Chen very much captures the spirit of Gotham Academy. Olive, Maps, and Batgirl hunt for answers in the school library in a sequence that’s very reminiscent of Harry Potter, Hogwarts, etc. Chen captures some of the manga vibe that Karl Kerschl brings to the monthly book, while adding her own sense of wonder and excitement. She’s tailor made for this “Youth Gotham” line DC is marketing.

 It’s very much fitting that Batgirl Annual #3 is the exception to the annuals rule. For the past year, the series itself has been the exception to what were seemingly a lot of rules about the Bat-books. Gotham City can, and should, be a dark and scary place. But it should also be a fun place to read about, and lose yourself in. That’s the true appeal of Batgirl, and the Young Gotham line in general: DC remembering that comics can be fun.

Image 1 from the outhousers.com. Image 2 from newsarama.com.Image 3 from @mingjuechen.

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A Convergence: Nightwing/Oracle #2 Review – Hello, Goodbye

Convergence: Nightwing/Oracle #2TITLE: Convergence: Nightwing/Oracle #2
AUTHOR: Gail Simone
PENCILLER: Jan Duursema. Cover by Jill Thompson.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: May 6, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

When I reviewed Batman #40, a few people got on my case for my subtitle being “Dead Again.” It was, “Spoilers, man! Spoilers!”

Well, take a look at your primary cover for Nightwing/Oracle #2. Not much I can do about this one, kids. So don’t blame me!

Indeed, Gail Simone gives us a little bit of closure on pre-New 52 Nightwing and Oracle here. But not before a showdown with Flashpoint Hawkman and Hawkwoman. It may seem like Dick Grayson is fighting alone. But as always, Barbara Gordon has more than a few resources to call on, including one that longtime Simone fans will very much appreciate.

Naturally, much of what I said about the first issue still applies here. So lets hit our bullet points…

Convergence: Nightwing/Oracle #2, Jan Duursema– Nightwing’s costume is too overdone, much akin to what was done in Injustice: Gods Among Us. That said, it’s great to see him back in blue.

– Duursema nails the older version of Barbara. It’s awesome to see her back, and in the hands of the writer who arguably wrote her the best.

– Hawkman and Hawkwoman have a nice bird motif that’s very fitting for Gail Simone, but other than that, I’m not hugely invested in them as villains.

It’s interesting that the Chip Kidd-designed variant covers for both Nightwing/Oracle issues featured art by Don Kramer. Jan Duursema’s art definitely has a Don Kramer vibe to it at times. For whatever reason, I see it whenever a character it looking toward the camera with a determined look. Oracle, Nightwing, and our two Thanagarians all have moments like that. It brings back fond memories of Kramer’s runs on Nightwing and Detective Comics.

Convergence: Nightwing/Oracle #2, BarbaraThis issue has a surprise guest, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not going to tell you who it is (Spoilers, dude!). It’s a nice surprise, but there is once drawback to it. In order to conceal this person’s identity from the reader for a bit, Simone has them dressed in brown robes during a scene with Oracle. That struck me as an odd choice. Why the robes? Is there a risk of them being recognized by the Thanagarians? Even if there is, why keep the disguise on while you’re in a private setting with Oracle? That was a head-scratcher.

The wedding of any incarnation of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon is obviously pretty cool to see. Sadly, we only see it for half a page. But it’s still pretty impactful to not only see our couple in a matrimonial setting, but some pretty notable guests in the foreground. One might argue this is a moment we should have gotten several years ago. Then again, DC’s recent track record with superhero marriages isn’t exactly stellar…

Convergence: Nightwing/Oracle #2My only nitpick with the wedding scene is Barbara’s dress. That’s a weird thing to pick at (especially considering I’m a guy), but it bothered me a bit. On the cover, Jill Thompson draws Barbara wearing a white dress with something of a computerized texture, which obviously wraps around and envelopes most of the image. In the issue, the lower portion of Barbara’s dress has the same texture. For yours truly, that ventured into hokey territory. It’s simply a matter of something working in the context of a cover, but not in the actual issue.

