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Heroes in Crisis

Tagline: “How does a superhero handle PTSD?”

Superheros have been dealing with the repercussions of death and destruction for years and who better than author Tom King, a former CIA operative, to know that this would start to wear on these DC heroes. Thus Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman band together to build a secret mental health clinic in rural Nebraska called Sanctuary where heroes can go for anonymous assistance. It is staffed by androids and offers virtual reality reenactment and counseling to help them with their issues.

Event books seem to be my kryptonite with DC. While I rarely read about individual superheroes, except for Aquaman lately, I am a sucker for these stories that bring everyone together in sometimes implausible ways. So the story begins with Harley Quinn and Blue Beetle duking it out, as each accuses the other of being a murderer- and we soon find out that there was a slaughter at the Sanctuary with several heroes dead. While most of them are heroes of little note, Wally West who is the original Kid Flash, is one of the casualties. The Big Three are called to investigate, and they are dumbfounded, as they had put in place many safeguards to protect their traumatized brethren.

This story was filled with tons of lower-level tier heroes (or those who are “good” for now). Besides Catwoman and Jade (GL), I was unfamiliar with the other characters here. But the comment that Red Tornado makes is a sly joke about The Vision (who he looks like) from the Marvel Universe- that King wrote an amazing two-part series about.

The story had some incredible highs and lows. While I applaud the idea that superheroes would need counseling to process their grief and the insight that King brought to the large cast of characters, the ending was very convoluted. I had to poke around in The New 52 and DC Rebirth to understand why the culprit did what they did, and it still didn’t make a lot of sense. But no matter, this character will be yet again retconned and their crimes will not matter in the future. In addition, the release of private confessionals to the public and Lois Lane’s decision to go to print with the story rubbed me the wrong way. In real life, there are “outings” of people’s private lives all the time for sensationalistic effect, all in the name of the “public’s right to know”.

Yet, the book worked in smaller moments. There were some interesting pairings- towards the end Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold band together to solve the mystery of what happened. As I don’t read a lot of DC, I was unaware that Harley and Poison Ivy were a couple, but the two of them have a brand new mini-series that takes place directly after this event, aptly named Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. I enjoyed seeing Batgirl prevent Harley from spiraling out of control, and the bromance between BB and BG. I looked up several of the heroes I was unfamiliar with, and the insecurities that the four Robins showed (see below) was pitch-perfect. Tom King is now known as someone who writes about deeper psychological issues, and that is readily shown in this story.

The artwork by Clay Mann, Travis Moore, Mitch Gerads, Jorge Fornes and Lee Weeks was absolutely outstanding. For so many artists, the style stayed remarkably consistent. The two-page splash pages that opened each issue were visually stunning, with distinct drawings of both small settings and large outdoor expanses. The nine-panel pages were my favorite, as each character was drawn with precision, with facial expressions showing their personalities and conveying the distress that they each of them was working through. Rich colouring and lettering also added to the top-notch illustrations.

All in all, a thought-provoking story that may trigger some difficult feelings for some readers, as mental health is a loaded topic for some, but is worth discussing and bringing out into the open. I was glad to read an online preview from NetGalley before it was published and will plan or ordering this graphic novel for my library.

-Nancy

I LOVED these panels about past and present Robins. All of them are insecure about their reputation, except for arrogant Damian.

 

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 5): Art of the Crime

One of Gotham’s old villains, Grotesque, is back, but he’s upped his game. Where once he was a petty art thief, he’s now turned to murdering those he steals from, and poses the bodies in an “artistic” manner. Batgirl tries to stop him, but an attack from an electrical escrima stick throws off the implant in her back that enabled her to walk again. What’s more, her memory appears to be failing as well as her legs. She has trouble remembering who Grotesque is, what he’s up to, and how she even planned to stop him. With dogged determination, Barbara plows on to foil his deadly plans – but potentially at the cost of her mind, and her legs – for good.

The writing in this volume really highlighted why I think the Batfamily is so popular. Though none of them have special powers, they are determined and willing to put their lives on the line to do the right thing, and above all protect the innocents of Gotham City. Barbara’s iron will, especially after regaining the use of her legs, and keeping on fighting the good fight though she could lose the ability to walk again, really shone through here. There were a few moments between her and her father, Commissioner Gordon, that suggest it’s a hereditary trait, and were very touching.

