Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest: Batgirl #1

Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2009
By: Thom Young

Bryan Q. Miller
Lee Garbett (p), Trevor Scott (i), & Guy Major (colors)
DC Comics
"Batgirl Rising: Point of New Origin Part One"

Editor's Note: Because DC Comics made sure to not reveal her identity before the release of Batgirl #1, the following reviews have been either written or edited to not explicitly reveal the identity of the All-New Batgirl.

However, there are more than likely enough clues in the reviews to work out who she is. Regardless, the mystery of the title character's identity is revealed five pages into the issue, so it's not like figuring out who she is before you read the story is going to spoil the ending!

Christopher Power:
Robert Murray:
Karyn Pinter:
Thom Young:

Christopher Power:

I am at a loss to explain a great deal of this book. I find myself wondering how a writer and editing team can take a concept that I like so much--a new legacy for a classic hero, a deserving protégé, and a capable mentor--and yet make misstep after misstep until I have found myself not only negative about the book, but downright annoyed. I'm very confused on how I--as a reader, a fan, and a reviewer--can go from page five where I was thrilled about the direction of the storyline to page 10 where I vehemently disliked what was happening.

In order to provide a positive note, I will say that the art in the book is certainly serviceable--with the new Batgirl looking distinctive from Cassandra Cain's lithe form. The new girl is a little broader in the shoulders and hips, and somewhat bustier--a fact that is highlighted in the scene that has the new girl fighting side-by-side with Cain as a partner. The differences are subtle, but certainly there.

The movements in combat are also different--highlighted in the opening fight scene with the street racing thugs in which the new Batgirl's movements are more those of a street brawler rather than of an expert martial artist.

However, there is something about Lee Garbett's art that is out of proportion. While the character anatomy is strong, many of the backgrounds--such as the cars in the opening drag race--look elongated or stretched.

Unfortunately, the writing in the book leaves me to wonder if Bryan Q. Miller or, more importantly, the editors have read any of the stories from 2004 onward regarding any of the secondary Batman characters. In this comic, the one page with Dick Grayson and Damian as Batman and Robin was more believable, and more keeping in character, than was the depiction of any of the other players in this book.

Let's begin with the most obvious and maddeningly frustrating character of the whole story: Barbara Gordon.

We first encounter Barbara at a wheelchair basketball game with Leslie Thompkins (who apparently is on fine terms with everyone in Gotham these days). There is a less-than-subtle jibe in Barbara's interior monologue that one of my fellow reviewers [Ray Tate] would appreciate. Barbara thinks about Leslie Thompkins dedicating her life "to heal . . . everyone."

Except Barbara, of course.

It's a fine line of narration, and it acknowledges that it doesn't make sense that Babs has not been healed when nearly every other significant character in the DC universe has been able to return to optimal health at some point--even from death.

However, we then move into Barbara's next bit of interior monologue in which she thinks:
"The anger is all I really know anymore. Every day. And it isn't a comfort, like a blanket . . . it's a film I can't rub off my skin. Every day is a constant reminder that things will never change."
What the heck?

Given this dialogue (lettered in the extremely poor choice of green fonts on a green background; it is good that my colour blindness affects the red spectrum and not green or I would not have been able to read it), and given the maligned Oracle: The Cure, my only conclusion is that DC Comics is retconning Barbara Gordon.

Previously, she was one of the strongest (in character) and most capable people in the DC universe. However, she's now an angst-ridden cliché of someone who is a wheelchair user and who has not addressed the emotional aspects of her injury. This turn is immensely disappointing.

I want to emphasize that this disappointment is not about a physically disabled person being depicted with angst about his or her condition; it is a critique about the character of Barbara Gordon not being depicted in a consistent way with what has come before.

Can Barbara wish to have the use of her legs back? Yes, certainly, that makes complete sense.

Can Barbara wish to be swinging from a Batline above Gotham? Sure, who wouldn't?

Can Barbara have periods of frustration? Again, yes, that makes sense to me.

However, to have Barbara have "anger be all [she] really [knows] anymore" . . . no, that does not make sense.