And with that…here they go, out of our lives again. DC brings them back, just to put them right back on the shelf. *sigh* It’s painful to see this happen to Oracle in particular. That character had so much depth to her, and on top of that, she was so damn cool. Obviously, a lot of good has come from DC giving Barbara her legs back and making her Batgirl again. The recent issues by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher, and Babs Tarr come to mind immediately. But many longtime fans like myself have never stopped missing Oracle.

What can I say? It still hurts, damn it. It still hurts.

Image 1 from bleedingcool.com. Image 2 from comixology.com. Image 3 from shadowneko003.tumblr.com.

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A Convergence #2 Review – The Disappearing Knight Light

Convergence #2, coverTITLE: Convergence #2
AUTHOR: Jeff King
PENCILLERS: Carlo Pagulayan. Cover by Ivan Reis.
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE:
$4.99
RELEASED:
April 15, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Convergence #2.***

Business started to pick up for Convergence in this issue. While certain problems remain, and this issue saw a pretty bad consistency error, Convergence does finally manage to give us a decent emotional tether via Earth-2 Dick Grayson.

As worlds continue to collide via Telos’ “perverse tournament,” our heroes from Earth-2 take a stand and fight back. But how does Dick Grayson fit into that plan? And by the end of the issue, our heroes have found a new ally…or have they?

DC Comics, Convergence, Dick Grayson, Earth-2The scene that kicks off Convergence #2 is probably the one we should have gotten when the story began. Via flashback, we see Dick Grayson and his son Tommy desperately trying to get off Earth-2 during Darkseid’s invasion. Dick loses everything, including his wife Barbara Gordon, before being plucked from his world and tossed into the events of Convergence #1. This scene set the stakes of Convergence really well. We see Dick’s desperation to survive, and to see that his son survives. Later in the issue, King and Pagulayan amp things up emotionally by having Dick see the pre-New 52 Gotham version of Barbara. Finally, Convergence gets injected with a sense of epic tragedy and impending doom, as opposed to different versions of characters simply being drawn next to each other.

Actually, had the scene with Dick on Earth-2 swapped places with the Injustice scene in issue #1, the latter scene would have been much more impactful. The story at large would have been much more impactful. What a missed opportunity…

This issue sees the return of pre-New 52 Batman, which was a big moment for yours truly, as that’s the Batman I grew up with. He’s got his Batman Incorporated costume on, complete with what I call the “Knight Light” on his chest. Unfortunately, as the issue progresses, Pagulayan seems to forget about the light. When we first see Bruce, he has it. Then the light disappears in favor of the more commonly used Bat-insignia. Then it returns for a splash page shot of Bruce standing alone. I can only assume this is a mistake, and a rather obvious one, at that.

Convergence #2, Batman/BatmanWe end up watching a conversation between Earth-2 Batman and Knight Light Batman, where the dialogue is kept from the reader. I can only assume the pay off for that is down the line, and will end up being about how Dick Grayson is some kind of savior. It’s frustrating. But hopefully they’ll go somewhere with it.

So at the end, the rest of the Earth-2 heroes rescue a character named Deimos from a bunch of Telos’ drones. I’m not sure if this was supposed to be a big reveal or not. It certainly wasn’t for yours truly. Regrettably, this was one of the few times I had to Wikipedia a character’s name. As one might have gathered by his appearance, he’s a villain. I can’t say I’m overly intrigued by his appearance at this point, but obviously we’re only meeting him now.

Still conspicuous by his absence in Convergence is New 52 Superman, or anyone from the New 52 for that matter. Like the conversation between our Batmen, I can only assume there’s a payoff for that #0 issue coming, especially considering how much Superman imagery we’ve seen in this story. Regardless of what DC is doing behind the scenes (they’re moving their offices to California), seeing them take such a hard break from everything they’re been building since late 2011 is very surreal. The New 52 heroes will indeed join the main series at some point, and their continuity will indeed survive after Convergence. Thus, it’s all the more confusing that we haven’t heard word one from any of them yet, specifically Superman.

Still, Convergence #1 is indeed an improvement over its two predecessors. I now have a reason to care about something in this book. But thus far, Convergence proper is far from worth the cumulative $15 we’ve put down for it.

Images from insidepulse.com.

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