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.

A Batman: Night of the Monster Men Review – Hollow Monsters

Batman #7, 2016, cover, Yanick PaquetteTITLE: “Batman: Night of the Monster Men”
AUTHORS: Steve Orlando, Tom King, Tim Seeley, James Tynion IV
PENCILLERS: Riley Rossmo, Roge Antonio, Andy MacDonald
COLLECTS: Batman #79Nightwing #78Detective Comics #941942
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
CUMULATIVE PRICE: $17.94
GRAPHIC NOVEL RELEASE: March 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This “Night of the Monster Men” crossover boasts some extremely talented creators, stars Batman and some of his more popular allies, and is even inspired by one of the very first Batman stories. It also began a week after DC “killed” Tim Drake. So there was a lot of potential here for a creative, emotional, thrill ride.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Running through BatmanNightwing, and Detective Comics, this story sees Hugo Strange create giant monsters that attack the city. Much of Batman’s surrogate family gets wrapped up in the chaos. But despite all the innocent lives that hang in the balance, Strange’s entire plot is about Batman himself.

Batman #1, Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters, 1940, Bob Kane and Bill FingerAll this Hugo Strange/Monster Men stuff is inspired by a story from 1940’s Batman #1 entitled “Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters.” It’s a respectable early outing for the Dark Knight in which Strange creates a bunch of big ogres to terrorize the city. Matt Wagner took the same cue for his 2006 miniseries Batman and the Monster Men, which was exponentially better than this book.

“Night of the Monster Men” suffers from a variety of problems. Chief among them is a lack of emotional stakes. That’s an odd problem to have, considering what just happened with Tim, and how many of Batman’s surrogate family members are in this fight. Batman repeatedly emphasizes that no one else is dying. This gives the impression that we’re going to get an overprotective Batman, frantically trying to micromanage the efforts of his partners. This would be futile, of course. But it would have made sense. We also had the perfect cast for such a story, with Bruce having recently trusted Batwoman to train this new crop of young heroes. And of course, we’ve got his original partner, Dick Grayson. Hugo Strange’s motive also would have been more poignant.

Instead, we just get a story about Batman fighting monsters. Monsters created from cadavers, no less. We can’t even go the route of, “Don’t kill the monsters! They’re people!” Later, two of our heroes are turned into monsters, but they don’t mine this for much emotion either.

Granted, they’re cool looking monsters. “Night of the Monster Men” enlists Riley Rossmo and Andy MacDonald, both of whom excel on the fantasy/horror side of things. We also have they very capable Roge Antonio, who gives us a nice blend of horror and naturalism. Instead of going the ogre route, the story opts for a mix of mutant aberrations and giant kaiju type monsters. They’re fun, but they’d be more fun if they were more than mere physical threats to our heroes. There’s little or any substance to them, and what the final issue attempts to pass as such via Strange’s motivation doesn’t connect in a meaningful way. (That monster represented fear? But weren’t we supposed to be afraid of all of them?)

Detective Comics #942, monster two-page spread, 2016So instead of a coherent crossover that ties into and takes advantage of Batman’s fragile emotional state, what we essentially get is a bunch of fluff that they attempt to tie together at the end with some psych mumbo jumbo. It’s all so hollow.

“Night of the Monster Men” also suffers from being a little too long, and a little too crowded. The story struggles to give Spoiler and Orphan something to do in all of this. Like Booster Gold in his Justice League Unlimited episode, they’re mostly relegated to crowd control. There’s a cave sequence (not that cave) involving Spoiler, Orphan, and Harvey Bullock that largely feels like padding. If they’d cut that out, along with the ridiculous scene where our heroes use giant guns and harpoons on top of buildings (conveniently adored with the heroes’ insignias) to stop a monster, they’d probably have been able to trim this down from six issues to four. Five at most.