This volume did, however, feature a change in Barbara’s costume… I hate it. I absolutely hate it. The Burnside costume was so cute, and modern, and refreshing. Best of all, it was practical: covered everything that needed covering, offered protection against slides across pavement and rooftops, and was undoubtedly warmer in the winter.

While the new costume does harken back to older ones, especially in the colors, I cannot get over the “mask.” You can’t even call it that! It hides nothing! All I heard in my head from the costume change on was Blake Lively’s line in the abominable Green Lantern movie, where she exclaims, “You don’t think I would recognize you because I can’t see your cheekbones?” (IMDB)

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Joshua Middleton’s variant covers are stunning, but unfortunately the best part of Batgirl’s new costume.

Keep up the great writing, but bring back the Burnside costume!!!

– Kathleen

Scott, Mairghread, and Paul Pelletier. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 5): Art of the Crime. 2019.

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 4): Strange Loop

An unseasonal snowstorm brings an unexpected clean-up and good cheer ally to Burnside: the Penguin! He’s reformed and looking to clean up his image in order to run for mayor. But Batgirl finds he’s being a little too effective at persuading the citizens of Gotham that he’s a good guy. What is he really up to? Then, in a freak occurrence, Babs finds herself trapped inside her own mind: in a dream of her own deepest desires. It’s too good to be true. Can she escape, or does she even want to?

This run keeps firing on all cylinders and does not once slow down. We keep swinging from story to story with nary a breather. Besides the two main stories above, there are also two shorter ones in this volume. Four in one trade paper – that’s impressive, but even more impressive is how exciting all the action still is even at the end.

That’s not to say there isn’t any introspection or soul-searching in this volume or run, because there definitely is! When Babs is trapped inside her own mind, she questions whether or not this fantasy she’s living out is better than her real life, and whether or not it’s worth it to continue being Batgirl. Hope Larson continues to be a top-notch Batgirl author.

The art, while it’s become less stylized and graphic since the beginning Burnside title, keeps the feel of the Burnside aesthetic – pretty impressive, considering multiple artists have worked on the title since then. The art in this volume is a little more nuanced, a little more rounded and realistic, but still keeps the dynamic pop colors and clean lines. Batgirl’s designs have changed a bit too – they gave her a winter coat! She’ll not shiver in sub-zero temperatures wearing skin-tight leather any more! =D

Rebirth Batgirl now holds the title for my favorite Rebirth title, after the disappointment of the last Rebirth Wonder Woman. Larson’s phenomenal writing and the art continue to be a big draw. Looking forward to the next!

– Kathleen

Larson, Hope, Sami Basri, Scott Godlewski, and Minkyu Jung. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 4): Strange Loop. 2018.

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 3): Summer of Lies

Batgirl and Nightwing get the same tip, for the same spot, at the same time. Which can only mean one thing: it’s a trap! Two girls, identical to someone from their shared past, attack them before jumping off the roof. Someone has brought this Dynamic Duo back together for what can only be one reason: revenge. Batgirl and Robin once worked a case together, way back in their early days of crime-fighting. It involved the Mad Hatter, a new kind of drug, Barbara’s new friend Ainsley, and the growing chemistry between Batgirl and Robin. They’re going to have to reflect back on that summer – on all the painful memories – if they’re going to have a chance at uncovering who’s behind this newest scheme.

I do love me some Nightwing with my Batgirl ;D The plot unfolds in ways you don’t expect and keeps you on your toes as much as our heroes are. The emotional investment that Barbara has in this case is palpable – just as in the flashbacks, we’re shown that it’s difficult for her to keep Barbara and Batgirl separate. The feels stakes are pretty high here. A nice artistic touch was the sepia tone that was overlaid on the flashbacks – infused with a little more golden light that perfectly recalls looking back on summers past.

Before the main story, there are two one-shots. The first is about Batgirl’s investigation of a ghost in the local Y’s pool. The second, and infinitely more adorable, is about the disappearance of internet celebrity pets – and how Batgirl finds herself teamed up with Catwoman, of all people, to recover them! Eagerly looking forward to more~

– Kathleen

Larson, Hope, Chris Wildgoose, Jose Marzan Jr., and Mat Lopes. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 3): Summer of Lies. 2018.

