lördag 12 juli 2014

Batgirl: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

Well, this is quite the mix of well-known – even classic – comics creators, starting with Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino (and inker Sid Greene) for the very first Batgirl story (from 1967). Barbara Gordon, prim librarian daughter of Commissioner James Gordon, creates a tight-fitting, bat-themed masquerade outfit that'll show everybody that she's more than just a brilliant brain, but on the way to the big party encounters a crime in progress and decides to break it up. With her brown belt judo skills, she accounts herself well, attracting the interest of Batman himself. Accidentally interfering in Batman and Robin's handling of a case, she nevertheless perseveres and proves herself to be a crime-fighting force to be reckoned with. (I will mention, however, my disappointment with scriptwriter Fox for his apparent belief that a laser beam works much like a jet engine.)

The excellent (of course) Alex Ross cover.
Then follows a couple of stories penned by Frank Robbins; typically for his bat-stories, they're pretty decent detective yarns. The first Robbins story, from 1970, is drawn by Gil Kane with inks by Murphy Anderson. While I don't think Anderson is the best inker for Kane, he's competent enough and Kane's dramatic storytelling still comes through. Don Heck's the artist for the next couple of stories (from 1972), and I was unfortunately never much of a fan of his art. The scripts are weaker, as well, with Robbins trying to put some social significance into them by having Barbara go into politics to improve society.

That sad trend continues in an Elliot S! Maggin-Mike Grell overly patriotic and fantastic story from 1975 celebrating the US bicentennial, marred by Maggin's use of magic, the Devil (yes, sadly), and a syrupy sentimental speech before Congress by Rep. Barbara Gordon in his script. Grell's art is also weak; illustrating the story but adding neither elegance nor power to it. Next, an apparently intended-to-be-in-good-fun 1977 Bob Rozakis story about Two-Face's daughter pretending to be the daughters of the Penguin, the Riddler, the Scarecrow and the Joker which doesn't work either, partly because too much focus is on Robin instead of Batgirl, but mainly because it's just pointless. Instead of whimsy, we get dull. Old pro Irv Novick does the art but wasn't really suitable for something so light-weight – especially not with the inks of Vince Colletta.

These two stories shouldn't have been in this volume; they're just not good enough to deserve it – especially in a book called "The Greatest Stories Ever Told".

Then things start looking up again. In a post-Crisis story from 1997, Devin Grayson and Duncan Fegredo depict Robin and Batgirl's new first meeting, two kids who're trying to learn the ropes of superheroing and who also have to learn how to work together as a team on the fly as they pursue a hostage-taking burglar. It's a cute story where Grayson's fun, lively script works well and establishes a pleasant but not rivalry-free relation between the two. Fegredo's elegant and dynamic art makes the story even better.

And speaking of elegant, the last story (from 1998) is inked by Kevin Nowlan, who has one of the most beautiful ink lines ever. (Script is by Kelley Puckett, and pencils by Terry Dodson.) "Folie A Deux" nicely tells of how Commissioner Gordon took care of Barbara after her biological parents died in a car crash, and how a newly minted Batgirl blackmails Batman into training her when he tries to stop her from risking her life fighting crime. It uses some advanced storytelling, but loses a bit when it tries too hard to be clever when depicting Gordon being saved by Batgirl after trying to stop a robbery – if you can't get your point over without making too-improbable jumps in logic, perhaps you should rethink how you intend to make it. But the inks are by Kevin Nowlan, and the Barbara-Gordon relationship is very well depicted, so this is still worth your while.

I'm rather disappointed with DC for including those two weak Maggin and Rozakis stories; they've both done better, and certainly there are better Batgirl stories around that could have used. In fact, there's a whole Batgirl Showcase volume chock-full of Batgirl stories, most of them better than that (and many of them drawn by Gil Kane). This collection is still worth reading for getting a sense of the character's history, some beautiful art and decent-to-good stories, but it's not a must-read.

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