Nightwing #8 and Detective Comics #942 also make full use of the “Hugo Strange dressed as Batman” trope, as we learn that Strange himself wants to be Batman. A fine motive, though not necessary in this case. “Night of the Monster Men” would have worked fine as Strange’s attempt to spotlight Batman’s inadequacies and force him to hang up the cowl, in the process pouring salt in the wound left by Tim’s departure. Perhaps the urge to use the only piece of classic Batman/Hugo Strange imagery was too intense. Admittedly, at that point I was just happy we were finally getting a scene between two human beings, as opposed to hollow monster battles.

batman-clayface-suit-detective-comicsOn the upside, this story makes fine use of Clayface’s new status as one of Batman’s allies. He plays a practical role at first, spreading himself out to guide people out of the city. He also plays an integral role in the finale. But his highlight here, and one of the highlights in “Monster Men” as a whole, comes in Batman #8. As the Dark Knight is about to face one of the monsters head on, Clayface envelops him, effectively becoming a suit of armor. Does technically this fall under the banner of giant awful Batman robots/armor? Absolutely. But the execution is unique enough that it gets a pass from me.

“Batman and the Monster Men” offers good showings from the artists attached, and a bright spot here or there. But by and large, this was a turn off and a waste. Nightwing and Detective Comics were both on a solid course up to this point, and things were starting to look up for Batman. Hopefully we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming in short order.

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

A Detective Comics #934 Review – Rebirth and Redemption

Detective Comics #934, 2016, Eddy BarrowsTITLE: Detective Comics #934
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
PENCILLER: Eddy Barrows
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: June 8, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I dig this issue for no other reason than it rights a wrong that’s been present since 2011. It fixes the Red Robin costume. That thing had been far too ugly for far too long. It was a damn embarassment.

But there’s plenty more to like here. A mysterious force is targeting Gotham’s heroes, some of whom are not prepared for this new threat. Batman comes to Kate Kane, a.k.a. Batwoman, to help train the next generation of heroes. Red Robin, The Spoiler, Orphan, and (of all people) Clayface are chosen to train under The Dark Knight and his new partner. A partner who knows more about Batman than he suspected, and is hungry for more knowledge. Such as what Batman isn’t saying about this new threat to costumed heroes.

This “reborn” Detective Comics has a feel-good vibe to it by virtue of its cast, which consists largely of characters who were screwed over creatively during the New 52. Tim Drake lost so much of his depth and backstory in the reboot, and given that silly costume. I’ve got high hopes that James Tynion IV, an accomplished Batman writer himself, can do some justice for him. And of course, Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain were wiped from continuity and didn’t return until later. With their respective backstories altered, of course. Fans may remember the shakeup in 2013 over DC not allowing Kate Kane to marry. The road to this title has been frustrating. But there’s a nice opportunity for redemption here.

Detective Comics #934, Eddy Barrows, ClayfaceOn the subject of redemption, the addition of Clayface to this team is surprising. He obviously doesn’t qualify as a costumed hero. But it plays to the idea that on some level, Batman really is trying to rehabilitate the villains he fights. The smart bet is this goes bad at some point. But in the meantime, the dynamic Basil Karlo will have with his more virtuous teammates is intriguing.

This issue is also particularly noteworthy for the return of Jean-Paul Valley, the original Azrael, and the man who replaced Bruce Wayne as Batman in the early ’90s Nightfall storyline. How he connects to the Michael Lane version of Azrael (if at all) remains to be seen, and I can only assume Knightfall is no longer canon. But longtime fans may get a kick out of seeing him again, and hopefully not for the last time. As we open the issue, Batman seems to be trying to recruit him. I’d love to see him return as either a part-time ally, or even an enemy.

It’s not often you see Batman playing the good cop. But that’s exactly what we get here, with Batwoman in the bad cop role. She comes off as a hardened drill sergeant, while Batman plays the supportive mentor. It’s a side to him that don’t see quite as regularly. At least not since Batman & Robin ended. What’s more, Batwoman gets put over really well. Especially when she surprises Bruce with the knowledge of his secret.

Eddy Barrows has earned this run on Detective Comics. He’s had memorable runs on both Nightwing and Superman and recently spent some time on Martian Manhunter. He’s good with acting, and emotion, which shows here. From the fear in Azrael’s eyes as Batman closes in, to the intensity and anger from Kate when a mysterious figure appears in her apartment. He’s able to inject sympathy into the otherwordly Clayface as well as any artist I’ve ever seen (shown above). He connects you to the characters well in that sense.  Barrows’ rendering of Batman’s cowl evokes memories of Michael Keaton’s costume from the Tim Burton movies. Inker Eber Ferreira and colorist Adriano Lucas also deserve credit for making the presentation so clean, and beautifully shadowy.

