Batgirl #1: Play by Play

August 20th, 2009 by | Tags: , ,

Before I open this comic and spoil it for anyone reading this review, let me begin with the prayer of the comics fan:

Oh Lord, who doth give a shit about comics,

Probably more so than most people realize,

Yeah, I’m looking at you, Schumacher,

But as I was saying,

Oh Master of Divine Sequential Art,

Give us this day a non-sucky comic,

And forgive me my continuity cherry-picking,

As I have forgiven – never mind that part.

Lead my very favorite character in the DCU not into comics ignominy,

But deliver her from cancellation.

And seriously, if she could have fun, kick some ass, and be a character I can sympathize with?

I would appreciate it for ever and ever.


All right.  Let’s do this thing.

Wait, I’m going to have backtrack already, because none of the jokes I want to make are possible without telling you who Batgirl is.  So it’s Spoiler.  Stephanie Brown.  The in-continuity Girl Robin.  Internet Mascot.  The Cluemaster’s daughter.  Blonde one.  You know who.

We start with her criticizing  an underground race where two people drive really, really fast toward a wall and the last one to stop wins.  “Boys are stupid,” she says.  Okay.  Well.  I am going to assume that the writer, Brian Q Miller, meant this as a character flaw, and not as a ‘girl power’ thing.  Because one (1) No, that’s sexist, and two (2) No, come on, this character has been kicked out of every hero society, team, or persona she’s ever taken on, and been tortured to death at least once.  And she keeps coming back.  Stephanie Brown cannot ever criticize impulsive, self-destructive, ego-driven behavior.  I like that about her, but ‘boys are stupid’?  No.

Just to prove herself wrong, she tries to stop both cars by shooting lines around the back axle.  This causes both cars to lose their back wheels like they’re in American Graffiti.  When one of the drivers tries to shoot her, she knocks him out with a batarang.

On a rooftop, both Dick-Batman and Damian-Robin watch and criticize her performance, because yes, that wasn’t a good plan and because they were the last two characters in the DCU not to label Stephanie as a screw-up and there are appearances to maintain.

Having just not done a very good job at anything, Stephanie alights on a rooftop and pulls off her mask for a hair-blowing-in-the-wind hero shot.

I have to say, Lee Garbett, the penciller, does a good job with the characters.  They have a wide range of facial expressions, they all look different, and Stephanie looks surprisingly age-appropriate.  Her face has rounded cheeks that make her look subtly young.

She seems to have caught a bad case of the thins, just as Tim has bulked up.  I feel a little sad about that, since when they were kids Tim was portrayed of a small guy while Stephanie often looked a lot bigger than him, both in height and weight.  Now that they’re grown, they’ve taken on Mandatory Adult Superhero Bodies, which means he’s ridiculously muscle-bound and huge and she’s slim but stacked.  Oh well, as things go, this isn’t too bad.

The next morning Stephanie Brown’s mom, who looks completely different every time they draw her, gives her daughter waffles.  She talks about Stephanie’s first day of college and how she’s glad that Stephanie is giving the ‘normal girl thing’ a chance.  Stephanie thinks about how she feels like a liar.  She thinks this while she’s lying her head off, so that’s both fair and accurate.

Elsewhere in Gotham, Leslie ‘Kidding, I’m Not A Kid Killer’ Thompkins and Barbara ‘My Rage Burns Too Hot For Me To Button My Shirt’ Gordon are talking while watching Wendy ‘Why Am I In This Or Any Other Book’ Harris play wheelchair basketball.  Leslie asks Babs to mentor Wendy.  Babs shoots her down, preferring to beat the hell out of some hooligans on the subway.

Stephanie’s in class, as bored as we are to see her in class.  Fortunately, we don’t stay there for long.  She flashes back to being Spoiler and fighting some goons with Cassandra, who is in the Batgirl outfit.  I see they’ve gone with Beechen’s Cassandra Cain, so I won’t criticize continuity, but I will say that every time I see that version of Cassandra Cain I am disappointed. 

They finish their fight.  Cassandra begins to take off her outfit, saying, “That symbol . . . his crest, his fight . . . I fought for him.  But no more.”  Now this is not covered in Beechen’s runs so I will criticize it.  This is a direct contradiction of the conclusion of a multi-part arc that ended in Batgirl #50, which I remember because when I said Batgirl was my favorite character in the DCU, goddammit I meant it, and because this echoes the words that formed the core of that story almost completely.  Batman asks her where her loyalty lies, is she loyal to Cain or to Barbara or to him?  She says she wasn’t loyal to him, she was loyal to it, and points to the bat symbol on his chest.  So this is, in my view, completely wrong.

