Tag Archives: Stephanie Brown

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 an extremely talented group of writers and artists, 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, none of that happened. “Night of the Monster Men” feels like your wife dragging you to one of your friend’s weddings. It’s an obligation you’re stuck with, so you try to make the best of it. But in the end you’re just happy to get the hell out of there.

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 by Bill Finger and Bob Kane 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.

“Night of the Monster Men” suffers from a variety of problems. But 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. In the first issue, 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 to keep them from dying. This would be futile, of course. But it would have made a great emotional backdrop. 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 mostly 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 in the fantasy/horror side of things. We also have they very capable Roge Antonio, who give us a nice blend of horror and naturalism. Instead of going the ogre route, the story mostly opts for a mix of mutant aberrations and giant kaiju type monsters. They’re fun to look at, but they’d be more fun if they were more than mere physical threats to our heroes Batman. There’s little of any depth or 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.

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A Detective Comics #939 Review – Tim Drake’s Return to Glory

Detective Comics #939, cover, Eddy BarrowsTITLE: Detective Comics #939
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
PENCILLER: Eddy Barrows
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: August 24, 2016

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Did any character get a more of a raw deal in the New 52 than Tim Drake? Not only was he put in a horrendous new costume, but his 20-year history was compressed and retconned to the point that we were essentially dealing with a new character. Almost four years later, and things aren’t much better for him.

That being said, Tim Drake fans should send James Tynion IV a thank you note. Detective Comics #939 is the best Tim Drake story I’ve read in years. New 52 Red Robin may finally become more than a shell of his pre-reboot self, and really set himself apart from his “brothers” in Batman’s surrogate family. Though in a way it’s a shame, as it’s looking like he’ll soon be either retired or dead…

The quaint team of heroes assembled by Batman and Batwoman have begun to mount a comeback against the military force Jacob Kane has dedicated to eliminating caped heroes in Gotham. But as drones prepare to swarm the city, Kate Kane suspects Batman knows more than he’s letting on about her father’s efforts. Meanwhile, Tim Drake ponders a future without superheroics. But he may not live to see such a future, after he makes a drastic choice that terrifies his teammates.

Detective Comics #939, Tim and Steph, Eddy BarrowsSince Tynion came aboard Detective Comics, Tim has been debating whether to leave Gotham to attend Ivy University full time. This is consistent with the Tim Drake we often saw in the late ’90s and early ’00s. At that point, Tim was unsure of his future as a superhero, often insecure when comparing himself to Dick Grayson and the like. This college storyline seems to play off that idea. As much of a Tim Drake fan as I am, seeing him walk away might not be the worst thing at this point. Batman has a lot of legacy characters that tend to simply drift in the status quo, serving no real purpose. Letting Tim hang up his cape might freshen up his character, and his relationships with the active heroes. And as a bonus, things would be a little less crowded in Gotham.

But of course, Detective Comics is really about Batwoman these days, giving her the spotlight she deserves. What stands out prominently about Tynion’s take on her is the relationship she has with Batman. They’ve been established as cousins, and early in the issue we see a young Kate try to comfort Bruce Wayne at his parents’ funeral. Because they have that deep-rooted connection, she’s able to talk to him in a way few people can. Her words have weight with him, as illustrated when she calls him out for keeping something from her, and he’s forced to admit fault. How often does that happen to Batman? She may be his cousin, but Kate often acts like his big sister.

I’ve been mostly pleased with Eddy Barrows’ work on this series thus far. In recent issues he and the other artists have emphasized certain panels, usually those that transition to another scene, by adjusting to a more painterly style. The above image of Stephanie is an example. Often it will occur when something dramatic or important is said. Other times it just enhances a nice character shot. It takes some getting used to. But it’s a fun way to liven up dialogue scenes, and can leave lasting impressions.

Clayface, Detective Comics #939, 2016Barrows is also very good at showing us the dichotomy of Basil Karlo, a.k.a. Clayface. Case in point, the page at right. On one hand, we’ve got a great shot of this bulky, gooey monster. But in the next panel, that same monster almost looks like a sad puppy. Here’s hoping this book devotes some more time to Basil in the near future. We could potentially see some really good stuff here.

Barrows does love that legs spread and knees bent pose, doesn’t he? We saw Batman in this pose in issue #934, and now Tim. On the cover, no less. I opted for the Rafael Albuquerque variant.

