This week I finally read all 25 issues (24 regular issues plus one Bruce Wayne: The Road Home tie-in special) of Batgirl, Volume 3. It ran from 2009 to 2011, when it was cancelled along with the rest of the DC Universe thanks to the Flashpoint-New 52 reboot. Which is a damned shame because this title was a load of fun.
Batgirl, Volume 3 stars Stephanie Brown, former Spoiler, former Robin, and formerly-dead daughter of C-list Batman villain The Cluemaster, as she tries to prove herself in a Gotham City where Bruce Wayne is presumed dead, Dick Grayson has taken over the Batman role, and Bruce’s 10-year-old son Damian Wayne is a homicidal Robin who hates everyone. (It was a strange time, 2009.) Stephanie was a controversial character both in the fictional DC Universe, and this series deals with her redeeming herself in the eyes of the Bat-family as well as trying to cope with civilian life as a young student at Gotham University. For most of the series Stephanie shares the book with former Batgirl Barbara Gordon, who at first tries to talk Stephanie out of superheroics and then becomes a grudging mentor. The success of the book is in large part due to writer Bryan Q. Miller’s understanding of the characters, highlighting how similar they are in many respects and how much they need the influence of the other in their lives. Miller also uses interior monologues to great effect, one character often mirroring the other’s thoughts, and there are many moments of humour when the interior and exterior get confused. I always chuckle when Stephanie blurts “Outside voice!” after she says out loud something she should really be thinking. Miller sets up the framework of the series in the first twelve issues, which feature multi-part stories that establish the status quo and give Stephanie a chance to establish herself in this new Gotham City. The real fun, though, comes in the second half.
With the table set, the series explodes with a slew of one- and two-issue stories that highlight adventure and character. Stephanie helps Damian Wayne infiltrate a group of schoolchildren on a museum tour in order to stop a gang of kidnappers. She teams up with Klarion The Witch Boy when his werecat starts attacking Gotham U students on Valentine’s Day. She has a girls’ night out at the movies with Supergirl on Hallowe’en, which naturally goes horribly wrong and the two friends spend their evening fighting twenty-four photon-charged holographic Draculas. From adventures in London with Squire to being beset by a mysterious cabal of university students with power armor, there is so much joy and excitement in these later issues that they practically vibrated in my hands when I was reading them.
The art on the book was handled by a number of different artists over the two years, including Lee Garbett & Trevor Scott, Dustin Nguyen, and Ramon Bachs. My favourite, thought, was Pere Perez, who brings a real strength to the character without losing the lean athletic look of the series, and also has a great knack for facial expressions. It’s a great series that’s hard to find, so if you can track down the issues don’t let them out of your sight.
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It wasn’t just the truncated adventures of an overlooked Batgirl that caught my attention this week, however. Here’s what else I got up to in the past seven days.
The Dead Pilots Society podcast comes from a simple, brilliant idea. Every year, television networks buy dozens of pilots, but only a handful actually get filmed, and even fewer of those ever make it to television. On The Dead Pilots Society, the writers of some of these purchased-but-never-made pilots come on the show for a quick interview, and then their scripts are given a table read in front of a live audience. It’s episode two, though, that I really want to talk about: “Only Child,” a script written by John Hodgman. Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of John Hodgman. I am hardly impartial about any of his work, whether that be his series of almanacs of fake trivia to his Netflix special Ragnarok to his own podcast, Judge John Hodgman. But “Only Child” is, without hyperbole, the funniest thing I’ve experienced this year. It’s a half-hour sitcom based on his life growing up as an only child in the affluent suburb of Brookline, Massachusets in the 1980s, with a genius hook: the role of 15-year-old John Hodgman is played by 45-year-old John Hodgman. Everyone else — from his parents to his teachers to his friends — is cast age-appropriately, highlighting his alienation from the rest of the world and his pretension of feeling like a grownup when he’s anything but. It’s such a good idea that even if the script wasn’t good it would be worth a listen. Luckily the script is a gem, funny and clever and weird and touching. It’s almost criminal that the show didn’t get made into a series, but if it was then I would have missed hearing it read aloud. Even Hodgman’s stage directions are filled with jokes. I have listened to the episode five times in one week and laugh every time. I’m going to listen to it again when I’m done writing this column. It’s that good.
The first issue of Shipwreck from Aftershock Comics is a collaboration of two of modern comics’ most versatile creators, Warren Ellis and Phil Hester. The story is vintage Ellis: the lone survivor of a doomed black ops experiment comes back with strange powers to get vengeance on the person who sabotaged the mission, and along the way has to clean up horrific situations caused by that same saboteur. It’s expertly paced and the dialogue is crisp and sharp, but I was even more impressed by the art. Hester takes Ellis’ script and improves on it; the endpage material includes the creative process behind two pages, from script to finished artwork, and it’s incredible to see how the penciled artwork diverges from the panel descriptions to make the story even better without losing any of the vitality of the script. Hester uses perspective and panel layouts to clarify and highlight Ellis’ ideas, and inker Eric Gapstur and colorist Mark Englert enhance both the ethereal and gruesome natures of the book. Shipwreck is a comic that deserves wide attention, and based on the high caliber of this one issue I think I’m going to take a closer look at some of Aftershock’s other comics offerings as well.
The Remarkable Worlds of Phineas B. Fuddle is a curious little book. Written by filmmaker Boaz Yakin and illustrated by his brother Erez Yakin and published by Vertigo Comics, it’s the story of two Englishmen at the turn of the 20th century who have to go back in time to stop the world from collapsing due to paradoxes created by Phineas B. Fuddle, the well-meaning scientist who feels that the world is doomed because humankind developed technological advancements too late in our species’ history. Unsurprisingly, bringing advanced technology back in time creates more problems than it solves, and our two heroes have to find Fuddle before the paradoxes overlap and the timestream collapses. The story is a little slight, but the art is absolutely worth the price of admission. The page layouts are furiously inventive; sometimes hard to navigate if the reader isn’t paying close attention but like almost nothing I’ve ever seen in comics before. And the splash pages of how ancient cultures might have advanced with access to new technology are spectacular, combining Kirbyesque grandiosity with culturally appropriate design. The story’s little more than an excuse for Erez Yakin and colorist Angus McKie to hang their art on, but what impressive art it is.
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And that is going to do it for me this week, my friends. Until next time, go for a long walk in the twilight hours and listen to “Only Child,” then come back inside and delve into something fantastic. It’s a good weekend for it. I’ll see you in seven days.