Tag Archives: Birds of Prey

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 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 #21 Review – “She’s a Fan of Murder”

Batgirl #21 (2013), cover by Alex GarnerTITLE: Batgirl #21
AUTHOR: Gail Simone
PENCILLER: Fernando Pasarin. Cover by Alex Garner.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: June 12, 2013

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So…were the Batman baddies always slasher flick characters, and I just didn’t notice? You’d think after all these years reading comics, I’d have picked up on it. Granted, most of them have always been crazy. But while most of them weren’t necessarily opposed to killing, it wasn’t their trademark the way it was for, say, the Joker.

With Death of the Family, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo gave the Joker a very Leatherface-type look. Of course, that came courtesy of the Dollmaker from Detective Comics, who had an obsession with wearing other people’s skin. If you’ve been following Gregg Hurwitz’s work on Batman: The Dark Knight, you know he’s taken the Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter to some really twisted, scary places. Some of it works really well, and some of it falls flat. Obviously Batman’s nature as a “dark” character lends him to stories like this. But honestly, I’ve had my fill of that kind of thing for now. Or at least the high volume of it we’ve had lately. That’s probably why I’m so sour on Batgirl #21.

Batgirl #21, Fernando PasarinThis issue sees Barbara take on the New 52 version of the Ventriloquist. The character was originally created as a middle-aged man who carried a gangster puppet named Scarface, who was the “brains” of the operation. The puppet we see here, Ferdie, was obviously inspired by the Jigsaw character from the Saw movies. And the Ventriloquist, now an 18-year-old reality TV reject named Shauna Blazer, is very much a play off of horror flicks we’ve seen in the last 10 years. She dresses in white, has long dark hair and pasty skin. Think The Ring, The Grudge, that kind of stuff. She can throw her voice and mimic others effectively enough that it confuses her enemies, and she apparently has telekinetic powers, which means she can control Ferdie from a distance.

The climactic fight takes place in a dark, dirty, run down home, which stinks of rotten meat. There are two corpses sitting at a table, which Blazer proceeds to control using her telekinesis. There’s a decent amount of blood here, as Barbara gets stabbed by a drill protruding from the puppet’s hand. The corpses also wind up dismantled, which in turn causes our hero to vomit…icky.

These aren’t bad ideas, per se. But the tone it’s done it is has been so overdone lately it’s a turn off. You know what I miss right about now? The Greg Rucka/Ed Brubaker style Batman stories, i.e. content which wasn’t afraid to be bloody when the story called for it, but in the end focused more on on the crime drama elements. Heck, what about what Gail Simone used to do with Birds of Prey? The whole thrilling adventure elements mixed with the camaraderie and banter between characters? Can’t we do a book like that? If we’re going to have all these Bat books, can’t we diversify them a little bit? Does everything have to be a horror story?

Batgirl #21, Fernando Pasarin, interiorIn terms of what Simone is doing with Barbara’s character here, I’m in better spirits. After what happened with her brother a couple of issues ago, it makes sense for her to undergo a bit of a crisis of conscience. Not even in terms of giving up her crime fighting career, but of being worthy to wear the Bat symbol. I think that’s a cool idea.

In contrast, Simone will occasionally give Babs a downright brutal line that taints the whole issue. During Death of the Family, it was “You make be believe there is a Satan, Joker.” In this issue, when Batgirl sees a collection of newspaper clippings on Shauna’s wall which deal with homicides, we get: “She…she’s a fan of murder.” Sorry Gail, but…*gag*.

In all fairness, when judged on its own merits, Batgirl #21 really isn’t that bad. Yes, that one line was a face-palmer. But it’s only when you start looking at it next to the other Bat books that the real problems arise. Ferndando Pasarin’s pencils look great, and there’s still no one else I’d rather have writing this book than Gail Simone. But I’m still holding out hope that this book will one day be as fun as her work on Birds of Prey was. But I suppose the longer we wait, the less likely it is…

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A Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection Review – Walking Tall

Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Darkest ReflectionTITLE: Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection
AUTHOR: Gail Simone
PENCILLER: Ardian Syaf. Cover by Adam Hughes.
COLLECTS: Batgirl #1-6
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: July 8, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Man, I miss Stephanie Brown.

