By day, she’s a student, struggling to settle into college life at Gotham U. By night, she’s a costumed heroine, fighting crime, battling supervillains, and carrying on the name of Batgirl. But there are those who aren’t exactly pleased with Stephanie Brown’s decision to don the cape and cowl. The former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, has her reservations. The new Batman feels she’s in way over her head. The new Robin thinks she’s downright inept. Hell, even Stephanie herself has doubts about her decision – but despite those doubts (and the initial disapproval of her peers), she perseveres and, ultimately, proves herself a more than capable caped crusader.
Batgirl Rising serves as a great jumping-on point for first-time readers or readers, like myself, who have been out of the comic loop for a while. Writer Bryan Q. Miller does a very nice job of introducing our if-not-new-then-certainly-refurbished heroine in an opening arc that establishes her double life, paralleling Stephanie’s new role as Batgirl with her equally new – and no less daunting – role of college student (Sure, Livewire and the Scarecrow were intimidating but they’ve clearly got nothing on Philosophy 480!). She attempts to strike a balance between them, but her two worlds collide when a dangerous new drug called “thrill” makes its way onto campus and, later, when a fellow student is kidnapped.
Miller and artists Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott deliver a book that is not only engaging and exciting, but a damn fun read as well. I tend to gravitate toward to the more grounded exploration of our hero’s (or heroine’s) alter-ego and the writer does not disappoint here, crafting an interesting, layered character you end up caring about, and rooting for, by volume’s end. The six issue collection is peppered with great moments in this respect, dramatic encounters that focus less on fisticuffs and explosions yet prove just as equally charged. I loved Barbara Gordon’s breakfast ambush of Stephanie in her own home and the ensuing fireworks, Stephanie’s visit to the batcave, and all of her scenes with the brattish Damien (aka Robin). Speaking of the latter, my favorite panel comes off Francisco’s “I’ll text you later…after you shake the little Omen fanboy giving you the stink-eye.” where we then go to – top of P.115 – the aptly named Damien looking hilariously Omen-esque as he loiters beneath an ominous-looking tree.
Which brings me to the one element of storytelling that I think is crucial to a great narrative: humor. I’m not saying a series has to be comical, but certainly even the subtlest humor goes such a long way toward humanizing characters, contrasting those darker elements and, most importantly, winning over readers/viewers. While shows like The Sopranos, The Shield, and Breaking Bad may deal with very dark subject matter, they are also possessed of a wonderful sense of humor that adds so much to their respective success. Batgirl Rising, I’m pleased to report, has a wonderful sense of humor. It’s never of the silly variety, detracting from the more serious moments, but always serves to add flavor and depth to the characters and situations. Stephanie’s moments with Damien, in particular, stand out.
I did have one nitpick and it has to do with the former Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, and her passing of the cowl. This is covered in almost perfunctory fashion (a two-page flashback) after which the character of Cassie is never mentioned again. From what I understand, Cassie and Stephanie were friends, so I found her disappearance all the more baffling given that their continuing friendship could have provided even more insight into Stephanie’s decision to assume (and stick with) the Batgirl identity. I’m sure an argument could be made that the Cassie-Stephanie relationship would have simply echoed the Barbara-Stephanie relationship but, at the end of the day, it still feels like an opportunity missed.
That quibble aside, I very much enjoyed Batgirl Rising and already have the next volume sitting on my to-read pile.
So, what did everyone else think? Post your thoughts – and questions for writer Bryan Q. Miller!
And a reminder that today is your last day to post comments for former Stargate scribe, present Exec. Producer of The L.A. Complex, Martin Gero!
Speaking of Stargate, guess who I ran into in the fresh produce aisle of my local Safeway this afternoon?
Yep, it’s Dan Shea, SG-1’s stunt coordinator. Between conventions, Dan has been working on the locally-produced Psych!