This is a woman who has been a key figure in the war on crime in Gotham City. She has been the central key-holder of the Justice League of America. She has capably run her own team of vigilante women in a series in which she was depicted as being a woman of strong character who was not inhibited by anything--let alone being in a wheelchair.*

Anyway, she later receives a phone call from Dick Grayson while visiting with her father. When he asks if it is anyone special, Barbara responds, "Depends on who you ask."

I actually read that dialogue box three times on the first reading to make sure I understood it properly. Barbara seems to be implying that the reason that she and Dick are not together is Dick's fault.

Now, for those readers who paid attention during the One Year Later storyline, it was revealed that Dick Grayson proposed marriage to Barbara before the Battle for Metropolis (during Infinite Crisis), and she turned him down! I am at a loss of what the writer is trying to say here in these scenes.

Moving on from my frustration of the depiction of Babs to the other former Batgirl, Cassandra Cain: She appears very briefly in this issue--serving only to demonstrate why a new Batgirl is needed. The following dialogue, provided while Cain strips off her Batgirl suit after a fight, serves as the only explanation we receive, "That symbol . . . his crest. His fight. I fought for him. But no more."

I am not an expert on Cain's character, but the key flaw in her nature that was consistently used as a story device was her determination to do what she thought was right. Bruce's vision for Gotham is in the set of things that she thought was right. As a result, without any further explanation, this dialogue falls flat and unbelievable.

Moving onto the new Batgirl, apparently Buffy Summers from season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will be our new Batgirl. She looks, sounds, and is even in the same situation as that Buffy.

She is trying to live a normal life, going to university, and trying to make her mother happy. She is presented as being a naïve girl who is more worried about being seen as tough than she is in actually being tough. Much like the other characters, this depiction is inconsistent with her previous appearances.

While the character has always been a bit flippant and too enamoured with the fun of vigilantism, she was part of the legend in her previous appearances, and she was trained by Bruce himself--as well as having her own career on the streets of Gotham. Despite her young age, she has had several unpleasant experiences that has shifted her from being a new hero to a seasoned veteran. She is more world-aware than is depicted here in the combat sequences.

Finally, the book ends with our former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, showing up to possibly be a mentor for our new Batgirl. Of course, there is no clear indication of how or why Babs does this. There is also no clear idea as to how she goes from "not being in a position to help anyone" to being in the new Batgirl's kitchen.

I guess I would find out more in the next issue, if I bothered to buy it. I really wanted to like this book, and I love the choice for the new Batgirl. However, I very much disliked the execution.

*As a post-script, I would like to know who at DC Comics has approved the destruction of all of the work of Gail Simone in Birds of Prey. In that book we had strong female role models who were friends, comrades, and good examples of how women can be used effectively in comics.

In the last month we have had an offhand slanderous remark about Huntress and Lady Blackhawk in James Robinson's Cry for Justice, and Oracle seems to be on a road that is extremely unfortunate. If no one has approved this, then the editors need to start taking control of this situation now before it continues.

Robert Murray:

Out of the continuing crop of Batman: Reborn titles, Batgirl #1 is the weakest--with a main character I can't relate to, and a by-the-numbers approach to writing that isn't compelling at all.

For those of you without Internet connections . . . wait, scratch that! You wouldn't be reading this, would you? Anyway, the new Batgirl is . . . well, my editor doesn't want me to give away that spoiler. However, I'll give you a few reasons why I don't think she should be Batgirl.

First, her overall sloppiness in action is the antithesis of what Barbara Gordon and Cassandra Cain brought to the character. This is a girl who can't even take out normal baddies without maximum effort, so I don't know if she should take such a distinctive mantel of the Bat family.

Secondly, she's so childish that it becomes distracting to me every time she opens her mouth. Well, if Brian Q. Miller was looking to typify this new Batgirl, I think he's done a good job, as he writes a less-than-capable, highly annoying girl who will surely turn off Bat fans everywhere in the coming months. I know he's lost my readership for the rest of this series--unless Cassandra decides to quit moping and return to her cowl.

Speaking of which, isn't the way in which Batgirl's identity is passed along in this issue really stupid? Once Cassandra declares that Bruce is dead, she strips off the costume in the pouring rain (cheesy!) and hands it to the new girl. Yeah, really dramatic, Mr. Bryan Q. Miller!

