Sunday, 30 September 2012

Batman 12

A Batman story that hardly features Batman would not normally be a scenario I would be happy with, however when Scott Snyder is the writer he can make a none Batman story feel very Batman if you get my meaning.

This story is set several weeks ago so its presumably set before the Court of Owls story line, and sets up the first meeting between Harper Row and Batman, Harper has popped up in 3 previous issues of Batman. In issue 7 Harper pulls Batman out of Gotham River after he escapes from Owls Labyrinth, when Batman comes round he says to Harper I’ve told you once already leave me alone indicating he has at some point already meet her. As she doesn’t seem to have meet Batman in this story line, I am rightly or wrongly (someone will tell me) presuming this is their first meeting.

Well now that’s out of the way on to the review:

Harper Row is a young woman who works deep below Gotham City maintaining the ancient and failing electrical grid, a grid that she knows should be failing but seems to be managing to keep running despite its age (I know how it feels).  Harper lives in the soon to be improved area of Gotham thanks to Bruce Wayne’s plans to rejuvenate the city, she has a ticket to go to a function at Wayne Manor where plans of Gotham’s rejuvenation are been unveiled. However Harper isn’t really convinced that this will improve her or her brother’s life, but after persuasion from her brother she reluctantly goes to the function.

Once there she takes little interest in what Bruce Wayne has to say and decides to leave early but not before taking some cakes for her and her brother to share, this is where she meets Alfred who tells her that she is making a mistake and that she should take the brownies instead as they are much better and an old family recipe. Its a brief appearance by Alfred but an importantant one as its shows that Alfred is more than just a buttler, given that he knew her name it shows he does his research on people that cross into Bruces and his path.

Upon returning home Harper finds her brother lying on the floor badly beaten after been attacked, we find out that he is constantly been bullied and beaten for been gay something that gangs in the area don’t tolerate. It is quite a powerful scean as Harper cradles her injured brother in her arms as he apologises for not been able to defend the home, your heart really goes out to them as you begin to realise the terrible situation these two youngsters find themselves in, its powerful writing indeed.

Harper decides enough is enough and is prepared to take on the bullies and on their next encounter she zaps one of them with an adapted tayzar, unfortunately for her and her brother there are more in the gang then she realised and they are quickly overpowered. Just as it looks like they will take another beating Batman comes swinging down and dispenses his own style of justice to the bullies, ensuring that Harper and her brother are not bothered again.

From that point on she is obsessed with Batman and sightings of him and quickly realises that he has control of the city’s CCTV cameras, taking them down in the areas he appears and then switching them back on when he leaves.

Harper figures out that the only way he can do this is by plugging in to the city’s power grid and quickly finds the points where Batman has plugged into the grid, which he does by means of an electrical Bat-box complete with its own bat symbol. Now I’m no expert on covertly plugging into electrical systems, but surly you wouldn’t put anything on a box you had plugged into a grid to highlight who had done it, but that’s just me. However it quickly becomes apparent to Harper that the boxes aren’t just plugged into the power grid, they are also helping to hold up and support the grid hence the reason it’s not failing.

While Harper is checking one of the boxes out she is caught up in a fight between Batman and Tiger Shark, it’s here where she decides to help Batman out just as he helped her and her brother out.
After helping Batman out Harper disappears from the scean as quickly as he does, unfortunately for her Bats notices that someone had a hand in helping him capture Tiger Shark and he’s not happy. A few days later Harper is back working on the grid when Batman appears behind her, he tells her not to bother him again and to leave him alone.  Despite Batman’s warning, the smile on Harpers face tells you that this is not the last we have seen of her.

As a one-shot story this is as good as it gets and the fact that it’s an origin introduction to a new Batman character makes it even better, 12 issues in and I cannot fault this run of Batman books it’s still the first book I go to every month when my order arrives.