What’s right, however, is the friendship between Cass an Stephanie and how it is both joking and respectful.  I like that Cassandra Cain both knows that Stephanie isn’t honest with herself and isn’t the best vigilante out there, and still likes and respects her.  And so I’m okay with it when Cassandra simply says to Stephanie, “Now the fight is yours,” and disappears.

Back to Babs ‘We Established In The Oracle Miniseries That My Body Cannot Contain My Rage Just Like My Shirt Cannot Contain My Bosom’ Gordon having dinner with her dad at a cop diner.  He tries to set her up with a detective who is new in town.  She shoots him down just like she did Leslie. 

Back to Stephanie.  She sits on her bed, doing her homework and thinking about how she promised  Tim that she would give up being spoiler.  I’m going to attribute this to this being written way back when Tim actually banned her from being Spoiler, and therefore being made pre-obsolete by the last few issues of Red Robin when she calmly informed him that she would continue being Spoiler for as long as she wanted.  Tough break, Miller.  A lot can happen to a minor character in a few months.  I understand.

It doesn’t matter either way, because as soon as she hears about a riot and sees the batsignal, she decides to give it another night.  Again.

At the riot, Jim Gordon is trying to talk to his new detective, who is being held hostage and therefore coming perilously close to not having his boss force him into a relationship with the boss’s rage-filled, emotionally-scarred, god-complex-having, professional cybercriminal of a daughter.  It’s possible he threw himself into the dingy apartment, tied himself to the chair, and paid the people to put a gun to his head just to get out of the possibility of a date with Oracle.  (Please don’t get me wrong.  I adore Barbara Gordon.  But the prospect of having to show up at her door with a bunch of carnations and think of interesting conversation for anywhere from two hours to the rest of my life makes me wet myself in terror.)

The detective’s name, by the way, is Detective Nick Gage.  I have been trying to think of a more manly name than that for the last five hours and the only thing I can come up with is Sergeant Hunter B.B.Q. Picklejaropener.  I’m just saying.

One of the thugs holding Sergeant Picklejaropener hostage looks out the window. 


With a crunch sound effect!

All right.  That is cool. 

Sadly, she follows it up with standing there, literally telling herself to look tough, while guys behind her point guns at her.  Picklejaropener takes them out, but in the process one of them shoots a bazooka.

Next thing we know, Stephanie is down on the sidewalk where it is raining men.  Although Picklejaropener appears to land right on his face, he seems fine one panel later.  Fear him.  He is The Opener.  Nothing Opens HIM.

Sadly, he isn’t that smart, because when Jim Gordon asks him over the phone which bat helped him, and he sees a girl in a bat outfit in front of him, he doesn’t know who she is.

The next morning . . . I have discovered a new curse.  ‘Oh shower scene.’  Seriously, from now on, when I stub my toe or when some idiot shouts something at me from a passing car, that’s what I’m going to say.  Because that’s how I feel about shower scenes now.

Stephanie agrees, because she thinks to herself that she isn’t doing this anymore.  She gets dressed and walks into the kitchen to see . . .

Barbara ‘The Terrornator’ Gordon.  With waffles.  Telling her that they need to talk.

I will conclude with a round up.

Interesting Irrelevant Detail: Steph’s mom’s waffles are round, but Barbara’s waffles are square.  Is this a commentary on being a square peg in a round hole, something Stephanie and Barbara share?  Is it the idea that Steph’s mom’s waffles are round and maternal while Barabara’s are sharp and judgmental?  Or is it that toaster waffles are square, and unlike your mother, Oracle doesn’t cook?

Suckiness Advisory Warning:  If I want someone to be withdrawn from family, friends, and lovers, constantly thinking about rage and darkness, and randomly and righteously being a control-freakish jerk to Stephanie Brown, I’ll just read any issue ever that she shared with Batman.  (Except the first one, and that’s not in continuity anymore anyway, but I haven’t forgotten this.  Seriously.  Don’t test me on female Bat-heroes, people.)

Overall Awesomeness Level:  Moderate but rising.  Though the characterizations of Babs and Cassandra bother me, Miller has a good grasp of Stephanie’s character.  She is a screw-up.  She is nowhere near as good as the other heroes and never has been.  On top of that, she knows she’s a screw-up and that bothers her.  But it doesn’t stop her.  She keeps fighting, night after night, as well as she can. 

The reason she fights is the reason I like this character.  She doesn’t have any special moral code, or a deep origin story.  She isn’t driven by personal tragedy. 

