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 Black Canary: Ignite Review – Listen to the Music

TITLE: Black Canary: Ignite
AUTHOR: Meg Cabot
ARTISTS:
Cara McGee, Caitlin Quirk (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Zoom
PRICE: $9.99
RELEASED: October 29, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Comics are visual medium. That should be news to approximately no one at all.

That’s why it’s usually difficult to follow a comic book where music is a story component. Sure, you can print lyrics on a page. But if you can’t take in the melody, feel the beat, and hear the emotion in the singer’s voice, it tends to take the punch out of a story.

Thus, I cannot overstate the importance of this video…

In Black Canary: Ignite, Dinah Lance is a brash middle schooler and the lead singer in a band with her two best friends. When we open the book, Dinah and her band are playing the song heard in the video above. With this audio acting as a supplement, it’s exponentially easier to be drawn into Ignite, and the story that’s beginning to unfold. Does it work without the video to accompany it? Sure. But I’d argue the book should have had an advertisement for the video in it. It makes that big a difference in terms of the overall experience.

Middle school is hard enough without learning to control a superpower. But that’s the position our young heroine finds herself in, as she inherits the supersonic “Canary Cry” from her mother. While Dinah comes to grips with what this means for her future, a mysterious villain stalks the Lance family…

Our author is Meg Cabot, who famously wrote The Princess Diaries series, which was later adapted into the films starring Anne Hathaway. It was interesting to read this book after Dear Justice League. That book was geared toward the same age group, but essentially anyone could enjoy it. Ignite, however, is clearly running on girl power. That’s not to say boys shouldn’t pick it up. But it’s aimed at a specific portion of the market, and also skews a bit younger than the other DC Zoom/DC Kids books I’ve read. I’d actually be more inclined to hand it to a kid about to go into middle school than someone already there.

The story has a lot of your standard teen tropes. Conflict with parents, conflict with friends, conflict with a teacher. Nothing that jumps out as especially unique or memorable. But it’s all well and good.

One slight complaint? Our story takes place in Gotham City. Dinah’s father, a police detective, is drawn almost exactly like Commissioner Gordon. Same white hair. Same mustache. Same brown trench coat. Slap a pair of glasses on him, and you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two. I can see kids familiar with Batman’s world reading this and asking, “Wait, is she Commissioner Gordon’s daughter? I thought that was Batgirl.”

Almost every time I opened this book, Cara McGee’s art thrust “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts into my mind. That might be the oddest critique I’ve ever given to comic art. But it’s true. Not a bad connection to make for a book about a rebellious young girl. Though I imagine it has a lot to do with Ronda Rousey using it in the UFC and WWE.

As a DC Comics buff, I can appreciate the way parts of Black Canary’s history were folded into Ignite. For awhile, it was canon that her mother had been the original Black Canary, and she was taking up the mantle. That’s the case here, as is her being mentored by Ted Grant, a.k.a. Wildcat. Her mother also runs a flower shop called “Sherwood Florist.” Dinah ran a business with the same name in the comics many years ago. There’s also no shortage of Batgirl references. They could very well have had a spin on Birds of Prey in mind.

Black Canary: Ignite is…fine. They had the foresight to record the song, which I love. But the writing? Just fine. The art? Just fine. The girl power vibe? That’s fine too. It doesn’t stand out the way they probably wanted it to with Cabot attached. But I tend to measure the quality of books like this based on whether I’d hand them to my daughter at the appropriate age. And I’d have no problem handing her Ignite.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

A Dear Justice League Review – Keep It Simple, Superheroes

TITLE: Dear Justice League
AUTHOR: Michael Northrop
ARTIST: Gustavo Duarte
COLORIST: Marcelo Maiolo
LETTERER: Wes Abbott
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Zoom
PRICE: $9.99
RELEASED: September 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I love this idea. Love, love, love it. Love. It. It’s so simple, yet so brilliant. In a culture where the Avengers are sitting at the cool kids table, this is how you introduce the Justice League to a young audience.

Fan mail. That’s it. That”s the premise. Yes, there’s an evil force consistently in the background. But the meat and potatoes of Dear Justice League is the heroes answering emails from young fans. The heroes all get roughly the same number of pages. Ergo, marquee characters like Batman and Wonder Woman don’t seem more important than say, Hawkgirl or Cyborg.

The questions fall on a spectrum between things kids can relate to and the comedic and zany. For instance, Batman gets asked: “Have you ever been the new kid in town?” On the other hand, Aquaman gets: “No offense, but do you smell like fish most of the time?” The King of Atlantis then proceeds to wander about the Hall of Justice trying to get the answer from other heroes.