Detective Comics #934, Eddy Barrows, BatmanIt’s Barrows’ body proportioning I’m not certain about. There’s a panel in which The Spoiler is looking down on a crime in progress, and it looks like her legs are separated from her torso. There’s an otherwise beautiful shot of Batwoman swinging through the city in which our heroine looks just a bit too lanky. Barrows also has a weird thing about leg positioning, as we see in a shot of Batman swooping into a building (shown right). It’s a similar bizarre position to the one we saw on his Nightwing #1 cover.

Part of what made DC Universe: Rebirth #1 such a feel-good issue was the combination of story intrigue, and justice finally being done to characters that had gotten a raw deal in recent years (Wally West, Ted Kord, etc.) Detective Comics #934 is similar in that respect. The two issues also weren’t afraid to show us some emotion and humanity. Between Kate’s often volatile nature, the villainous tendencies of Clayface, and the presence of the younger heroes, I suspect there’ll be no shortage of those things going forward. That’s a good thing.

Image 1 from insidepulse.com. Image 2 from comicbookmovie.com.

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A Batman & Robin: Eternal #1 Review – The Burden of (Low) Expectations

Batman & Robin Eternal #1TITLE: Batman & Robin Eternal #1
AUTHORS: James Tynion IV, Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Tony Daniel
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: October 7, 2015

***Readers might want to check out Grayson #12, as it sets this issue up quite nicely.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m going on record right now: If this book gets as tedious and stupid as Batman Eternal did, I’m out. For some ridiculous reason, I paid $156 for every issue of that series. And like every weekly series DC has put out that isn’t 52, it was a big waste of time and money. So if Batman & Robin Eternal goes off the rails, I won’t be sticking around to watch the awful blaze.

However, Batman & Robin Eternal may be better equipped for success. It’s only 26 issues, which means the creators hopefully won’t have to use as much fluff and filler as they did for its predecessor. Plus, a series with a cast of former Robins is an intriguing idea. The Robin legacy as a whole has been left so ambiguous in the New-52verse that spending some quality time with it would likely do it some good. This series will hopefully supply us with the sense of history we’ve sorely missed.

As an added bonus: This issue introduces Cassandra Cain into the New 52 continuity.

Cassandra Cain, Tony Daniel, Batman & Robin Eternal #1Playing off the events of Grayson #12, the rest of Dick’s surrogate family now knows he’s alive. This issue sees our favorite sexy super-spy help Red Hood and Red Robin catch a bad guy before returning to a familiar location on Spyral business. Then Dick is attacked by a group of well-dressed children with guns, as well as his Spyral partner, followed by a mysterious and lethal martial artist he doesn’t know. His assailant gives him a flash drive that leads him into a mystery in Batman’s past. Via recorded hologram, Bruce calls it his “greatest sin” and his “deepest regret.” The issue ends with a disturbing image which hints at what our mysterious villain, Mother, may be capable of.

Perhaps I’m reading into something that isn’t there, but this issue seems to hint that Dick, Jason, Tim, and others working with Batman was somehow preordained. As if somehow it was all part of a master plan connected to Mother. If that is what they’re going for, then I might as well tag out now. The notion that there was some sort of grand “Robin plan” in place, and that Dick and the others aren’t simply companions Bruce met during his journey, takes so much of the fun away from the Robin concept. The same goes for Batgirl. Bluebird, or whoever else Batman has taken under his proverbial wing. Can we please not make Robin into yet another stupid prophecy character?

Batman & Robin Eternal #1, Tony DanielApparently this series will also present us with the next chapter in Harper Row’s story. In this issue we see she’s capable of manipulating Jim Gordon’s Batman suit. A rivalry between those two could be interesting. But it’s more likely we’ll see why she’s “the key to everything they cannot know. And that is why you must die.” Uh oh, that’s nothing to sneeze at. Batman’s partners have a pretty bad mortality rate, even though they do all come back to life.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Tony Daniel and colorist Sandu Florea’s art since the New 52 began, but what we see here is mostly satisfactory. I imagine the scene between Dick, Jason, and Tim taking place in the glow of a big red light wasn’t an accident. The motorcycle chase scene with Dick, leading into the fight with Cassandra was very nicely done. We also have an assassin character called The Orphan who has a cool reveal.

