Posted in Uncategorized

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.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition/

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

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.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition/

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

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.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

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.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition/

Posted in Wrestling

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.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition/