BookBin2016: Batgirl Volume 5: Deadline

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What? Two reviews in an hour? What is this madness?

It’s called quick reviews of lackluster graphic novels. #spoilerz

I finally got around to reading Volume 5 in the New 52 Batgirl reboot. Apparently, Deadline also is the last in this series before they rebooted the character again, moved her to a different location, changed her look, and changed her appeal to be more “youth-centered.” Translation: Batgirl ain’t for my old ass anymore.

Of course, this final Batgirl from the Gail Simone run wasn’t really for me either. I felt totally disconnected and confused by several of the stories in this collection. I’ve either forgotten key plot points from the previous four volumes or DC did to me what Marvel used to do all the time when I read X-Men comics (and that pissed me off just as much then as it did now with this collection).

I hate when comics become part of a story arc that runs across several titles. I mean, it’s okay every now and then, especially if you have a huge story that you know will require more than just one particular superhero and will deserve the wider audience (as I seemed appeased when they pulled this same thing in the third collection). However, I felt as though several themes in this collection were pieces from several different (and mediocre) puzzles that I simply didn’t care enough about to piece together. Also, it strikes me as frustratingly and offensively greedy of comics companies to demand that readers invest so much money into being able to get the whole story when all they might care about is one faction of the comics universe.

[Loba Translation: I don’t give a damn about Batman. Stop trying to make me give a damn.]

Final Verdict: Just as it was with my last Batwoman experience, I’m drawing the line at 5 with Batgirl. I won’t be following Babs and her roomie Alysia to Burnside.

BookBin2013: Batgirl Volume 2: Knightfall Descends

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Finally back to my own collection…although, admittedly, this is a recent purchase and not one of those myriad books languishing in the literary limbo of my own devising. Still, this collection and the other two that I recently purchased are stories that I have been waiting to continue for quite a while now. I simply can’t wait to read these.

It’s been since January of this year that I paid a visit to Gotham City to see what’s new with two of my favorite members of the Order Chiroptera. I’ll be talking more about my visit with the Lady Kane soon enough, but this is about the Knightfall Descending upon the lovely Barbara Gordon.

Writer Gail Simone continues to spin quite a yarn for Gordon as she re-acclimates herself with her role as Batgirl. There’s a nice bit of back story in the beginning, a bit of “top of the world for a moment or two” as we see her fighting alongside Batman and Robin, followed by a decision to leave the darkness of fighting the criminal world to live a normal life…only to realize that, as the first issue of this collection points out on its last page, “Sometimes, the darkness finds you.

That darkness is, of course, what Gordon continues to struggle with as she tries once more to regain the full prowess of her role as Batgirl. There is other darkness as well throughout this novel, both within the fortress of Gordon’s personal life as well as throughout the expanses of her home turf. Quite a bit, actually. Gotham’s sinister underside spills into the lives of its heroes, painting every corner with blood and menace, revenge and desperation all the shades of the grimmest spectrum.

Overall, the stories within this novel were interesting enough to keep me reading. I also believe that they are putting into place some elements that will set the stage for even more interesting storytelling to come with Batgirl’s upcoming third collection, Death of the Family.

[Loba Tangent: I have already pre-ordered this collection, which apparently ties in with several other Gotham-related graphic novels that all share the same title, and am counting down the days until its October 29 release. The cover art alone makes me want to get my hands on this one!]

Speaking of art, Ardian Syaf is still doing the bulk of the penciling for Batgirl, and is still doing an admirable job. I’m not really all that fond of the cover of this particular collection (done by artist Stanley Lau). I feel like that cover is all about one thing: “Hey, look, it’s Batgirl’s crotch!” However, Syaf’s still treating Batgirl as if she’s more than crotch shots, butt shots, and boobs. I wish they drew Batwoman a little more like Syaf draws Batgirl.

Speaking of Batwoman (which I like to do quite often, thank you), she makes a crossover appearance toward the end of this collection! And answers that most important question: Who would win in a fight between Batwoman and Batgirl? (Guess you’ll just have to read the novel to learn the answer.) Even though I still think that Batwoman artist J.H. Williams III is the stronger artist, I really liked Syaf’s treatment of Batwoman. He made her a little sportier looking as well, while still giving her the rather…generous proportions that Williams bestows upon her in her own comics. Syaf might be a good choice to take over Batwoman’s world as well, now that…

…but that’s a conversation for another post.

Final Verdict: I liked this collection. I found some of the revelations to be interesting and titillating enough (especially the ones involving Gordon’s family members). I do feel that this was a bit of a “bridge” collection…stories that are not necessarily the greatest, but that are setting us up for something that might transcend greatness in the telling. For that reason alone, I’m glad I picked back up with Barbara Gordon and her Batgirl journeys.

BookBin2013: Batwoman Volume 1: Hydrology / Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection

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Please don’t think that because I have paired these two books into one review I don’t think they are worthy of their own individual posts. I can assure you, denizens, this is not the case. However, it just so happens that I purchased both of these “New 52” collections at the same time (along with my very own copy of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, which I have already reviewed but mention because it will play a part in the following review). I also happened to read these two collections successively, which sparked a bit of “compare-and-contrast” within my swirly brain.