She fights because she literally cannot resist.  She loves doing it.  It’s what she wants most in the world.  That gives the character an edge over the general superhero who will go on about morality, or duty, or anger, or whatever else.  She enjoys superheroing for the same reason we enjoy superhero comics; it’s fun, it’s a power-trip, and it’s an adventure.  I hope they keep that sense of adventure in upcoming books.

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22 comments to “Batgirl #1: Play by Play”

  1. I liked the bit where Babs beat up three dudes who totally didn’t do anything at all, except look like thugs. I hope that the second arc is about Steph realizing that Babs has gone rogue and insane, and taking up the responsibility of putting her down.

    “You’re smarter than me, and I may just be a screw-up, but by this symbol on my chest, I’m taking you out!”

  2. I’ve not read the book and thank you for saving me money…the only Batgirl I WANT to read is Barbara.

    re: the Waffles. I think that the difference in shape is simply explained. Barbara actually makes hers from scratch (or at least Bisquick or something) with a griddle (hence the square shape) and Stephanie’s mom is lazy and just buys Eggos and plops them in the toaster.

  3. @Bryan Irrera: I think it’d be pretty demeaning for Barbara to be playing Batgirl at her age.

    I’m glad it was Stephanie in the Cowl and not some leftfield gimmick like Calculator’s daugher, but what you’ve described to me about the characterisation makes me uncertain wether I’ll bother picking this up.

  4. I actually enjoyed this issue – yeah, the Cass explanation was OOC, but it was way less OOC than Cass being evil just because. And I’ll take a Cass needing to rediscover what she actually fights for storyline that ends with her and Steph both being part of a League of Batgirls. (I’m still hoping.)

    My big worry is that the next issue will start with Babs trying to tell Steph she isn’t allowed to be Batgirl, which will only be okay if Steph points out that Cass said she could be Batgirl, and if Babs is so worried about her dishonoring the name than she should train her. I would accept that story.

    I’m cautiously optimistic anyway, and the book wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. And it’s way better than Miller’s really mediocre Teen Titans story.

  5. You forgot to mention that not only do Dick and Damien tell each other how crap Stephanie is as Batgirl, but Dick doesn’t even call Cass by name, referring to her only as “the other one”. The Batclub is pure whitey once again. Oh, and Cassie stripping in the rain and Steph’s shower scene – thanks for keeping it classy, DC.

    This was supposed to be a FIRST issue, right? SO many characters with SO MUCH continuity baggage: I know the legacy angle is attractive to some, but come on – there’s gotta be a line drawn somewhere.

  6. @Al Loggins: I don’t think that Dick was referring to Cass at all. I think he said ‘the other Batgirl’ specifically because he was alluding to Barbara.

  7. It looks like DC has decided to apply the same solution they used for Hal Jordan fans. Well internet, time to see how well this works out.

  8. I don’t think that Dick was referring to Cass at all. I think he said ‘the other Batgirl’ specifically because he was alluding to Barbara.

    I thought he was talking about Cass, going off what Damian said. But I didn’t think it was obnoxious (except for Damian, who is consistently obnoxious). Damian asks incredulously how this is the person who led the Outsiders and the League of Assassins and Dick says yeah, she’s not as good as the other one, meaning Cass. Which does it make seem like he’s talking about somebody he doesn’t know, but I think that was a way of giving clearer expositional info to the reader. Also they’re supposed to refer to each other only by their titles in the field, even though they break this rule a lot.

    The part of this comic I did like was the possibility of having somebody really different–i.e., unskilled. Not completely unskilled, but exactly like you said: she’s just not like any of the others. This causes believable problems since she can’t operate with them, but it doesn’t mean she can’t have her own comic where she’s just doing something else. Like going after lower level people because she just loves doing it.

    I do admit that as much as I can get behind that for her as a character it does also seem like a recipe for disaster when mixed with Bat-angst (eventually they always need to show the amateur as being in danger to justify their strict professionalism and show how dangerous this all is).

    The Cass part was the worst for me. I thought of that exact story you brought up. Since when does Cass only fight for Bruce? And also it just proves how insincere previous token gestures at her being part of the literal family were in the past. I’ve no idea why she would wander off suddenly now.

  9. Sigh. The only Batgirl I wanna read about is Cassandra, the original Plunkett/Scott iteration. While it’s nice that DC threw a bone to the Spoiler crusaders, I just don’t have much interest. I flipped through the issue at the shop, shrugged, gave up.

    I thought the reason for Dick and Damien’s “the other one” dialogue was because at that point we don’t know who Batgirl is, and this way the reader wasn’t clear on whether they’re saying, “That’s Cassandra, she’s slipping, and she’s no Barbara,” or “This one’s not as good as Cassandra.” Thus letting us wonder until that full-page reveal (which, btw, if I were hiding my identity from the world, I would not take my mask off in public, even for cheesy expositional scenes).