Yep, good ol’ Spoiler. She was Batgirl for just two short years before the New 52 apparently retconned her out of existence. *sigh* She was such a fun, flawed character to read. And then she was just…poof. Gone. Full disclosure: It’s really hard for me not to compare Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection to Bryan Q. Miller’s books with Stephanie, even though this book does feature the return of the iconic Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. But I’m going to try my best to be unbiased here.

At least I’m not the only one who feels a bit iffy about this book. Babs’ return as Batgirl via the New 52 reboot came at the expense of her run as Oracle, the DCU’s post-The Killing Joke wheelchair bound tech guru and queen of the information superhighway. Jill Pantozzi over at Newsarama wrote an awesome piece about this change that I won’t even attempt to top. But in short, a lot of fans feel that giving Barbara her legs back took away an extremely compelling, and at times inspirational aspect of her character.

Batgirl, wheelchairThe Darkest Reflection realizes what a radical and controversial character shift this is, and as such we spend most of the book dealing with it. Our first villain is Mirror, a character who sees miracles as God’s mistakes, and sets out correct them. We also meet Gretel, a mind control villainess who Barbara sees a bit of herself in. All the while, our heroine must come to terms with the fact that she can walk again, and what it means for her as both Barbara and Batgirl. Then later, amidst all of this, the last person in the world Barbara expected to see again comes back into her life!

The book explains Barbara’s return to her feet with a couple of lines about a clinic in South Africa that performed a “neural replacement” operation on her. I suppose this is as good an explanation as any. The less we spend on the pseudoscience of Barbara getting her legs back, the better. I imagine it’s more comfortable for people that way….

From a writing standpoint this story is tricky. Barbara is dealing with a change most people can’t relate to. As a reader it’s sometimes tough to project yourself on to her. But there’s no way they could have gotten away with not telling this story. DC wanted to meet Oracle fans halfway by keeping her in continuity, and they had to have a transition story of sorts. In addition to setting up a new status quo for Barbara and planting some seeds for future stories, that’s basically what this book is. In that sense, the book does its job. We see Barbara’s survivor’s guilt, we see her uncertainty in the field, and we see Batman and Nightwing work with her again. It’s not nearly as fun as Gail Simone’s work on Birds of Prey, or any of the stuff Stephanie Brown did as Batgirl (sorry!), but it’s what we need to see to get us to the next part of Barbara’s story.

Batgirl #3, Nightwing, Ardian SyafIssue #3, which examines Barbara’s relationship with Dick Grayson/Nightwing, sees Dick ask Barbara a pretty heavy question: “Come on, Babs, you’re recovering…I’ve seen the records, Barbara. Do you want to be back in that wheelchair? Is that what this is all about?” Commissioner Gordon also brings up the question of whether Barbara is doing too much too soon, and he (presumably) doesn’t even know about the her superhero career. The book tells us that Barbara learned about the neural replacement procedure about a year before these events play out. Which means she’s been back on her feet less than a year. Even when you take her previous experience into account, that makes for a pretty quick return to swinging from rooftops, trading blows with homicidal maniacs and jumping on to speeding trains. I’m wondering if placing more emphasis on Babs’ quick return to action might have made it a little easier for readers to identify with her plight. Most people know how it feels to sit on the sidelines due to sickness or injury, and want to get back in the game as soon as possible. Seeing Barbara in a position like that, albeit in an exaggerated manner, might have helped play up the returning underdog angle a little better.

Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection, MirrorThat said, Mirror is a great villain for Barbara in this book. His M.O. about miracles being mistakes of the Divine make him the perfect opponent for the returning Batgirl. He’s got a really great look to him as well. His hooded costume mixed with the mirrors give him a Grim Reaper vibe that works really well. Since the reboot, DC has made a point to put their heroes up against all new villains, and Mirror was one of the best ones they came up with. Kudos to Ardian Syaf for making him, and the rest of the book look great.

The second villain, Gretel, is essentially a throwaway character who got her mind control powers in a way that’s never really explained. I understand why she’s there, but she’s obviously filler.

I’m not convinced that The Darkest Reflection is ultimately as good as it could have been. Gail Simone is certainly no stranger to Barbara, but I think she handled the character much better as part of a group dynamic in Birds of Prey. Now that Barbara’s return is out of the way, hopefully we can look forward to bigger and better things.

RATING: 6.5/10

Image 1 from christopherbowsman.blogspot.com. Image 2 http://eddiedangeroncomics.blogspot.com. Image 3 from booknerdreviews.com.

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