Batgirl Flashback: No Wire Hangers

November 13th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

An oldie but a goodie. In honor of our Batgirl-centric fourcast and Esther’s latest Batgirl play-by-play, I wanted to post one of my favorite sequences from Batgirl: Death Wish.

A bit of context: one year ago, Batgirl lost the use of her pattern-recognition skills due to some ill-timed telepathic mental adjustment. To repair this flaw, she sought out and fought Lady Shiva. In exchange for fixing her, Shiva demanded one thing: a fight to the death one year in the future. Batgirl, when faced with a choice of being mediocre for a lifetime or the greatest for a year, took her challenge, was healed, and threw herself into her Bat-persona. She stopped crimes, ignored her social life, and rose to Olympian heights. And now, one year after her rebirth, she must face Lady Shiva and die.

Words by Kelley Puckett, art by Daimon Scott. Pages 7, 8, and 11 are my favorite. Great storytelling, choreo, and layout.


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Fourcast! 24: Nightcrawler vs Batgirl

November 9th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Reader ACK let me know that Cassandra Cain turns ten this year, and I realized that she’s a character I enjoy, and she’s a Batgirl, so I know Esther likes her, too. Luckily, we have a podcast where we can talk about her for hours. Luckily for you I edited that down to about 48 minutes.

-Pedro Tejeda, a true man among men and Funnybook Babylonian, clues us in on a few things you’ll never hear on the Fourcast!, at least until I trick him into being a special guest.
– 6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental opens up the show…
-I kick off the Continuity Off with Kurt Wagner, Nightcrawler, and run down his hits and misses. I left out the swashbuckling stuff by accident, but no one’s perfect.
-Esther talks about Batgirl some, which makes me talk about Batgirl some, and then we are down the rabbit hole, ladies and gents.

Share your favorite Cassandra Cain moments down in the comments, good or bad, and we’ll catch you next week!

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Click Moments

August 25th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

I have said that I don’t warm up to new characters easily, and it’s true.  If anything, I find myself hostile to new characters.  Here’s a new person, taking up panels that could easily be devoted to characters that I already like.

Lately I’ve been examining what exactly causes a new character I hate to become someone I like.  It helps when they’re shown to be someone I can understand, but I understand plenty of people I don’t like.

What it comes down to are ‘click’ moments, moment when the character is so fantastic that I’m lifted out of my knee-jerk misanthropy and become a fan.  I haven’t found any particular common thread to these moments, but I’d like to share some with you.

Sasha Bordeaux:  She becomes Batman’s sidekick for a little while.  While sidekicking she meets up with Huntress during a crisis.  Huntress saves her, and snarkily says, “You can thank me later.”  Sasha replies, “Why wait?  Thanks!”  That’s when I began to like her, to cheer her on, and to follow her.  She’s a decent person.  Not a weak person.  Not a soft person.  A strong person with a level enough head not to answer rudeness with rudeness.  She exemplified the strategy of turning the other cheek.  In Gotham.  That takes some doing.

Cheshire:  In the Villains United miniseries, Mockingbird threatens to kill her child in order to keep her on the team.  Her strategy?  Immediately betray the team.  Oh, and sleep with a man to get pregnant so she can ‘replace’ her child.  When the other members rightly point out that his is sociopathic on a level never seen before, she says something like, ‘We were caught and only I managed to cut myself free.  Because I dared.’  Damn.  Just damn.  It’s horrible and it’s fantastic.

Booster Gold:  When he tried to save Ted Kord despite knowing the world would suck because of it.  That’s just self-explanatory.  What?  I’m not made of stone! 

Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown:  These two entirely won me over when they spar until both of them vomit and then decide to do it again the next day.  Their friendship is literally my lead-in to both characters.  It features everything I like, people being kind to each other, being loyal, helping each other out, and a broken jaw every now and then.  Really, it’s a chick flick waiting to happen.

Share your own ‘click’ moments, if you have them, below.

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Compare and Contrast

May 7th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

The Battle for the Cowl so far is comprised of three main books, numerous associated mini-series, and a few scattered one-shot tie-ins.  I’m not strongly affected either way by most of these, but this week two of those one-shots loom large in my mind.

The first is an example of the perfect tie-in.  It shows us something we never would have seen if we were following a conventional narrative, and offers us something truly different from the norm while still maintaining the tone of the world for which it was created.  That one was Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum.  Written by David Hine, it takes us on a tour of Arkham Asylum, and for once focuses on the less gruesome aspects of the institution.  Jeremiah Arkham narrates the story, not in the usual hard-boiled tone taken by the Gotham crowd, but with sincere sadness that he hasn’t been able to help the inmates. 

While we sense that he is somewhat unhinged himself, he’s an eccentric and an idealist, not the usual film-noir lunatic.  He finds picks a few inmates who pose no threat, and leads them out of the ruined structure.  In the end, before the final, worrying sting, he expresses the hope that he can rebuild the asylum so that it lives up to its name – so that it can be a true asylum for those who are unable to survive in the conventional world.  It’s refreshing, it’s sobering, and it’s creative.

Sadly, I only really got to thinking about how excellent it was while reading Battle for the Cowl: The Network.  Well, now I know something about myself, at least.  Pissiness is a bigger motivator than honest admiration.

So let’s get to it! 

Well, first thing’s first.  Huntress’s costume has been changed back to a glorified bikini.  And why?  Because the promotional poster for the event, drawn by Tony Daniel, has her back in her Jim Lee costume.  I don’t see why this would necessitate a costume change in the actual book any more than the ‘The Real Power In The DCU’ poster would necessitate putting every woman in the DCU in a white evening dress, but I guess that’s how they’re going to play it.

