Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bad Things Come in Threes: “Batgirl" 3 review

Batgirl 3
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Adam Beechen
Penciller: Jim Calafiore
Inker: Mark McKenna

Colorist: Nathan Eyring

Capsule review: Batgirl issue 3... A couple of pages of boring exposition followed by a couple of pages of standard-issue fight scenes do not a story make. You'd also think the writer might've taken time to... you know... actually read some of the main character's previous title in order to develop a characterization more consistent with... Oh to hell with that-- you'd also think the writer would at least give the main character a personality worth reading about. But three issues in, that'd be expecting too much of this paltry, hackish miniseries.

The pointy people come out to play courtesy of J. Calafiore’s jagged artwork in Batgirl #3. Why bother to threaten people with a sword when you could just slice them open with the side of your face, or the edge of your shoulder?

With a decidedly mediocre script by Adam Beechen and Calafiore’s spiny art and “widescreen” layouts, this issue is the very definition of "filler." Crimefighter comic book generica. We know there’s a big confrontation coming between Batgirl and David Cain, but it takes place in issue 6 so Batgirl has to do something between the first issue and the last. And what that is, apparently, is swipe the storyline of the old Street Fighter video game. Lots of henchpeople for Batgirl to toss around while her energy bar gets lower and lower until she reaches the big Boss Fight at the end, interrupted by clumsily written cut scenes.

In this outing, Batgirl has teamed up with some chick in a costume from the Tron reject pile to find and kill David Cain, her biological father. But first they have to deal with Ravager, who's also angry at her own father and a small army of girls who broke into the Marvel universe and stole Deadpool’s dirty laundry. Daddy issues might make for an interesting subtext in a story about a young woman who wants to kill her old man, and you can imagine what a more inspired writer would do with the concept. But that would require effort, and the Batgirl miniseries is apparently all about doing the least a writer can do and still call it writing.

Actually, the biggest problem isn't the lame overly familiar plotting and yawn inducing "action" sequences. It's the stilted characterization. Beechen shows once again why he’s the Batgirl fan’s writer of last resort. It's not bad enough that he opens the issue with an on-the-nose fantasy sequence that hamfistedly puts his inability to grasp Batgirl on full display, but later he injects an unwelcome whiny note into Batgirl’s narration:

“It shouldn’t be like this. Nothing in my life should be like this. It’s not fair.”

You know, it’s nice that Batgirl has finally found a voice. It’s just too bad it’s such a wimpy, boring one and comes at the cost of all her other chops. Evidently a year as an ESL student teaches you mainly to be a bland costumed mope.

I remember a time when "fair" or "not fair" didn't enter to her thinking, when all Batgirl wanted was to be Batgirl. To kick ass and not worry about taking names because she wouldn’t have understood them anyway. When she exulted in her abilities to an extent that frightened her confidant Barbara Gordon. If she was having emotional problems, she punched and kicked some evil minion half to death and Batman would have to pull her off and lecture her with his own fists and feet.

Now the girl who once exposed her face to government agencies so she wouldn't have to mess with all that "secret identity" crap just wants that tired old cliché, the “normal life.” What a comedown for a formerly bad-ass character. With this miniseries, Beechen seems determined to strip away everything that made the character vital and replace it with standard-issue teen super-person emo borrowed from other, much more entertaining, sources.

What happened to the girl who frequently went toe-to-toe with Batman (in issue #50 of her old series she and Bats almost killed each other), who defeated the deadly Lady Shiva? It's a good idea to make things difficult for your protagonist, but in this issue, she has trouble fighting a cadre of characters so perfunctory they don't even have names or faces. Hell, she looks like Robin would give her a run for her money these days. Back in her original series she’d have cut a bloody swath through all these costumed geeks.

Oh, and by the way, at one point Batgirl was unique. A freak. Her father had to start her assassin training practically from birth and deny her language in order to channel it into physical expression. It worked that one time, and the end result was an isolated, emotionally stunted young woman who was so alone in the world she'd embrace even Batman's version of tough love.

Now it seems anyone at any age can learn to be Batgirl. All they have to do is pump iron and wear tights. And you might think someone brilliant enough to create an army of assassins would find a more secluded area for their training. According to this book, they practice down at the local gym inside some nondescript brick building that looks like it came out of a poorly-written and illustrated "How To Draw Boring Superhero Comics" instructional book. But with writing this dull, why expect the settings to be interesting? Early in the book, there's even a fight on a... yawn... decrepit urban basketball court complete with not-very-believable grunge and weathering.

I suppose it's conducive to a revenge-quest when the target spends his time being nefarious right there in your own hometown. Hey, even an otherwise colorless supporting character (who Batgirl apparently has fallen head over heels for despite only talking to him once or twice in the narrative) gets to travel to Indonesia. Batgirl, on the other hand, has to pursue her "Redemption Road" through local settings that wouldn't have taxed an old Apple IIC computer's graphic capabilities running a Scott Adams Questprobe adventure game. I don't know how comic book accounting works; maybe having Batgirl's target hiding out in some exotic locale would've strained the penny-ante budget and thought put into this... this... I almost hesitate to call it a "story."

I've always felt you told a story because you had to, because it was bursting to escape your imagination. That the story itself would justify the telling. Batgirl #3 is a comic that doesn’t justify anything, unless it's keeping Adam Beechen the hell away from telling anymore Batgirl stories.

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