But it’s not just the premise that makes the book. The winning formula comes when you combine the premise with Gustavo Duarte’s cartoony, “pencil sketch” style. It’s a perfect fit in every sense of the word. He captures the essence of each character, giving them a comedic spin without getting too silly. I really can’t say enough good things about it. It actually reminds me a little bit of the Pixar-style Justice League that artist Daniel Araya showed us several years ago.

My only complaint about this book? Cyborg doesn’t get a question! Alright, he does. But it’s a cop out question! C’mon. We can’t give the guy something with some meat to it? Heck, I’ve got one! “Hey Cyborg. Why don’t you hang out with the Teen Titans anymore? I thought you and Beast Boy were BFFs?”

Dear Justice League may have a lot of laughs. But I’m absolutely serious when I say it’s become one of my favorite League stories of all time. We’re talking top five. Maybe even top three. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind if something like this were part of the ongoing Justice League series. There’s absolutely no harm in taking a break from the Dark Multiverse and Martian Lex Luthor for something a little lighter and simpler.

Maybe that’s something the DC brain trust should keep in mind more often. Somebody should send ’em a poster that says “K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Superheroes.”

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

A Super Sons: The Polarshield Project Review – Superboy and…Batkid?

TITLE: Super Sons, Book 1 – The Polarshield Project
AUTHOR:
Ridley Pearson
ARTIST: Ile Gonzalez
LETTERER: Saida Temofonte
PUBLISHER: DC Zoom
PRICE: $9.99
RELEASED:
April 2, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

That’s right, kids! The Super Sons are back at it! No, not those, and definitely not those. Here we have a new breed of Jon Kent and Damian Wayne designed specifically for middle grade readers. Heck, instead of Damian, he actually just goes by Ian Wayne in this book. Which if you think about it, is so simple it’s actually kind of brilliant.

Hey. If kids are reading comics again, he can be Ian McKellen for all I care.

Jon Kent and Ian Wayne, who unbeknownst to one another are the sons of Superman and Batman, both wind up attending middle school in the city of Wyndemere. Among their classmates are Tilly, who quickly befriends (and has a crush on) Jon, as well as the mysterious Candice. Together, these four will uncover a massive conspiracy involving a mysterious illness that has struck, among many others, Jon’s mother Lois. In the process, they’ll form a friendship strong enough to make them into a formidable team of young heroes.

It’s interesting to read this book as an adult, trying to see at it through the eyes of your middle school self. The Polarshield Project accomplishes what it needs to the most by giving young readers characters they can connect with. We have Jon as the everyman character, and thus the most accessible. Tilly is more or less his female equivalent, but is also there to help fill the romance quota. Candice is the young lady trying to discover who she is and find her place in the world. Naturally, Ian is the loner who, in his own words, has trouble making friends. There’s a lot to relate to here. Which is saying something, considering the world it takes place in.

Pearson and Gonzalez set up a rich backstory for Candice. She’s essentially the uncrowned princess of the continent of Landis, which is most certainly not Africa. The trouble is, The Polarshield Project has so much to accomplish that we aren’t necessarily given enough to sink our teeth into. It’s designed to be a larger story that carries into the next book. But if there’d been a little more meat on the bone, the anticipation for that next volume would be that much greater.

At one point, the boys create makeshift superhero identities for themselves. Oddly enough, while Jon does indeed get to be called Superboy, Ian gets the hokey moniker of “Batkid.” That’s the part of the book I enjoyed the least. Batkid feels to silly to be something created by that character. This version of Damian Wayne is in an awkward position. He’s old enough to be Robin. But he can’t be. Not yet, at least.

On a related note, for whatever reason this book makes a point of telling us Alfred is dead. Specifically, the line is, “We all wish Alfred were still here.” There’s nothing wrong with it, per se. It just feels a little out of place. Bruce Wayne isn’t in the story very much, so it’s not like we’re wondering where Alfred is. If nothing else, I suppose it establishes the time frame this story takes place in.

Saida Temofonte’s “animated” style fits quite naturally here, and has a great flow to it. Particularly when it comes to the action sequences. Her work leaves you wanting more, and for this world to continue expanding. Granted, seeing Damian with brown hair takes some getting used to…

In the end, The Polarshield Project is a fun and accessible new take on the DC Universe, with plenty of room to grow. Hopefully, that growth can play out over several volumes to come.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.