Monday, February 06, 2012
Miller's final collection, Batgirl: The Lesson, reflects a little bit of the rush to wrap things up before the DC relaunch, but nonetheless Miller completes the book in quite satisfactory fashion. If we accept that there was a general ennui in the DC Universe that necessitated the relaunch, here we can say the opposite: Batgirl went out while the series still shined, a specific book to be proud of in the waning days of the old DCU.
If Batgirl Rising was the story of former Spoiler accepting the mantle of Batgirl and Batgirl: The Flood was the story of those around her accepting Stephanie in the role, Lesson is where Stephanie's story comes full circle -- the apprentice, if you will, becomes the master. Almost every story in the book is a team-up, notably with Stephanie's innocuous stalker, the Grey Ghost.
Most striking, to be sure, is toward the end of the book, when Batgirl warns of Grey Ghost from crime-fighting lest he hurt himself, and even threatens him to make her point. Miller doesn't dive into this directly, but it's clear how far Stephanie has come as Batgirl when she's discouraging untrained heroes just the same as Robin did to her when she was Spoiler. The Gray Ghost follows an equally Spoiler-y path and tries to infiltrate the villainous Reaper gang, meeting his death; I'd like to think Batgirl pursues the Reapers so stringently in the end in part because she recognizes that there by other circumstances she might have gone herself.
Another study in contrasts is that even as this book is filled with team-ups, it's actually a story about Batgirl growing increasingly alone and learning to rely on herself. With her mentor Oracle declaring herself dead, "Team Batgirl" becomes Stephanie and the computer-whiz Proxy only briefly before Proxy departs on a spiritual journey. Batgirl has plenty of company in the final pages, from the British Squire to Detective Gage to a bevy of her fellow young superheroines -- but it is Batgirl alone who ultimately faces down her father, the Cluemaster, and breaks the hold of the illusion-inducing Black Mercy plant (something, Miller is no doubt aware, gave even Superman pause).
Miller closes out Batgirl just right with seven splash page sequences, ostensibly Batgirl's Black Mercy illusions but perhaps, one hopes, maybe glimpses of the future. Each is more fun than the last, making the reader all the more reluctant that the series is at an end -- a "regular" adventure with Oracle, Batgirl, Proxy, and Robin Damian Wayne; the young heroines in storybook garb versus the Queen of Fables; Oracle, Batgirl, and Robin as multi-colored Lanterns fighting Black Lantern Zombies; a time-traveling team-up with the Blackhawks courtesy of Booster Gold, with Batgirls Barbata Gordon and Cassandra Cain (and is that Damian?); and Stephanie's college graduation, rife with an attack by the Royal Flush Gang.
The final two images are a married Stephanie putting her son to bed, the Bat-signal beckoning (let's hope the dark-haired child is Red Robin Tim Drake's, and we don't have an Anakin/Padme situation with Damian here); and that same Stephanie flying through the air as the new Nightwing, with the young girl Nell who's appeared throughout the series as her protege Batgirl.
Miller and artists Pere Perez and Dustin Nguyen know all the notes to hit (see Klarion the Witch Boy sitting "Batgirl style" on her car on the final cover, and the lurkng vampires). I also appreciated that Miller reveals Batgirl's identity to her mother at the end of the book (shame, again, we won't get to see that play out). Miller even breaks the rules and has Batgirl reveal Oracle's identity to Detective Gage in the end -- and why not? What's the end of the universe if you can't crack a couple eggs?
Still, it's clear the Batgirl title could have used another issue or two (or maybe that's just my wishful thinking). That Detective Gage was a member of the Reaper cult and that they killed his fiance seems too convenient and less dramatic than I expected -- I wondered if Miller simply went for the easiest tie with time running out. Proxy bows out suddenly and without much resolution; I also imagine that readers of just Batgirl will be confused by the "death of Oracle" references, which are not well explained here if one's not also reading Birds of Prey.
Also, as with the recent Chase trade, my copy of The Lesson's cover started curling the minute I brought it home from the store, and that got worse as I was reading it. You've got to love a ten-issue trade (and indeed, The Lesson offers a nice, lengthy read), but there's a lot of issues crammed in here on thin paper, and I wonder if the physical quality of this book is slightly less than others to put so much content in an affordable trade.
None of that, however, should keep any reader from running out and buying for themselves and any comics-interested friends copies of all three Batgirl volumes. This is fun comics, fun comics with a teenage star (when many often read like poor soap operas), and fun comics that's also a brilliant study in how every character is redeemable -- Bryan Q. Miller put a comic starring Stephanie Brown -- the erstwhile Spoiler, who became nearly unreadable during Batman: War Games -- on the New York Times bestseller list.
In its heyday, Batgirl was undoubtedly one of the best books DC Comics was publishing. At the end of Batgirl: The Lesson, Stephanie says with a wink that "it's only the end if you want it to be." I don't think we have quite the control that Miller would have us believe in this moment -- but it's certainly nice to wish so.
[Contains full cover. Printed on glossy (if thin) paper]
What Bryan Miller did for Batgirl, Sterling Gates did for Supergirl, no less of an uphill battle. We'll look at the final Supergirl trade coming up next, plus guest-reviewer Doug Glassman on the Marvel Handbook.