Pick of the Week
What did the
Art by PERE PEREZ
Cover by DUSTIN NGUYEN
Size: 32 pages
In these days of marketing machines and heightened expectations it is often rare that a comic book that I am really looking forward to not only completely meets, but exceeds my expectations. Such was the case this week with Batgirl #17.
Two of my favorite characters in comic books right now are Stephanie Brown AKA Batgirl and Damian Wayne AKA Robin and when I saw that they would be teaming up in this issue I was really excited and immediately marked it down in my tattered mental calendar as an issue to look forward to. Their brief interactions in this title in the past have been a blast — to say that Damian has no respect for Stephanie would be an understatement — and now we were going to get a whole issue devoted to a team-up? Fantastic!
And fantastic it was.
There’s trouble in Gotham City (shocking, I know). Someone is kidnapping elementary school kids and Bruce Wayne Batman (or, as Stephanie refers to him in this issue, “Batman-Batman”) has assigned Batgirl to look into it. Also on the case is Robin who really wasn’t actually investigating the kidnappings in the first place, but seems to have taken to observing kids his age around Gotham City, for reasons made clearer later in the issue, and while doing so witnessed some suspicious behavior which, upon investigating, brought him on a collision course with Batgirl and the kidnappings.
(The previous run-on sentence was in tribute to Stephanie Brown who I feel like would talk in them constantly.)
There’s nothing ground-breaking about Batgirl #17, its greatness is found in its simplicity. Take two characters who, on the surface, don’t really like each other (but deep down really actually do), throw them together and watch the sparks fly. It’s a storytelling technique as old as stories themselves and the reason why it has endured for so long is that when it is done right there isn’t a whole lot that really works better.
To Robin, Batgirl is a dumb girl (remember, he’s 10) who isn’t worthy of his father’s symbol. To Batgirl, Robin is an annoying and arrogant little twerp. When they have to work together, the pairing is more fun than any other in comics. In a lot of ways, Batgirl is the true polar opposite Batfamily member to Robin. She’s all about having fun on the job – she quips, she laughs, and she awkwardly flirts her way through her nightly adventures. Robin doesn’t know how to have fun unless it involves stabbing someone. Batgirl #17 is ostensibly about Batgirl and Robin investigating a mass child kidnapping but it’s really about the growing relationship between Batgirl and Robin, more specifically, it’s about Batgirl’s growing understanding of Robin. It’s her book so we’re let inside her head as she begins to understand that underneath this annoying and arrogant twerp is a 10 year old kid that doesn’t have the first clue as to how to be a kid. When they have to go undercover on a school field trip, Batgirl is horrified and then saddened when she finds out that Damian doesn’t know how to play with other kids. (And her heart melts when another kid asks Damian his name and he awkwardly says “Bruce”.) By the end of this issue Batgirl’s big sisterly affection for Damian is real and when she takes him to an amusement park to jump on a Moon Bounce it’s one of the most touching moments of the week.
The introduction of Damian Wayne is one of the best things to happen in comics in a long time. He’s one of those great characters that can be paired up with all kinds of other different characters, usually to wonderful results. It worked terrifically in Superman/Batman #77 where Josh Williamson and Ale Garza put Robin and Supergirl together and the results are even better here.
But while Damian Wayne has been one of the best things to happen in comics in a long time, he also might be the trickiest. His voice is very precise and when it’s done wrong he comes off as caricature. Grant Morrison, obviously, writes the best Damian, but a strong second would be Batgirl writer Bryan Q. Miller. The isn’t the first time that Damian has appeared in Batgirl but every time he has appeared it has been clear that Miller has down pat that delicate mix of arrogance and vulnerability that makes Damian such a fun character. And I wasn’t the least bit surprised because Miller has become, very quietly, one of the best writers at DC Comics. He has turned Stephanie Brown into one of the most fun, funny, and relatable characters in all of comics.
I really am a big fan of Dustin Nguyen. He was a big reason why I loved Batman: Streets of Gotham and now that that book has ended, he’s the new regular artist on Batgirl and I’m not yet used to the change. Nguyen’s style is so different from that of previous regular artist Lee Garbett that it’s thrown me, ever so slightly, off my Batgirl groove. Luckily, Batgirl #17 features the guest art of Pere Perez, who is not only a fine artist in his own right, but whose style is much closer to Garbett’s. Batgirl just feels right drawn this way. Nothing against Nguyen — again, who I love — but I’d be more than fine with Perez as artist on Batgirl.
Batgirl #17 is a comic book rarity these days. It tells a complete story that is compelling, emotional, and not lacking action, and it does it all in just 22 pages. I’ve talked a lot about Batgirl over the last year, it truly is one of my favorite titles, and if you have at all wondered about the book, if you have at all thought about giving it a shot, then I urge you to check this one out. You don’t have to know anything; you don’t have to be following any storylines here or anywhere else. Batgirl #17 is just two great characters playing off each other while solving a crime and reading it was by far the most fun I had with my comics this week.
I wish I had a butler who brought me a big stack of pancakes every morning.