What: Batgirl #13
When: Came out February 7, 2001
Who: Written by Kelley Puckett; pencilled by Damion Scott; inked by Robert Campanella; published by DC Comics
Reviewed by: past47
Well, it’s been a full year of publication now. There has been plenty of time for this comic to declare itself in the “Contender or Pretender?” challenge. I’d say the evidence has come down heavily in favor of the former. This particular issue is, in a way, the quintessential issue of the series to date, demonstrating all the strengths as well as all the weaknesses that have characterized the book so far.
Let’s start with those strengths. First, this is not a static or pedestrian book. It moves. The reader is constantly challenged to keep up with what’s happening. Puckett’s spare writing style and Scott’s many-angled approach to visual story-telling combine to suck the reader in, then pull the reader along toward the climax. This particular issue, starting as it does in the middle of the story, really grabs the reader's attention. The revelation that makes the story work is the beginning of the story, which is actually told near the end of the issue.
Second, the book meets the special challenge of convincing the reader that a slight, frail-looking seventeen-year-old girl is actually a formidable heroine with unique talents, but no superpowers. Look at the eight-panel sequence that makes up pages three and four of this book. Do you believe that anyone on earth could dodge four bullets in a row? Probably not. But if you ever would be capable of believing it, I defy you to find a more convincing artistic rendering of the event. The disbelieving looks of the gunmen that follow in the next two panels are the perfect pause before the action resumes in panels seven and eight. Kudos to all involved in putting these two pages together.
Third, the writer has been very patient, but steady, in depicting the character’s growth, both as a heroine and a person. This issue shows us, for example, something about Cassandra’s personality that, while not new or unexpected, is nevertheless revealing: her observation of the way the sniper avoided the child in the street while his pursuers did not, told her all she needed to know to figure out which side she should be on. I like that. It shows both her quick mind and her ability to read and appreciate character. Does she sense a kindred spirit here? Notice, too, her reply to the g-man: “My friends? My friends... will find you!” How tempting it must have been to have her say more. But no, the economy of statement was just right -- right where the character is at this stage of her linguistic development.
Fourth, this book makes the reader do a little work. At first sight, the relatively few words and the deceptively simple art might remind one of the animated-style Batman books. But this is no Gotham Adventures. Pages 11 and 12 of this issue, for example, force you to follow the action carefully as Batgirl escapes from her cell and turns the tables on the interrogator. It took me three or four attempts at this sequence to “get it.” But when you do “get it,” it works quite well.
And that leads us to the weaknesses. First, sometimes the art is just too confusing even after repeated readings. The four middle panels on page 16, for example. In general, one can see what’s happening here as Batgirl and the sniper make their break for freedom onto the roof of the building. But you can go crazy trying to understand the message in each individual frame. Sometimes this visual shorthand just doesn’t work well.
Second, the expressionistic (I hope that’s the right word) art that Damion Scott uses for the characters' faces sometimes seems to go too far. Look at the sniper’s face on page six and compare it with the same character as drawn in the middle panel on page 20. The latter drawing could be showing the father of the former one. Several of the Batgirl faces also seem hastily or unsurely done, including two of the pictures on the same page 20 and even the final panel of the comic, which almost makes the grade -- but not quite. Scott has shown pretty steady growth as a penciller so far on this book, though, and we can assume he’ll be able to even out some of these rougher elements in time (if indeed they are rougher elements, and not just my lack of appreciation).
In the meantime, it’s easy to savor some of the delights of this issue: the afore-mentioned pages three, four and 12, almost the entire roof-top escape scene, and the nifty wrap-up where we learn how the whole thing started.
Obviously this story is not over. Batgirl has made some powerful enemies who have seen her in her real identity, though not in costume. She’s also been wounded. And, no matter how little that may slow her down, it may serve as a means to her identification later. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens.
By the way, in case you didn’t pick up on it -- I thought this issue was great. A 9.5 out of 10 at least. My only serious dislike was the cover (I viewed it as fanboy pandering -- “Oooooo… blood! Cool!”)