Unfortunately I do have an issue with the artwork in this book, mainly because there are two artists on the book neither of whom have similar art styles. If the story hadn’t been so good this art change would have ruined the book for me, and I have to ask the question why did we have two completely contrasting artists on the same book?
For me Batman is one of the key flagship books of DC and as such should have art that is consistent throughout the book, if either of the artists had done the whole book I would not have had a problem. It may seem like a small thing to some but for me it’s a big thing, art works and storylines are the main ingredients of a comic book so they have to be consistent and the art wasn’t in this book.
So come on DC as readers who buy your product treat us with a bit more respect please.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog one of the local comic shops I use has a loyalty card, where you get money back for every pound you spend. I don’t know the full detail on how it works but as I buy the comics anyway, I signed up just as the new DCU hit the shops and low and behold on my last visit I had enough to buy a trade book. The book I picked was the hardcover Batgirl trade which covers the first 6 issues of the new run, why that book well I am a fan of Gail Simone's work having read Birds of Prey and the excellent Welcome to Tranquillity. I had also heard good things about Batgirl, and having not bought it as a monthly due to budget reasons I decided to go for it.
The trade is tittled The Darkest Reflection and covers the first 6 issues of the run, although after finishing the book it did feel like a lot more than 6 issues (in a good way).  That’s because there is a hell of a lot of story packed into those 6 issues, and you feel like you’ve been on a emotional roller coaster when you get to the end.
Its the new 52 and Batgirl is back but its not Cassandra Cain or Stephanie Brown (both have their merits), but Barbara Gordon the original Batgirl the TV and animated series Batgirl. The Batgirl who was shot and paralysed by the Joker, then went on to become Oracle you get my meaning Batgirl is back.

In this new updated DCU Batgirl still has the history of been shot and paralysed but has now been cured, I won’t go into how if anyone hasn’t yet read the book I don’t want to spoil it. However for me the explanation on how she was cured is very plausible one, especially if you live in a world that is full of flying super heroes and villains.
There are two story arcs covered in the book the first of which sees Batgirl go up against The Mirror and then secondly Gretel, both of whom seem to be cold hearted killers but are really victims of circumstance and ultimately both tragic characters. It is a clever move from writer Gail Simone that she started the series with two new villains, rather than go with one who is more established as it gives the reader a chance to focus on Batgirl rather than villain of the month.

This is a Batgirl who was not written as I expected either; this is a Batgirl who still has doubts that she can be a hero, a Batgirl who freezes when a gun is pulled on her resulting in the death of an officer, a Batgirl who is good but is not sure if she is good enough? There are also several plot lines that are started in this book which don't get closed off by the time you get to the end (taxi for book 2), Barbra's new flatmate has secrets, police officer Melody McKenna has an unhealthy fixation with Batgirl (it was her partner who was shott and  killed), Barbra’s mother is back after abandoning both her and Jim years ago a story plot I liked and look forward to reading more of. 
All of these add to the tone and feel of the book and help create a world outside Batgirls crime fighting world, I found it fun to read and learn just as much about Barbara and her everyday life as I did about Batgirls.

There is the expected cameo from Knightwing and Batman but  you can’t have a story set in Gotham without these two iconic characters making an appearance, its also good that their appearances don't feel forced and it felt very organic within the story's they were involved in.

The artwork by Ardian Syaf and Vivente Cifuentes is stunning and looks absolutely gorgeous on the glossy pages of the book, add to that the covers by Adam Hughes and you have a very desirable book indeed.

If you haven't read Batgirl yet and I have to admit I may be in the minority here, do yourself a favour and go out and buy it you will not be disappointed. At £16 its not a cheap buy but trust me it is well worth every penny, my only dilemma know is do I continue to read the book in trade or go out and buy the monthly.

It is a dilemma I tweeted to Gail Simone after first congratulating her on her work, she answered back that she would go for the monthlies but that's because she is impatient. Now I wouldn't normally disagree with the lady but I think I will stick with the trade, its worth the wait to see such a high calibre of work presented in this format.