This kind of lazy storytelling is just an example of the minimally compelling scenes that make up issue #1. The discovery of Batgirl's identity is built up to be surprising to the reader, but it's really anticlimactic, with the character's inner dialogue during the revelatory scene suggesting to the reader, "Why, it's just little ol' me!"

To say that the drama and suspense in this issue is miniscule would be an understatement. The downtime scenes starring either the new Batgirl or Barbara Gordon are both boring and unenlightening--a deadly combination for a new series.

Speaking of the eldest Batgirl, her vignettes in the issue did nothing for me except prove that she is an insufferable sourpuss. If that was Miller's intention, Bravo! Job well done!

Did the artwork help matters in this first issue? Unfortunately, no.

Don't get me wrong. Lee Garbett's pencils and Trevor Scott's inks are not bad in any way. In fact, they're entirely appropriate for the issue at hand.

The problem with the art is the same as the downtime scenes: It's boring. There's no flair or artistic virtuosity to Batgirl #1--though I wasn't expecting flair and virtuosity coming into the issue. Still, a bone thrown to the faithful Batman fans who are following everything related to Batman: Reborn would have been appreciated.

Karyn Pinter:

Same suit, different girl.

In DC's all-around facelift of the Bat family, they've ditched Cassandra and picked a spunky, little new girl whose choice is rather obvious. As the new Batgirl hitting the streets, she receives the same warm, fuzzy welcome as any member of the Bat family would--but she's also hindered by her promises to her mother and her attempts at a normal life.

I found the fans' anticipation of this comic to be pretty mixed. Many seemed very down on the idea of who exactly would end up in the suit, and others were just middle of the road. Very, very few seemed thrilled by the assumption of who would be most likely to succeed.

There have been a handful of Batgirls over the years, and (just like with Robin) there will always be the one who stands out the most--the one who will always be "the fan favorite." The new Batgirl has some awfully big, bright yellow boots to fill.

Personally, I don't care about the girl inside the costume, just the mantle. My main concern is this: Don't f--k it up.

Next to Wonder Woman, Batgirl might be the most notable DC heroine--so to see that character potentially brought down by a replacement whose track record has been a bit soggy would, in a word, suck.

As for Cassandra Cain, who knows where she's wandered off to. She literally dropped the Bat mantle at the new girl's feet and took off.

I'm not particularly thrilled with DC's renovation of its Batman titles. If it's not broke, don't fix it. I don't understand the need to start replacing all of the characters suddenly--but, hey, I'm not in charge.

I'm just the one buying the comics and helping to pay for Dan DiDio's new Porsche. For those of you who were fans of the new Batgirl, congrats on the win.

For those of you who want Barbara Gordon back, don't worry, she's shoehorned into the issue.

Really, the only reason Barbara seems to be in the comic at all is to ease the tempers of those who frothed at the mouth at the thought of Barbara returning as Batgirl. Her role in this issue seemed a bit forced--like Barbara has nothing better to do now that Birds of Prey is over so she'll just mentor the new kid.

Is it good to see Barbara Gordon involved in Batgirl? Yes, as it always is since it's her character and always will be.

Was it really necessary to have her take up so much room in the issue? No. It made me wonder who exactly the star of this comic was--Barbara or the new girl.

One more thing to add to this whole Barbara topic: Is it just me, or did she seem really broody? What's with the long face there, Babs? Is it because Bruce is gone, or is it that's she's in a wheelchair and resenting it again? I thought she had accepted her disability, and was stronger because of it?

The set up of the story was good. It seemed to follow the right path and didn't go off on a wild tear throwing too much into the mix too soon. However, the wording just seemed out of touch.

I haven't encountered Bryan Q. Miller as a writer before. I guess he wrote some episodes of Smallville and has done some work on Teen Titans (neither of which I've watched or read), but that's all I know.

Maybe he just needs to find his comfort zone with this project, but the reading of the first issue was a little awkward--especially some of the dialog coming from the new Batgirl. Nevertheless, he's scored big with this gig.

You're either going to read this comic or you're not. You're either going to like it or not. It's that simple. The separation between the fans is undoubtedly going to remain--the fans vs. the non-fans of . . . the new girl.

From a non-biased viewpoint, this comic wasn't bad; it just needs some time to grow and some wrinkles need to be ironed out. The rest is up to the readers to get used to.

