Deep within the heart of Gotham, or perhaps it’s somewhere near its furthest edge, shines a bright light that contradicts everything we know about the fabled city. For decades the Dark Knight has protected Gotham’s residents from a vile assortment of psychopaths, each more despicable than the next and all of them hell-bent on committing unimaginably heinous crimes. Batman strikes fear into the minds of the criminal element of Gotham.
But Batgirl? No, Batgirl uses sass. And plenty of it.
Bryan Q. Miller presents a new Batgirl in “Batgirl, Vol. 01: Batgirl Rising” and he imbues more humor and personality than one could have hoped. The writer fleshes out the latest Batgirl, Stephanie Brown, in believable ways. She’s overconfident on the outside but self-deprecating from within. Stephanie feels every part the nineteen-year-old college freshman who has all of the answers when it’s clear that she indeed does not. As a crime-fighter, she doesn’t bother to use fear to subdue her adversaries. She’s just a bullet, leaping into the heat of the action and processing it all while in flight. In the opening scene of “Batgirl Rising” we get an immediate taste of who Stephanie is as she takes out two street racers:
Thug: I ain’t afraid of you. What you weigh? Like, a hundred pounds?
Batgirl: Thank you.
Give your characters character. It’s seems like a simple rule and it’s one that Miller plainly understands. Stephanie Brown, as written here, is one of the most charming and witty characters in DC’s endless catalogue of heroes. You’ll root for her as she comes out of each melee by the skin of her teeth, and you’ll laugh with her as she struggles through the everyday challenges of a young collegiate and the less common challenges faced by a blossoming vigilante. As much as Stephanie’s supporting cast isn’t wild about her turn as Batgirl, she continues to pursue her destiny, certain she’s taken the right path.
After the “death” of Batman in the crossover event “Final Crisis”, Gotham City’s protectors are reshuffled. Dick Grayson rightfully claims the mantle of Batman, Damian Wayne becomes Robin, Tim Drake takes on the role of Red Robin, and Cassandra Cain decides to bequeath Batgirl to Stephanie. Naturally, these are tough boots to fill and not everyone thinks the light-hearted heroine formerly known as Spoiler is ready for a bat crest.
Miller’s “Batgirl Rising” is as much a story of former Batgirl Barbara Gordon’s rebirth as it is Stephanie’s. Barbara is feeling angry and somewhat lost when the story opens. She doesn’t feel as though her life has much direction these days and she certainly isn’t happy with an inexperienced youngster putting on a cowl and taking on the moniker that Barbara made famous years before. Miller and artist Lee Garbett illustrate Barbara’s sullen behavior in two separate scenes with Dr. Leslie Thompkins, Batman’s physician, and Barbara’s father, Commissioner Gordon. Miller’s tale is about the journey of two women, the reluctant mentor who knows she was sidelined in her prime and a young woman who needs the guidance necessary to achieve greatness.
Miller and Garbett include a small supporting cast who are featured throughout this first volume: new Gotham P.D. Detective Nick Gage, who Commisioner Gordon would like to introduce to his single daughter, and Francisco Garcia, a young man who goes to Gotham University with Stephanie and whose father has questionable business dealings. Wendy Harris, who was left a paraplegic after a violent encounter during her short-lived run in Geoff Johns’ “Teen Titans”, appears briefly as a would-be protégé of Barbara’s. However, a sequence in which Barbara spends time with Wendy as the young woman works to regain use of her legs is both honest and powerful. Barbara understands perfectly the frustration Wendy is experiencing.
Barbara: Wendy’s convinced harnessing her anger will magically allow her to walk again. What she doesn’t realize is—that anger is going to hold her back. Something I may know a thing or two about.
Miller has found a perfect tonal balance between humor and drama in “Batgirl Rising”. The book is made up of two three-chapter stories with a one-and-done chapter sandwiched in between. The first story follows Stephanie’s wobbly ascension to Batgirl, a move that leads her right in the middle of the Scarecrow’s plot to dispense a new drug in Gotham called Thrill. Miller structures this opening volume wonderfully, getting all of his characters in place, some who will appear throughout the book and others who get more screen time later on in the one-shot and the second arc.
Credit Lee Garbett for fully realizing who Stephanie is, beautiful but awkward, her facial expressions tell us everything we need to know. Garbett captures the young woman’s nervousness that her mother will stumble upon her Batgirl costume or her total boredom with her morning lectures. Her Batgirl mask doesn’t completely conceal her eyes, which is smart because we know exactly how Stephanie feels as the story moves along. We can see that she’s frustrated, for example, when Batman and Robin show up during a fight with a second-rate villain.
Garbett is sensational at action sequences and Miller’s fast-paced scripts mesh well with the artist. The opening scene is demonstrative of Garbett’s ability to illustrate kinetic action sequences as Batgirl glides from above two cars racing illegally across Gotham. Throughout the scene, the hero moves smoothly over the action like a gymnast as she prevents the drivers from getting too far. The book’s finale features wall-to-wall action as Batgirl, Robin (Damian Wayne) and Batman showdown with a swarm of villains out for Batman’s cowl.
“Batgirl Rising” gets the star-treatment in terms of its artwork. Trevor Scott’s meticulous inking is exceptional. He adds fine details to every aspect of the pencils, especially Garbett’s full backgrounds. Guy Major’s colors add depth to every page; together, the three artists have created a fully breathing Gotham. There’s a small scene with Barbara on the subway where not an element was missed, from the graffiti on the walls to the clutter on the ground. The art team do not leave a corner of their panels ignored.
After Barbara grows more accustomed to the idea of a second Batgirl, and pledges her ongoing mentorship, it’s time to sell Dick Grayson on the idea. Again, with breakneck pacing, Miller and Garbett create a tight action story but slow down things enough to establish a burgeoning love/hate (oka, tolerate/hate) relationship between Damian and Stephanie and confront the demons that exist between Dick and Barbara. Miller offers up more great character work as tough-as-nails Barbara Gordon tries to prevent her old flame from getting to her. At the same time Miller shows us that Barbara is only human when she lashes out insensitively at Dick, instantly regretting her choice of words.
The real pleasure of the second arc is the interaction between Damian and Stephanie. Damian thinks nothing of Stephanie, but he puts it much less delicately than that. Damian shows up as Stephanie is leaving class and she confronts the boy for almost compromising their secret identities. While the two have a discussion, Damian uses a branch to draw a stick figure of Batgirl in the snow. As the conversation continues, Damian uses the branch to make slashes through his “artwork” before decapitating it. Miller writes a deliciously sinister Damian and Garbett draws the boy equally as wicked.
Stephanie Brown may stumble a few times during her first adventures as Batgirl, but thanks to the graceful work of Miller and Garbett, there’s little doubt that her future is bright.
Batgirl, Vol. 01: Batgirl Rising
Written by: Bryan Q. Miller
Art by: Lee Garbett, Tim Levins
Inks: Trevor Scott, Sandra Hope, Dan Davis, Aaron Sowd, Oliver Nome
Colors: Guy Major
Letters: John J. Hill
Publisher: DC Comics
Original Publication Date:
Pages: 168 pages