Batgirl: The Bronze Age Omnibus (Vol. 1)

I mentioned in my review of Batgirl: A Celebration of 50 Years that I really enjoyed all the stories from the older comics contained within. I thought they were awesome! Luckily, this Bronze Age omnibus fell into a graphic novel order I submitted at one of my libraries so I could read more of them ;D

Barbara Gordon, daughter of police commissioner Jim Gordon, is the head librarian at the Gotham City Public Library. A plain Jane, so to speak. Who just so happens to be a judo expert and possesses a photographic memory. She designs a Batgirl costume for a masked ball the police department is throwing. En route, she stumbles across a crime-in-progress: Killer Moth accosting Bruce Wayne on his way to the ball! Without a second thought, Batgirl springs into action to save him. When Batman shows up to save the day, he is shocked and surprised! Who is this woman who styles herself after him to fight crime as he does? Will she be an asset or a liability to the Dynamic Duo’s crusade against crime?

The stories within are all Barbara Gordon Batgirl comics starting with her debut in 1967 and going all the way to 1977. I am totally in love with early Barbara Gordon. She was a librarian instead of a computer whiz – not that there’s anything wrong with being a computer genius, but the fact that she was originally a librarian is near and dear to my heart. Time and time again throughout these stories, we see her using her awesome librarian skills to deduce patterns in crimes and uncover clues. I just love that!!! It gives me hope that I can, one day, be as badass as Barbara Gordon.

Another thing I really loved was Batman and Robin’s quick acceptance of Batgirl as an ally. Sure, within the first few issues they are very vocal about their doubts. But Barbara proves herself time and time again, with her physical and mental prowess. She never lets it get to her, she just keeps proving them wrong until they come to the (obviously right) conclusion that she’s there to help, and she’s there to stay.

One thing that was surprising was how quickly she was given her own comic. Within the first few issues, we see Barbara on her own, with only guest appearances by Batman and Robin. It really speaks a lot to the popularity of Bab’s character, her self-assuredness, to be given a break from the hero she stylized herself after so early after her initial appearance.

These older comics are much different in format than newer ones, which is probably why I like them so much. There are narration panels which bring you up to speed and give context for some scenes. The art is focused more on the action and the characters than their surroundings. And, of course, bad puns and alliteration abound =P They are charming and I genuinely enjoy them. I hope to enjoy many more of these in the future!

Do you guys enjoy older comics too? Or am I alone in my fascination???

– Kathleen

Various. Batgirl: The Bronze Age Omnibus (Vol. 1). 2017.

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 1): Beyond Burnside

Babs needs a break after those chaotic few weeks in Burnside where her memory was tampered with. So she sets off on a backpacking trip through Asia. On pure coincidence, she runs into an old friend, Kai, at the hostel she’s staying at in Okinawa. It becomes clear that he’s being targeted – but by who? The attackers all have the same tattoo: the Chinese characters for “student.” So who is the Teacher, and why do they want Kai so badly? He’s gotten into trouble in the past, but he swears to Babs he’s clean now. Batgirl isn’t so sure. She needs to find this Teacher, and why he or she is after her friend, fast.

I’m 50/50 on this one. It was a quick, light read, the story was pretty good, and the international setting was refreshing. There was a really fun story at the end, when Babs is traveling back to Gotham, with a killer plant eating the plane and Batgirl and Poison Ivy trying to stop it. But the art was AWFUL. It looked like the entire book was half-finished. The backgrounds were blurred and out of focus, and the figures had that odd blend of cross-hatch and block shading that I absolutely loathe. I’ll pick up the second volume to see what Babs makes of herself in Gotham after this adventure, but if the art is more of the same I’m just going to have to put it down.

– Kathleen

Larson, Hope, Rafael Albuquerque, and Dave McCaig. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 1): Beyond Burnside. 2017.

Batgirl: A Celebration of 50 Years

I told one of my coworkers to buy this… and he listened to me for once =P

This is a collection of the best Batgirl stories – some of them I had already read in the Greatest Stories Ever Told – but there were some more that were new to me. The original publications of the stories contained here range from 1961, when Betty Kane (Kat’s niece) was written as the original Batgirl, to 2014, which was the first issue of Batgirl of Burnside. You also get a few issues of Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, which was nice!