We've got a fairly new writer taking on a character that has a fair amount of baggage--and that character's just taken on a new persona with three times as much history. Admittedly, I was expecting the worst from this new Batgirl, but it's not horrible.

I'm going to give it a shot--at least for the first few issues to see if it's got any legs.

Thom Young:

Back in the summer of 1976 (33 years ago), I bought every Batman-related series that DC published--and I loved them all. Admittedly, there were only four titles at the time: Batman, Detective Comics, The Brave and the Bold, and Batman Family.

Two years later there would only be three as Batman Family was merged into Detective Comics--not because Batman Family was doing poorly in sales, but because Detective Comics would have been canceled without the merger. DC couldn't allow the series that gave the company its name to fall by the wayside.

Anyway, back in that summer of 1976, Batman Family was a bi-monthly collection of new stories and reprints. The new Batgirl stories would be written by either Eliot S. Maggin or Bob Rozakis (sometimes as solo adventures, but often as team ups with Robin). Of course, by "Batgirl" and "Robin," I mean Barbara "Batgirl" Gordon and Dick "Robin" Grayson.

They weren't always the best stories. In fact, they were mostly very forgettable. I've actually forgotten all of them, and seeing the covers now after 33 years doesn't recall the stories inside those covers to my mind--though later Batman Family issues with Man-Bat stories illustrated by either Marshall Rogers or Michael Golden are far more memorable.

Why do I bring all this up?

Because this first issue of The All-New Batgirl has a story that would be right at home in that old Batman Family series from 33 years ago. If it weren't for the fact that this issue reveals the identity of the All-New Batgirl, there would not be anything particularly memorable about this story 33 years from now. It's a pedestrian story that is, for the most part, competently written and illustrated.

Obviously, I inserted the clause "for the most part" into my previous statement because there are a few problems with the execution of both the writing and the illustrations. My fellow reviewers have already touched upon the major problem: Barbara Gordon is angry about . . . something.

I guess she's supposed to be angry about being a paraplegic, but I'm not 100% certain that's what it's about.

I didn't read either Birds of Prey or Oracle: The Cure, but I assumed she must be angry about something that happened recently in one or both of those two series. If that's not the case--if she's suddenly angry for no apparent reason about being a paraplegic after years of seeming to have adjusted to her condition, then Chris Power is right to cite Barbara's interior monolog about being angry all the time as an error on the part of Bryan Q. Miller.

Beyond that major problem (if it is a problem--like I said, I didn't read either of Barbara Gordon's previous series), there are a few minor problems as well.

In his review, Chris stated that the work by Lee Garbett is "serviceable." I agree with that assessment. Garbett's work here isn't bad, for the most part. In fact, some pages are really very good—specifically, the "pin-up panels":
  • The first is the shot of Batman and Robin (Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne) watching the All-New Batgirl from atop a roof--though the church steeple behind them looks more like the silhouette of a Christmas tree than it does a church steeple (page 5).

  • The second is on the following page in the title-splash that shows the All-New Batgirl removing her cowl to reveal that she is actually. . . . No, this is a spoiler-free Sunday Slugfest.

    However, that page is very well illustrated. Quite lovely, in fact--though her forehead and the air above it both seem a bit high. However, she did just remove a tight-fitting cowl that once belonged to Cassandra Cain, who might be a little smaller than the All-New Batgirl.
In other places, though, Garbett makes a few mistakes in the art. Well, I consider them to be mistakes--though some of them could be considered valid artistic choices. First, in the street racing sequence that begins the issue, the two cars take off from the starting line by . . . bouncing off the pavement and into the air?

I understand that Garbett was attempting to show kinetic energy, but cars don't bounce off the ground unless something is wrong--particularly cars that are being raced against each other, and especially not cars that are just taking off from the starting line!

Sure, if a car racing down the road at an excessive speed suddenly hits a bump, then that car might momentarily leave the pavement. It would be preferable, of course, if it didn't since a car with its tires off the pavement isn't going to win many races. However, I would think that these street racers were smart enough to not choose a road that had speed bumps built into it.

And, when a street-legal car hits a speed bump at a high rate of acceleration, it's more likely to bang the chassis against the bump than it is to fly all four wheels off the pavement. Of course, professional race cars--NASCAR, Indy, Formula One, or NHRA dragsters--will leave the pavement in certain circumstances, but that's because those cars are meant to be as lightweight as possible. Even then, the drivers don't want their tires to not be in contact with the pavement!

