Monday, November 22, 2010

Batgirl #15

With Bruce Wayne back at the head of the table in Batman, it looks like it’s finally time for the whole slew of related titles to move on with their lives and get back to business as usual. Of course, that’s not entirely a new course for Batgirl, which has already been dancing to its own tune for a few months. While Dick, Tim, Alfred and company were off searching for Bruce and trying their damnedest to fill his shoes, Stephanie has been gaining experience, both in her pointy-eared nightware and her civvies. Now that the extended family around her is finally nearing some form of solidarity, she’s in a great position to really reap the benefits of that relationship. Of course, she’s something of a work in progress.

Bryan Q. Miller is still setting up shop on Batgirl, establishing characters, settings and dilemmas with every new issue, but the groundwork he’s laid thus far has the book set on a firm, whimsical course with a solid, well-rounded lead at the center of it all. As a protagonist, Stephanie is far from the typical caped crusader. Where the rest of her comrades are products of the cookie-cutter school of the slick, the quick and the grim, Steph is more vocal and aloof. The grit teeth, clenched fists and spooky shadows that have become the trademarks of the Wayne family are never far from sight, but they’re often balanced with a low-key character moment over the dinner table or an off-the-cuff remark that reminds us of that missing mental toughness. Where Bruce and company are all-business, all the time, Stephanie’s still an occasionally flaky, almost-average girl feeling her way through one extraordinary situation after another.

Issue fifteen marks the debut of new ongoing artist Dustin Nguyen, a name which should carry some weight among dedicated Dark Knight fanatics. In between twin stints on The Authority, Nguyen has spent time on Batman, Detective Comics and Streets of Gotham, with each run remembered fondly by the die-hards. His work here is a direct continuation of those preceding stops, slightly skewed to match the more upbeat, playful tone of this series. Though this is his first visit with Stephanie’s crew, his work with the lot is so solid and consistent it’s already like he’s known them for years. Nguyen’s artwork is nicely framed and impressively complete; he never skimps on a background or trivial detail, and the simple, crisp style he employs focuses on efficiently moving the story along to its next stop. He’s a fine addition to the series, with the kind of name recognition to attract new readers and the quality of work to keep them around for a while.

If you’re looking for a good time to jump on-board with your first Bat-title, Batgirl #15 is an excellent opportunity. Not only are the first three pages dedicated to a quick, easy-to-skim summary of the entirety of Batman’s history, but the lack of deep continuity and more open, approachable nature of the primary character makes this issue excessively easy to slide right into and start enjoying right away. It’s not quite as deep as its stable-mates, but that’s responsible for a lot of its charm. Borrow it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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