Like Tim Drake, Detective Comics is better than it’s been in quite some time. In terms of consistency, we’re talking pre-New 52. This book isn’t simply housing for Batman’s legacy characters. It’s in contention for the best Bat-book on the stands. My only question now is whether it’ll be down a Robin going forward…

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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 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 Batman #28 Review – Back to the Future

Batman #28, coverTITLE: Batman #28
AUTHORS: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV

PENCILLER: Dustin Nguyen

PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99

RELEASED: February 12, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

***WARNING: SPOILERS LAY AHEAD FOR BATMAN #28***

After living in the past for quite some time, Batman comes back to the present in issue #28 to give us an appetizer for the upcoming weekly series, Batman Eternal. While I’ve given the guy a decent amount of criticism for his run with the Dark Knight, I’ll freely admit that issue #28 is very effective. It gets the reader psyched and asking questions about Eternal. And indeed, there is no shortage of questions…

Set “soon,” Batman #28 sees Harper Row finagle her way into The Egyptian, “the only nightclub left in New Gotham.” Yes, New Gotham, a city which is apparently in some kind of crisis. Citizens live under an 8 p.m. curfew, the police wear S.W.A.T. gear and aren’t at all shy about brutality. People have apparently been dying, possibly due to some sort of infection. Once inside, Harper allows the Dark Knight to make a hell of an entrance before donning her uniform and becoming the gun-toting character we’ve seen sketches of in recent months, Bluebird. Yes, Harper Row seems to have officially joined the Bat-family. But Batman calls her off when they come face-to-face with Gotham’s newest crime lord….Selina Kyle. Apparently something has happened to Selina, as “that Catwoman is gone,” because “[Batman] left her to die.” But apparently, there is enough good will left between the two that Selina allows this new Dynamic Duo into a top secret safe, which imprisons “the only one in this city who knows how to stop what’s coming next.”

Batman #28, Spoiler reveal, Dustin NguyenEnter the Spoiler.

Yes friends, Stephanie Brown has returned. Poor Spoiler. She’s only been back for one page, and she already in deep trouble.

When I read the line about Spoiler being the key to stopping what’s next, the first thing that popped into my head was the big War Games crossover from 2004-2005 (My God, has it been that long?). In an attempt to regain Batman’s trust after being fired as the latest Robin, Stephanie, as Spoiler, tries to enact one of Batman’s contingency plans to unite all the city’s crime factions under a single crime lord. The whole thing goes to hell, resulting in a gang war in Gotham City. A great many lives are lost, and it’s a huge disaster. It wouldn’t shock me if something similar has happened here. Stephanie found herself in the middle of something, made the wrong move, and madness erupted.  That’s pure fan speculation, mind you. But it would certainly be consistent with the Stephanie we knew before.

One side note: I like the new costume. The colors make it somewhat reminiscent of her Batgirl suit. *sigh* It still hurts, damn it…

In terms of Catwoman being Gotham’s new kingpin of crime, my biggest impression thus far is that the Egyptian is pretty damn cool. When we first walk in, we see two gigantic golden cat statues (the Egyptians worshipped cats, after all), and when Selina makes her entrance we see a smaller black one. The safe in which Steph is imprisoned is also covered in hieroglyphics, and the backgrounds give it a really nice ancient Egyptian throne room feel. To an extent, it seems like a lair we’d have seen Julie Newmar prancing around in on the ’60s Batman show. In terms of how this will effect Batman and Catwoman’s relationship, well…at least they’re used to things being complicated.

Batman #28, Bluebird, Batman, Dustin NguyenBluebird is different, to be sure. She’s a bit of a mixed bag as far as I’m concerned. If you’ll indulge me as I argue with myself…

I’ve never been in love with members of Batman’s crew using firearms. That’s one of the reasons I have issues with Red Hood and the Outlaws. Jason Todd wields twin guns while wearing a Bat symbol on his chest. It just seems off to me. I even had trouble with the use of rubber bullets in The Dark Knight Returns. Given what happened to Bruce’s parents, it doesn’t make sense to me that he would endorse someone who uses them. I bring this up because in Batman #28, a thug calls Batman out on Bluebird’s use of guns.

Thug: “And here I thought Batman hated guns.”
Batman: “I do. She doesn’t.”

Sorry folks, I don’t buy that logic. From where I sit, if you work with Batman and carry on his legacy, you play by his rules. And “no guns” is like…rule #2. It’s right behind “No nipples on the Batsuit.”