Hey, Babs is my favorite, but for a collection like this, you can’t expect her to hog the whole thing! =P

I found myself really enjoying the older comics, with the narrative dialogue boxes and cute nicknames like “Dominoed Daredoll.” My favorites that I hadn’t read before were:

  • “He With Secrets Fears the Sound/When Velvet Paws Caress the Ground” (1982), in which you see Babs alternately ruthless and compassionate.
  • “The Last Batgirl Story” (1988), in which Babs struggles to put away a man who had previously done her serious harm. It’s eerie how the events preceding and within this story foreshadow “The Killing Joke,” written and published later that same year.
  • “On Wings” (1999), where you see how Nightwing had a hand in creating the Birds of Prey, and a sweet moment between him and Babs ❤

The art ranges for each story, of course, but honestly there wasn’t an art style I didn’t like. This collection really is the best of the best. I hope I can find some more of these older stories~

– Kathleen

Various. Batgirl: A Celebration of 50 Years. 2017.

Batgirl (Vol. 3): Mindfields

This one is sooo overdue… lol… I reviewed the last volume pretty much soon as it came out and this one’s been sitting in my to read pile for months… 8,D;;

Barbara’s been feeling… off, lately. She can’t remember the simplest things, or things that happened only a few months ago, or things that she definitely should remember. For someone with an eidetic memory, this is highly unusual. It could just be stress, though… she’s still plugging away at her thesis, she’s got her grade school friend Greg crashing on her couch until he finds a new place, she’s got Batgirl stuff to do. The nightmares she’s been having could certainly be stress-induced: every night, a man with shadowy forms and a great, glowing eye stands over her… yeah, definitely creepy, and definitely stress-related.

Batgirl has been running with all kinds of new friends: Spoiler, Bluebird, plus some old ones, like Black Canary and Operator. Together, they’ve been keeping Burnside safe. Until someone threatens to use an energy source machine Barbara built to level the district. Are her friends able to help keep Burnside safe? Or Babs safe from her own mind?

Various plot threads from the last 2 books are tied up quite nicely here, leaving us with a satisfying ending. The art is as adorable and animated as ever. I think what I like most about this Batgirl is… it’s feasible. Babs made her costume herself and it looks home-spun yet stylish. The girls use phones and laptops that any normal college student would have in addition to the usual crime-fighting gear. The last issue in this volume, Batgirl: Endgame #1, illustrates this well. She feels like any other college girl, and she feels believable. Plus, sprinkled throughout, we get nods to the Batgirl of the golden and silver age of comics (including a library scene =P).

I highly recommend the Burnside run. It’s cute, it’s funny, it’s light-hearted, and best of all, we get to see Batgirl as just a normal college girl.

– Kathleen

Stewart, Cameron, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr. Batgirl (Vol. 3): Mindfields. 2016.

Batgirl: Silent Running

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Puckett, Kelley, Scott Peterson, Damion Scott, and Robert Campanella. Batgirl: Silent Running. 2001.

During the No-Man’s Land arc, Barbara Gordon plucked a girl out of the rubble and took care of her. After Huntress gave up the mantle of Batgirl, Barbara passes the girl, Cassandra Cain, onto Batman, to train as the new Batgirl. There’s very little to teach her. Cass was once the adoptive daughter of a ruthless assassin, David Cain. She is so proficient at fighting that she can read your body and understand it like a language. It’s the only way she knows how to communicate. She seems perfect, but there’s a catch. Bruce receives a video of what appears to be a young Cass – assassinating someone at the guidance of her adoptive father. And a man that Cass rescues one night happens to be a psychic who accidentally rearranges her brain, “fixing” (for lack of a better word) the language center in her brain so she has words, but at the expense of her fighting prowess. Can she get it back? Can she continue to be Batgirl if she can’t fight?

The cartoony art reminded me of the JSA book I reviewed a while back. The art of this book was in kind of the same style, and in some ways, it was improved. The shading was much better in this book. The anatomy in some of the panels really started to weird me out though. There’s a bit where Barbara looks like she’d gotten lip implants from one panel to the next. For all the problems I had with it, it was actually kind of impressive. Because Cass is mute, a good portion of the book has no words. The art really had to carry the story, and for the most part it did a good job. It amazed me how expressive Cass was in her Batgirl suit, which has the eyes completely obscured and the mouth sewn shut.

I wanted to try to broaden my horizons by reading this, as I’m not too keen on any Batgirl other than Barbara. After finishing, though, I find that to be truer than ever. I was too put off by the weird art. This cartoony stuff just really isn’t my style. I also didn’t like how Cass gained language so early. She didn’t need “fixing,” and it felt like a cop-out of truly trying to tell her story without words as much as it did a plot device. It was okay to read but I have too many problems with it to continue the arc.

– Kathleen

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