Honestly?  I didn’t even notice the costume change.  A girl fighting crime in a bikini doesn’t catch my eye anymore.  What made me notice was the characters in the story can’t stop picking at the new outfit.  Batgirl, still with a perfect command of the English language, mentions it once.  Oracle mentions it later.  Both talk about how impractical it is.

I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s a jab by writer at a mandated costume change.  Maybe he’s was trying to have his cake and eat it, too, by putting Huntress in a two-piece bathing suit and still snarking about it.  I’m not sure who made the decisions to regress Huntress sartorially. 

I just know that the decision was also made to regress her personally.  When the villain announces that he will start murdering two hostages if the heroes don’t murder one, Huntress pulls her crossbow and is about to take a hostage out when Batgirl knocks her aside.  This is the deal-breaker for me.  Cass is back on the moral high ground, but she had to knock Helena off it to get there.  Never mind that in continuity we haven’t seen Huntress kill in years.  Never mind that we’ve never seen her kill that casually.  In the end, the plot of this book involves the worst mistake a team book can make: cutting off one character at the knees to make another character look good.  That’s never the way to go.

In short: Buy Battle for the Cowl:Arkham Asylum.  Leave Battle for the Cowl: The Network on the shelf.  And stop making women fight in swimwear.

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Zig-Zagging 2: The Case For Fan Outrage

April 7th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Yesterday I posted about how some characters zig-zag between their strengths and their flaws, and how that was surprisingly representative of real life.  We all struggle with certain things all our lives, and the way characters have to re-visit the same issues over and over is often quite realistic.

Then someone brought up Cassandra Cain in the comments. 

I haven’t made a secret of my dislike of her recent character change, and I think she represents a good example of the problem with this zig-zag method of character development.  I always felt that they got Cassandra Cain completely wrong since her series ended.  Suddenly she could read, write, and speak several languages instead of being able to barely sound out a few words.  For the entirety of her series she was shown as having a horror of killing anyone, after a traumatic incident in her childhood.  In One Year Later and in her mini-series she seriously considered killing her father.  It was just, in my view, all wrong.  All terribly, terribly wrong.  I considered her a completely new character who happened to have the same name as a previous character.

Continuity, however, doesn’t make the same exceptions I do.  According to comics, Cassandra Cain can be said to have the same back-and-forth relationship with casual murder that Jason Todd does.  Anyone writing her from now on can make a case for any story in which she considers killing someone, based on her time in Robin, Teen Titans, and the Batgirl mini-series.  Sure, if someone who feels the way I do about Cassandra Cain writes her in future, she’ll be a sweet kid with no social skills, the best fighter in the world, and an unbending morality.  But if the next writer goes by her mini-series, she’ll be a cranky teen fighter who is always one outrage away from beating someone to death.  And their work will make this new characterization more ingrained and defensible, and the cycle will continue.

This, I think, is why continuity and character geeks shout ‘out-of-character’ so loudly and so angrily.  Once upon a time Batman was a guy who snapped criminals necks and had a fiancee.  A little later he was an eccentric father figure who fought crime and goofed around with Robin and Superman in roughly equal proportion.  Then he was a detective.  Then an ultra-reclusive obsessive.  It only takes one really out-of-character story to change a character for the forseeable future.

I have no doubt the massive fan rampage begun by Stephanie Brown’s death was the thing that eventually brought her back.  Perhaps if a group of fans had yelled and screamed and written angry letter to DC comics, Cassandra Cain would still be a character I recognize.  Although I’ve grown out of the phase of fanhood in which I blame everything I hate on arrogant and heartless editors who labor all day to enrage and disappoint fans, I can see the use in kicking up a fuss every now and again in defense of a character you love.

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Comics That Should Be, But Shan’t Be

October 20th, 2008 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

1.Significant Others Of Superheroes Society. It would be a great cross between an emergency response team (considering how often they get attacked), a support group (dealing with the Flash Force, Kleenex/Steel, and how a ‘charged relationship’ is only romantic as a metaphor), and Army Wives. They could have a SOSS message board, and use the teleporters for a Sig Others Night Out when the heroes were forced to rush off at the last minute to save the day. It would be a gossipy, action packed, salacious geek dream.

2. Lois Lane: Investigative Reporter. This series would be kind of like Gotham Central (Yeah. That did so very well.) only Lois would go out looking for trouble instead of letting it come to her. It would let us see the day-to-day Metropolis, as well as letting us get to know Lois as more than just someone who loves Superman and has moxie. Plus it could take a variety of tones. The first arc could be a dark look at the kinds of Metropolis crime that Superman can’t deal with. The second might be a day-to-day look at the city and how it adapts to the presence of a nearly all-powerful hero. The third could be a fun homage to the old Superman’s Girlfriend days, with Lois getting bonked on the head so that she forgets that she’s Superman’s wife, and trying to win Superman over, ward off Clark Kent, and insisting, upon hearing that she’s wife to both of them, “I’m a polygamist? Never. It must be an imaginary tale!”

3. Jason Todd and Cassandra Cain: On Their Own. I’m talking about pre-Infinite Crisis batkids. Imagine them roaming around the country with superheroes on their tails and the mobs scattering in front of them. They could bond over stories of how Batman might be the crappiest father-figure that ever there was. Cass could bring the muscle and Jason, in what must be a refreshing change for him, would provide the know-how. Think about Jason trying to teach Cass how to go undercover. Think about her doing it by imitating him – a five-foot-not-very-much slender girl acting like a six-foot-something muscle-bound man. Think of him having to teach her how to go undercover by trying to imitate the body language of a small girl. Also, they would kill people and feel good about it, which would be a change in the Superhero world. . . . I sense you’re not convinced. They’d never set foot in Gotham again. Deal? Deal.

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