Review: Batgirl: The Flood trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bryan Q. Miller's Batgirl: The Flood and Gail Simone's Birds of Prey: End Run take place concurrently, and both make use of the Oracle Barbara Gordon character. I faulted Simone's End Run recently for what I felt was a side-lining of Barbara (albeit uncharacteristic for Simone and Birds); except for one issue, Barbara mostly spends the book in the background fretting about her friends.

Enter Miller's Batgirl, which is a breath of fresh air in general and in regards to this particular issue. Though the main action of Flood has Barbara kidnapped by the Calculator -- a foe and plot repeated too often -- the preamble involves Barbara actually on the street fighting side-by-side with Batgirl Stephanie Brown against the zombified citizens of Gotham.

Though Simone, let's not be mistaken, has also taken Barbara out from behind her desk more than once, when you read the two books together it's clear that what End Run lacks is abundantly present in Flood -- a Barbara Gordon just as tough and capable as she was in her own Batgirl days.

[Contains spoilers]

In the kind of expansive, organic story that perhaps one can only find in comics, the conflict between Oracle and the Calculator spans at least five years and a considerable number of comics, including Birds of Prey, Teen Titans, the Oracle miniseries, and now Batgirl. Perhaps because of the vagueness of Calculator's "enhanced computing" skills, his stories of late involve a repetitive series of subpar threats, as when characters are attacked by electronic appliances or through their social networking avatars.

Miller deviates from this well at the beginning of Flood in his depiction of Gotham's cyber-zombies, which do indeed seem like a threat to Batgirl and Oracle. The story ends, however, in the all-too-familiar ground of Barbara fighting Calculator in a digital dreamspace, something I like far less than Barbara actually engaging in physical combat in the "real" world. The former seems a too-easy loophole by the writers to let Barbara fight as Batgirl would, instead of how Oracle would.

The joy in Miller's twice-told tale is the same as in Batgirl Rising, and what's made this series an instant hit despite controversies over Stephanie as Batgirl -- how much fun Miller has with the characters. Only scratching the surface is Batgirl and Oracle battling back-to-back against zombies, for gosh sake, and the running gag where Batgirl and Oracle accidentally speak their inner monologues aloud, to hilarious embarrassment.

That Stephanie is overjoyed at a thumb's up from Commissioner Gordon is markedly refreshing. At the point where Tim Drake's been doing this for over twenty-years "our" time and Damian Wayne couldn't care less, I like reading about a Bat-character still in training, with shades of Chuck Dixon's early Robin series. And, Calculator aside, Miller succeeds making established Batman villains seem not-so-staid, between Scarecrow last time and Man-Bat and Clayface here.

Flood ends with two stand-alone tales, a cute team-up with Supergirl, and a deceptively complex spotlight on Batgirl's Detective Nick Gage. The chapter's main issue focuses on Batgirl foiling Clayface's bank robbery, but in just two panels, Miller strongly implies that Gage has come to Gotham after suffering the death of his wife. The character never says such, and all the information is brilliantly conveyed instead in silence and reactions (kudos also to issue artist Pere Perez and to series artist Lee Garbett in general).

The revelation is sad, of course, but Miller has made these characters all so loveable that there's a sweetness too in learning more about them, good or tragic. Miller's writing also shines in a great scene where Gage commiserates with Stephanie over a victim he and Batgirl couldn't save, not knowing all the while that it's Batgirl in front of him.

Were Batgirl to be continuing, I'd highly approve of the introduction of former Teen Titan Wendy Harris as "Proxy," a young apprentice to Oracle. This would not only free Oracle to appear exclusively in Birds of Prey, but contributes to the youthful vibe of the entire book by introducing an "Oracle Jr."; it would also pull the new Batgirl farther out of the former Batgirl's shadow. That said, I'd like to think Barbara Gordon won't be taking orders from Proxy-as-Oracle in the new DC Relaunch Batgirl series. I've heard (and am glad) that Barbara will still remember her Oracle-time as Batgirl, but I'd rather see her charting her own way than taking orders in a diminutive way from someone else; it works for Batgirl-in-training Stephanie, but not for someone with as long a history (even rebooted) as Batgirl-the-first.

[Contains full covers]

Some of the funny in Batgirl: The Flood seems more on purpose and less natural than in Batgirl Rising. Nonetheless, this second Batgirl volume is smart and entertaining, fun and thoughtful, and a good model for what superhero comics should be (what a lot of readers liked about the Power Girl series is what I think I like in Batgirl). Flood hit the New York Times bestseller list, and the accolade is well-deserved; my strong hope is that DC finds something else for Bryan Miller to work on in the new DC Universe (a stint on Blue Beetle, maybe?), because he's a writer too good to let go.
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4 comments:

  1. Woah, I can't believe you did this review without mentioning the last story! B&W dracula on a segway not worthy of comment?

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  2. That's not the first time I've heard mention of the Dracula on the segway ... was that just funny, or is there an in-joke I'm not getting?

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  3. No hidden subtext, just delightful absurdity!

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  4. I liked the floating pillow feathers in the last scene. Miller is a riot -- he's not going to show a pillow fight, he's not even going to acknowledge there was a pillow fight, and yet there's feathers floating down as they're both just sitting there. Priceless.

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