Street legal cars bouncing off the pavement as they race down the road is appropriate for cartoons and comics with a slapstick quality to them--like a Keystone Cops routine, perhaps--but not in the current approach that DC has been taking with its Batman Family titles. Though the "lingo" of the street racers (who fire automatic weapons through the roofs of their cars as if they're really some sort o' original gangstas) isn't really something that can be cited for its verisimilitude either.

One other point in Garbett's work that stood out was the illustration he did of the All-New Batgirl's mother serving her lovely daughter breakfast in bed. When I saw the illustration of what was on the plate, I thought . . . "oatmeal and raisin cookies?"

My seven-year-old daughter picked up Batgirl #1 and read it all the way through--which surprised me because she's never shown any interest in superhero comic books of this sort. She prefers old Tom and Jerry and current Scooby Doo comics, but I think she was interested because this comic was about Batgirl rather than Batman. She also read the Supergirl story in my copy of Action Comics #252 (a reprint copy).

Anyway, my daughter picked read this issue and she said she liked it. I asked her what was on the breakfast plate and she said, "Chocolate chip cookies."

So . . . the All-New Batgirl's mother serves her daughter either oatmeal and raisin cookies or chocolate chip cookies for breakfast? And the woman is a physician? (Or a nurse, but probably a physician--I'm guessing.)

No, she doesn't serve her daughter cookies for breakfast. Instead, the narrative tells us that these round things that seem to have either raisins or chocolate chips in them are actually . . . waffles!

Round waffles?

Of course, they're supposed to be Eggo brand waffles--and the marks that look like either raisins or chocolate chips are supposed to be the indented squares in the waffle design.

It's so obvious now that Garbett was trying to draw Eggo Buttermilk Waffles rather than cookies--though Eggo also makes Chocolate Chip Waffles, so some of those dark spots that Garbett drew could still be chocolate chips.

After we've been told in the interior monolog narrative, it really is obvious that Garbett was trying to draw waffles rather than cookies. However, he might have been more successful in conveying what these items were if he had illustrated rectangular (and homemade) waffles rather than round Eggo waffles from a box.

However, the fact that these are supposed to be Eggo waffles leads to another problem. It's not really a writing problem as much as it is just an interesting facet of this woman's character--keeping in mind that she's a physician who apparently works in the emergency room of West Mercy Hospital.

[Note: The west quadrant of Gotham City is apparently bad news, so this is supposedly a tough neighborhood in which the woman is working--which we learn at the end of the issue when someone else serves the All-New Batgirl some rectangular waffles because the mother had to stay late at the hospital.]

Anyway, what does the All-New Batgirl's physician mother say about these waffles she's serving her daughter? "Just thought my daughter could use a healthy breakfast on her big day" (the big day being her first day of college).

A healthy breakfast? Eggo waffles?

I'm sorry, ma'am, you've got a lovely daughter, but she's not going to say lovely or healthy for long if you think that processed food from a box is "healthy"--and you're a physician, too!

As for the All-New Batgirl's first day at Gotham University:

She's a freshman, of course. In fact, as she serves her daughter the healthy breakfast of processed food stuff in the shape of waffles, the mother says, "Oh, come on. Don't tell me you're not excited about starting freshman year?!?" (Hey, what does that end punctuation of question mark, exclamation point, and question mark mean exactly?!?)

See, the All-New Batgirl is a freshman at Gotham University!

Why is that significant?

Because her first class is Philosophy 480! Which, she tells us in her interior monolog, is "required."

Philosophy 480 is a class that freshmen are required to take? Wow, that's some university!

What's more, it takes place in a lecture hall with theater seating--like Professor Kingsfield's lecture hall in The Paper Chase, but with newer desks and chairs, and with identical laptop computers on each desk (except for the desk of our protagonist for some reason).

I counted the students in the lecture hall. There are 38 of them who are visible--and there may be others off-panel.

Wow! 38 students (or more) taking Philosophy 480 in a lecture hall. Well, of course, it's a required course for incoming freshman students after all.