  10. His name is seriously Nick Gage? I’d make a joke, but only Gavok would get it.


  11. @Bryan Irrera: See, I had the opposite reaction to the waffles. I know eggos are round, but there is an off-brand one that’s square (a sly put-down from Babs, there). And if you’ll notice, the waffles that the mom gives Stephanie are small, making me think it’s the kind of waffle-maker that makes four connected teeny-waffles that you can break apart.

  12. “The detective’s name, by the way, is Detective Nick Gage. I have been trying to think of a more manly name than that for the last five hours and the only thing I can come up with is Sergeant Hunter B.B.Q. Picklejaropener. I’m just saying.”

    Justice Pain. Gavok will get it.

  13. stephanie is the only bat character to smile.
    the batgirl picture was of a smiling batgirl.
    wasn’t it obvious?

    [realises he said cassie was the new batgirl earlier, then realises he doesn’t read these things and thought spoiler’s name was cassie, also realises nobody will believe him about his prediction, like a cassandra complex]

  14. the batgirl teaser picture, I mean.

  15. so, is cassasandra cain, the asian one with the cool outfit in a comic? I haven’t read batgirl since damion scott stopped drawing her but she seemed cool. whats this about her being a badguy? can’t they try for an iron fist style martial arts comic?

  16. @edc

    Cassandra Cain had a Batgirl run from 2000(following No Man’s Land) and then up to One Year Later. Those should still be available in tradepaperback format.

  17. maybe she just realized that as a non-Legacy character like Batman only has the meaning that he puts into the symbol. After all there’s been plenty of stuff in the past where other people took the symbol and almost screwed it up.

  18. also, I’d just like to say it’s ridiculous that Dick and Damien comment on her not being skilled as Cass when she just executed a rolling one handed sommersault into a kick to the knee that apparently breaks it.

  19. @Jason: Steph is not, and should not, be as skilled as Cass, considering that Cass was probably the best martial artist on the planet.

  20. @pete:
    thanks, thats the one I was used to, also the comic that introduced me to spoiler.

    @david brothers
    eggzackly, I seem to remember she beat lady shiva [I think thats her name] who was the one who taught batman to fight. I must admit that after scott stopped penciling I stoped reading, but cassandra cain was friends with friends with stephanie, so I guess since its comics she trained her?

  21. Ya know, I want to support this, cuz yay Steph! But…ugh…let’s see…Supergirl is blonde, Wonder Girl is blond, Speedy is blond, and now Batgirl is blond. Way to go DC! Check out that diversity. I guess I’m supposed to be happy Aquaman’s sidekick isn’t blond like him? (what’s the point, tho? He’s dead and has no book? Watch me care! Not to mention she’s an awful stereotype of a saucy latina. GRRRR) I just hope they don’t keep screwing up Cass. *reads the issue* Too late.

    okay, wait, maybe there’s an explanation for this…After she went thru Sladejuice withdrawal and was cured or whatever, she decided she DIDN’T want to be Batgirl again (cuz she felt guilty or cuz she thinks she’s outgrown it) but Bruce ASKED her to become Batgirl again and join the Outsiders for him (if not for herself, than do it for him as a favor cuz he needs her on the team). Remember, we never got to see their actual reunion before she joined the Outsiders.

    So only cuz he asked, she agreed to carry his symbol once again. I’m probably forgetting something (like that awful Beechen miniseries…which I’d rather not remember), but I could see that happening. But now that Bruce is dead and Dick is in charge, she’s ditching the bat suit and going off to get HER OWN ORIGINAL identity. Maybe she’ll be Shadow Lady or Kunfuchick or whatever, but she’ll come up with her own name and be a hero without anyone’s help. Ya know, like a good independent woman who can think for herself.

    This is the only way I can accept her dialogue, cuz really…that was lame. Still…I have no faith that DC will do her justice, but *sighs* if we get that explanation, I might just buy this book. Really! Well no. If DC gets rid of one of its blond girls, then I will. No offense blond girls…but seriously…that’s one too many teenage blond girls. It’s borderline creepy now. I want ALTERNATIVES DAMNIT! What do I have to do to get some representation here DC?!

    Bummer, and I don’t mind Steph, she’s the one cool blonde girl in my book…(next to Greta or Cissie…damn…there were a lot of blonde teenage girls in DC!)…but ugh, come on DC…give us some alternatives, please!

  22. whether she’s as skilled or not the kick she delivered should not be used as evidence she isn’t.