[21 June 2011]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
In case you haven’t read the comics industry news recently, the current Batgirl run with Stephanie Brown as the title character will end in September. With her title concluding, and several others, DC will usher in their “revamp” or “reboot” era, as the company attempts to stave off years of declining sales numbers with an overhaul of their properties.
Every title gets a new number one, regardless if they are continuing the editorial direction they had established. Is this a wise move? Who knows. For the purposes of this review article, we’ll ignore most of it and concentrate on memorializing one of the causalities of this relaunch: Stephanie “Dork Knight” Brown. As a guise, great attention will be paid to issue 22, but don’t be fooled. This is a sort of wake for one of the many series that has bared the name Batgirl.
Twenty two issues ago, many didn’t think the Stephanie Brown character would do Batgirl justice, nor were there any expectations for this title to succeed. However, the book has been regularly dependable to deliver witty banter, good action and an overall enjoyable story. It’s been the surprise of the Bat-family of titles.
Always interesting, but never quite finding her place, Stephanie’s been a lesson for other would be heroes and for promiscuous teenagers. She’s been a spoiler to other characters (pardon the pun). She’s never been her own person. What series writer Bryan Q. Miller and his artistic partners have been able to do is refresh her in such a way that her personality spills off the pages.
All it took was pairing her with Barbara Gordon—perhaps the strongest female character in all of the DC Universe—to shine a little light on her potential. With Batgirl, the creative team demonstrates that Stephanie as the title character is not a one off footnote in Batman lore. This isn’t her run as Robin. This is her with a proper title.
Execution is probably what sums up the success of this book. None of the plots have been startlingly original. They have been executed well with that touch that makes them authentic. It’s not paint by numbers character design and storytelling. It is thoughtful implementation of a an aesthetic and tone.
Arguably the finest example of what this series brought to the table was in issue 14 where Supergirl guest starred for a tale of action, suspense and superheroic comedy. It was as perfect as a light superhero comic could be.
Issue 22 is very enjoyable, much as the series has been. Miller crafts very good banter, which is a hallmark of the series. He’s done so in his TV writing for Smallville, so to see it here is really no surprise, but rather a treat. The banter is more than just panel to panel entertainment. It’s pithy without being obnoxious; it’s smart without being obtuse; and it moves with the grace of a dancer. It also has the dual purpose of also fortifying Stephanie’s character as starkly different from the rest of the Bat-family. She’s not a sidekick. She’s her own Bat.
The story is timely as it flows as an aside to the overall vision of Grant Morrison’s Batman, Inc. Stephanie gets sent to England on a mission for original franchise Batman/Bruce Wayne. For part of her journey she hooks up with British Robin counterpart Squire, sidekick to the British Batman, Knight.
This leads to the enviable ‘cross the pond humor, which would normally be groan inducing. But under Miller’s direction it’s a whirlwind of clever and snarky gags and action. It’s a transition issue, but the creative teams doesn’t treat it like that, taking a pride in ownership approach that allows a quality chapter in the shortened Batgirl career of Stephanie Brown.
Pere Perez handles art duties for this issue. He has been a fairly steady hand for the title throughout its run as several artists have contributed panels over the course of two years, including Lee Garbett and Dustin Nguyen. Perez draws fluid scenes with dynamic action. The panels are clean with varied layouts, enhanced by his inking that seems more precise than other issues where he has taken over the art duties.
Miller’s approach to this title is very reminiscent to Josh Whedon’s approach to his pinnacle character Buffy Summers. Both share the same premise of compelling women struggling with day and night jobs. That’s not a criticism, as Miller has been blending both the creepy, campy and snarky very well, creating a satisfying series.
At times there have been narrative techniques drug out of the old bag of tricks… but they’ve worked. The artwork by the various artist employed has been workable at times… but it’s worked very well. Not eloquent high praise, but for 22 issues it worked. Consistency is far too undervalued. How do you want to spend your comics’ dollars? On a hit-or-miss title? Or on the consistently good?
For whatever reason, DC has decided to end this volume of Batgirl. Barbara Gordon will reclaim her former role, giving up her status as Oracle and giving up her wheelchair. One of the reasons stated for this reboot era is to bring more diversity to the DC Universe, yet somehow a popular, strong, handicapped, female superhero is not part of that diversity plan. How Gordon will rise from her current position has not been revealed, but it is happening. So too is the removal of Stephanie Brown as Batgirl.
What will be her place in the new DC Universe? Who knows? What is known is that after August 2011 Bryan Miller, Lee Garbett, Pere Perez, Guy Major and a host of others will no longer be creating a Batgirl comic starring Stephanie Brown. Dork Knight no more. Good night sweet, snarky, pointy-eared princess. Good night.