For the record, a 400-level class almost always denotes a class for upperclassmen. It's a "senior level class" that some juniors might take if they have all of the prerequisites for it out of the way. Additionally, a 400-level philosophy course is more likely to have eight students in it rather than 38.

Based on what the professor is saying as the All-New Batgirl daydreams while drawing Batman logos in her notebook, the course would seem to be Philosophy 480: Metaphysics.

That's some heavy stuff to lay on incoming freshmen as a required course--though the nature of the professor's discourse would also seem to indicate that the class might be a superficial exploration of metaphysics.

Of course, it's not out of the question that a freshman could stumble into enrolling in a 400-level philosophy course quite by accident. That exact situation happened to me when I was a freshman at the University of Kansas many years ago.

I was an incoming freshman, and we had to go to the gym (Allen Fieldhouse) to collect computer punch cards for the classes we wanted to take. I was never introduced to my academic adviser, and so I just chose classes that sounded interesting to me without having been given any direction on what classes incoming freshman had to take beyond English 101.

Thus, I ended up enrolling in a 400-level senior seminar of seven students (me being one of the seven) in which the topic was The Reformation. I read (or tried to read, actually) the initial assignment of Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, but it was well over my 18-year-old intellect.

What's even more surprising is that I wasn't the only freshman in that class! A guy who lived two doors down from me in the dorm was also in that class! After attending the second class meeting and not being able to contribute anything intelligent to the discussion, it was obvious that the other freshman and I had no business being enrolled in that course--and the professor knew it the first day we showed up.

However, he didn't say anything to us on that first day, and when we approached him after the second day about dropping the course, he asked us to wait two weeks before we dropped it. He told us that if we dropped it now, we would be forced to sign up for another class, but if we dropped it in two weeks, we would have an easier schedule for our first semester with less than a full load.

Like the ignorant freshmen that we were, we said, "Oh, okay" and we dropped the class two weeks later--though we stopped attending after that second meeting.

Of course, now that I've been a university professor myself for the past 11 years, I know what was actually going on. If we had dropped the class at that time, the seminar would have only had five students in it and the entire class would have been dropped for not having enough students in it. However, by asking us to not drop the class for two more weeks, the professor was able to ensure that the class wouldn't be dropped by the department chair--or, alternatively, that he wouldn't be asked to teach it at a reduced pay scale.

He was able to teach a class he wanted to teach that otherwise wouldn't have made, and he was able to get full pay for a course with only five students in it.

Perhaps most of those students in the All-New Batgirl's Philosophy 480 class have been duped into thinking that the class is required for incoming freshmen so that the Philosophy Department (usually one of the smallest departments at a university) can get an increase in it's budget.

Or maybe Bryan Q. Williams was never a university student and he's just making this stuff up without any idea of what he's actually doing.

Anyway, if this story had been published 33 years ago in an issue of Batman Family, it wouldn't be any better or worse than the average Batgirl story back then--though Bob Rozakis would know that Philosophy 480 isn't a required class for incoming freshmen, and that it wouldn't meet in a lecture hall.

Oh, and that lecture hall?

It's suddenly no longer a lecture hall when the All-New Batgirl stops daydreaming two pages later. It's a standard classroom with standard desks.

Apparently, while engaged in the daydream/memory she was having, the All-New Batgirl left the lecture hall, walked to her next class in a regular classroom, and sat down in a chair.

"Oops" and "Time flies, doesn't it?" Yes, indeed!

I had another item to complain about--the inauthentic depiction of the martial arts move that both Cassandra Cain and the All-New Batgirl use on the thugs coming up behind them (they take them out with the same move, but it really wouldn't work as it's depicted)--but I need to take my daughter to the swimming pool. So I won't go into the problem with that martial arts move in any further detail.

Suffice it to say that this is an average comic book with a pedestrian story that contains mostly serviceable dialog and illustrations--though the page with Dick Grayson and Damian really could have been written by Grant Morrison. It's the best dialog for Damian that any writer other than Morrison has written--though it was only 21 words split up among three sentences, so there wasn't a lot of room for it to go too far afield.

Otherwise, all I have to say is that I'm disappointed that the new Batgirl isn't the old Bat-Girl--Bette Kane, whose aunt is the All-New but Old Batwoman.

Oh, I also want to say . . .

What did you think of this book?
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