First, a bit of exposition: Both are collections of the first comics for each heroine under the recent DC Comics “reboot.” I use reboot loosely, however, because it kind of was a reboot…but not really. In my mind, a reboot would have meant total tabula rasa for all the characters involved. This wasn’t exactly the case, at least for Kate Kane and Barbara Gordon.

For example, Barbara Gordon is, indeed, once more Batgirl. However, she is still the same Barbara Gordon who was shot at point-blank range by the Joker in The Killing Joke. Part of her history is still those years she spent in a wheelchair and the time she spent known as Oracle, the brains behind the Birds of Prey.

Kate Kane is still the wealthy “playgirl” of Gotham with a military history that was curtailed by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She also still carries with her the baggage of dark truths revealed in the anthology Elegy.

So not necessarily a complete reboot in the truest sense of the word. However, it was enough of a reboot to get Gordon back into that Batgirl costume, which I definitely appreciate. Even more, it was enough to get Gail Simone in to take over telling Batgirl’s second chance at bat.

Heh. Get it? Bat. Never mind.

Simone’s name on the cover of The Darkest Reflection is ultimately what lured me into Batgirl’s story. I spoke about my thoughts on Simone’s prowess as a comic writer in my review of Wonder Woman: The Circle. She did wonders (I’m sorry; I’ll stop doing that, I swear) for Diana of Themyscira. She was also responsible for telling Gordon’s tale as Oracle for many issues as head writer for Birds of Prey, so I knew she already had a connection with and understanding of Gordon that most writers wouldn’t already have.

Similarly, it was seeing J.H. Williams, III’s name on Hydrology that lured me once more back into Batwoman’s storyline. Williams was the artistic brilliance behind Elegy, so I knew the art once again would be exemplary. However, this time, Williams was also the writer, taking over the Batwoman mythology from Greg Rucka. I honestly think this was the collection’s biggest weakness. Not only was Rucka a more captivating and comprehensive writer, I think taking on both roles caused Williams’s art to suffer a bit. But only a bit, mind you. Between the two collections, I would choose Williams as the more stunning and unconventional artist. Still, I think that writing and drawing were too taxing for Williams. His artwork was nowhere near as astonishing as it was for Elegy.

Sticking for a moment with commentary on the artwork, I will say this in favor of Ardian Syaf, the artist behind Batgirl’s return: I much preferred his rendering of Gordon as Batgirl to Williams’s rendering of Kane as Batwoman. Batgirl came across as fit, athletic, limber, and lithe. She has a sporty physique and her Batgirl costume is modestly rendered. She looks like she’s ready to do battle with villains.

Batwoman, on the other hand, at times looks like she’s ready to take a spin or two around a pole in Gotham’s redlight district. Pendulous breasts and a generous derriere, covered in latex in a way that leaves little to the imagination, Batwoman is also drawn in a far more provocative manner than Batgirl. Translation: There are lots more stereotypical comic renderings of Batwoman from utterly ridiculous but obviously “male gaze” angles than there are of Batgirl.

Syaf’s take on Batgirl is celebratory of the female form, while Williams’s take on Batwoman comes across many times as exploitative. It’s a shame, really. I want to like Batwoman more than Batgirl, but I find comics that depict women so wantonly to be insulting and, truthfully, kind of sad.

I can’t help but wonder if the moderation of Syaf’s artwork was due to Simone’s presence. Did Simone let Syaf know that she didn’t want Batgirl coming across as one step above a Playboy Playmate? Or did Syaf perhaps refrain from the more lascivious artwork out of deference to Simone? Or maybe it has less to do with Simone and more to do with the one primary difference between the two characters names: Gordon is a Bat girl, while Kane is a Bat woman. Perhaps the “girl” nom de guerre grants her a reprieve from the more pornographic postures?

Of course, this isn’t to say that Syaf didn’t ever present Batgirl in some of those predictably provocative male gaze positions. There are a couple of doozies in this collection, actually. Williams, however, is the guilty party between the two artists when it comes to objectifying artwork.

As for the storytelling itself, I’m going to have to also give my vote to Batgirl. Just as I mentioned in my review of Simone’s writing for Wonder Woman, here she again presents her primary character in a wonderfully and holistically developed fashion. Barbara Gordon is believable, replete with damage, fear, guilty, wonder, and joy. Williams simply fails to provide Kate Kane with the same level of dimensionality, presence, or realism. He gives it the old college try, but, in the end, he lacks the inherent connection with and understanding of Kate Kane that a female writer—particularly one of Simone’s caliber—could bring to her. This doesn’t mean that I think only a woman could properly write for Kate Kane. I thought Rucka did an outstanding job as her storyteller. I just don’t think Williams is the correct guy for this mission.

Still, Williams is able to keep my interest in Batwoman piqued enough that I wouldn’t be averse to continuing to read more. However, should Simone tire of hanging out with Batgirl, I would be more than on-board with her moving on to the other redhead in the Bat pantheon.

Final Verdict: Um. I’m going to say keep, Bob. Plus, I have already added their respective second volumes to my wishlist. Here’s hoping that Barnes & Noble has another awesome ComiCon-inspired graphic novel sale, so I can snag reasonably priced copies of the next stories the same way I snagged these and The Killing Joke.