However…

Bluebird’s use of shock pellets means she’s not as big an offender as Jason. The incorporation of electricity into her heroics is also undeniably fitting with her backstory, and her work on the Gotham power grid. It also makes her stand out among the rest of Batman’s allies. Plus, her costume is pretty damn cool, as was that trick with the zip line and the clip on her boot. The blue portions of her suit seem to be a callback to Nightwing’s old v-stripe, which I don’t think is a good sign in terms of Dick Grayson’s fate in Forever Evil. But that’s a different issue entirely. All in all, while I’ve got my issues with her, Bluebird gets a pass from me for now.

Batman #28, Dustin Nguyen, BatcaveWe’ve also got a mystery character in the Batcave, essentially playing the Alfred/Oracle role. The most obvious candidate for this role would be Carrie Kelley, given what we’ve seen in Batman & Robin recently. But the hair doesn’t seem to match up. Could it be Cullen, Harper’s brother? That seems a bit more likely, but the figure on this character looks very feminine. Ah, the joy of speculation.

Frankly, I’m a little sad to go back to Zero Year after this issue. This is the most satisfying installment of the series since #23.2 in September. Zero Year is selling, and nobody can deny it that. But personally, I’m ready for Snyder, Capullo, and the Batman crew to come back to present day. Especially if we get more issues like this.

Image 1 from bleedingcool.com. Image 2 from darkknightnews.com. Image 3 from newsarama.com.

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A Batgirl #27 Review – Um…White Lantern Babs?

Batgirl #27, 2014, Alex Garner coverTITLE: Batgirl #27
AUTHOR: Gail Simone
PENCILLER: Robert Gill. Cover by Alex Garner.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: January 15, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Bluebelle, huh? Well, at least it’s better than Catbird.

Yes, in this Gothtophia tie-in, Barbara Gordon is not Batgirl, her relationship with her mother is hunky dory, and her brother is apparently an emotionally stable individual. In Batgirl’s place we have Bluebelle, a hero clad in white and blue, who is more than grateful to have a family that loves her, and a fulfilling life. Her partner and best friend is Charise Carnes, who is the villainous Knightfall in the Gotham we know. But in this utopia, she patrols the city as Daybreak (which I think is meant to be a take-off of Nightwing). But when terror strikes at the Joker Ice Cream Factory, Bluebelle and Daybreak are forced to face a tragedy unlike any they’ve ever seen. And for Barbara, it may be time for a reality check…

From a story standpoint, this issue is pretty much what you’d expect. Babs enjoys her joyful reality, until she gradually realizes all is not what it seems. The Joker ice cream thing is a bit interesting, only because you’d think John Layman and Jason Fabok might want to use a Gothtopia version of him for the main story in Detective Comics. Perhaps they will, but for some reason he won’t have his clown motif. Either way, having the Joker hanging over the story is fitting for Barbara, given The Killing Joke is still somewhat canonical.

Batgirl #27, Spoiler?From a writing standpoint, the only other thing that stood out to me about this issue was something Barbara says via text box in the middle of the issue. It’s in a panel where Daybreak has fallen to the ground, and the first box we see says: “Okay, she’s a bit spoiled.” I can’t help but wonder if the word “spoiled” is a little wink at the audience related to Stephanie Brown and the Spoiler. Given Daybreak’s purple hood and cape, not to mention Charise’s long blond hair, it’s hard to imagine it’s a coincidence.

Robert Gill fills in on this issue, and does a decent job of it. His work didn’t make or break the issue as far as I’m concerned, though I did enjoy some of the enthusiasm he was able to inject into Barbara, particularly in the first few pages. There’s also a panel where she’s leaping across rooftops, and simply spreads her arms, enjoying the ride. He did a nice job of drawing a Barbara Gordon who is physically the same, yet still very different.

As a series, Batgirl has been frustrating for the past few months. In November, the issue crossed over with Zero Year, then in December we wrapped up the “Batgirl: Wanted” storyline, and now this month we’re in yet another crossover. There’s nothing wrong with the issues on their own, but we’re doing an awful lot of jumping around. Hopefully the series won’t get sucked into another cross over as we head into spring. It’s taken a couple of years, but I’m finally starting to get used to Gail Simone writing this Barbara Gordon, as opposed to the one she wrote in Birds of Prey.

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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