Sadly, Daniel is already passing the artistic baton. For upcoming issues, the reigns will be passed between Paul Pelletier, Scot Eaton, Fernando Pasarin, among others. I suppose the best we can hope for are smooth transitions between the various pencillers.

I don’t have high hopes for Batman & Robin Eternal. But in truth, I’d almost be willing to endure another crappy weekly series if they worked in new costumes for the Red Hood and Red Robin. Take the Bat-Symbol off Jason’s chest, and just start from scratch on Tim’s costume. That thing’s been an eye sore since day one.

Image 1 from ign.com. Image 2 from flickeringmyth.com.

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A Batgirl Rising Review – The Blonde Bat-Bombshell

Batgirl RisingTITLE: Batgirl Rising
AUTHOR: Bryan Q. Miller
ARTIST: Lee Garbett. Cover by Phil Noto.
COLLECTS: Batgirl #1-7
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASE DATE: July 14, 2010

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

No matter what characters are under the mask, it seems like there’s always a demand for certain heroes or certain groups. They become franchises unto themselves. Aquaman, Robin, the Justice League, the Justice Society, the Teen Titans. They’ve all had various facelifts and changes over the years, but they always have a certain degree of fan support.

Batgirl is no different.

After Battle For The Cowl, in addition to a new Batman and Robin, we got a new Dark Knight damsel. This time it’s Stephanie Brown, the college freshman formerly known as The Spoiler. Batgirl Rising collects her first few adventures, and  breaks her in as Batgirl.

923527-batgirl__1_007_superWhen Cassandra Cain (the character who took on the Batgirl identity several years after the first Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, was incapacitated by Alan Moore in The Killing Joke) gives up her cape and cowl in the wake of Bruce Wayne’s apparent death, Stephanie adopts the identity, much to the chagrin of Barbara Gordon. Barbara reluctantly takes Stephanie under her wing as she battles The Scarecrow, Roxie Rocket, and whatever else Gotham City throws her way.

But will our new Batman want a new Batgirl flying across the rooftops?

Though I’ve been underwhelmed by Bryan Q. Miller’s work on Titans and Teen Titans, it looks like he was given a lot more room to be creative with this title. He takes the ball and runs with it. One of the cool things about this book is that it not only begins a new chapter in Stephanie Brown’s life, but Barbara Gordon’s as well. There are a few scenes where Barbara is trying to mentor a girl who, like her, had her legs taken away from her. They’re touching, and give Barbara that much more depth as a character.

What’s nice is that Miller hasn’t changed Stephanie’s character simply because she’s become Batgirl. This girl is a perpetual screw-up. She knows it, Barbara knows it, and the audience knows it. So why not have a little fun with it?

Batgirl Rising, Stephanie Brown, Damian WayneA writer once told me that when they’re working as a trio, Robin and Batgirl are actually more fun to write than Batman himself. The Caped Crusader always has to be the brooding straight man, while Robin and Batgirl can crack jokes and have a bit more fun. If Batgirl Rising isn’t evidence of that, I don’t know what book is. Miller writes some competitive banter between Damian and Stephanie that’s an absolute joy to read. When a perpetual screw-up teenage girl meets a 10-year-old assassin/superhero with authority issues, hilarity shall ensue.

Batgirl Rising isn’t an instant classic, but it’s a fun book to read. Certain things in this book don’t work as well as others (Stephanie’s attempt at a romance with a fellow college student isn’t a great beat), but nothing falls completely flat. Considering what Bryan Q. Miller books I had been exposed to prior to Batgirl Rising, this book offered him (and Stephanie Brown, for that matter) a measure of redemption in my eyes. Hopefully the best is yet to come.

RATING: 7.5/10

Image 1 from comicsblog.fr. Image 2 from ifanboy.com.

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