In light of the recent controversy with the higher-ups at DC editorial surrounding Stephanie Brown, I decided to go back and read (for the first time) the entire 24-issue pre-New 52 run of her tenure as the “Domino Daredoll.” My original intention was to review the entire series in one article, but I have been so pleasantly surprised by this book and this character that I’ve decided to break this review into three parts. This is a discussion of the first seven issues of that title. Growing up in the 70′s, my first introduction to the character of Batgirl was the Yvonne Craig version from the “Batman” TV show reruns, and I absolutely loved her.
That show was my gateway drug into the world of comic books, and as the years passed I grew to love the comic book version of Babs even more. Then came the Killing Joke, and I was very angry and bitter. But in time, I grew to love Babs as Oracle even more than Batgirl. I never cared for the Cassandra Cain version. I don’t know if it was her past with the League of Assassins that turned me off, or that awful costume, but I never followed her adventures on a regular basis. Also, although I read Tim Drake’s solo Robin title on-and-off over the years, I never cared for Steph as the Spoiler. I thought the name was stupid and never cared much for the costume. I was not reading Robin when Steph apparently “died.” So when Batman was Omega Beamed by Darkseid and vanished in time during Final Crisis, and the Reborn titles were rolled out, I really had no interest in collecting Batgirl. I think if the new costume had been revealed on the cover to issue one, things may have been different.
But DC was very secretive about the identity of the new Batgirl when that series was announced, and so Stephanie doesn’t actually appear as Batgirl in the new costume on the covers of the first three issues. Based on the vague solicitations I wrote it off, forgot about Stephanie and Batgirl, and went on with my life. Then came Flashpoint and the New 52, and the entire generational / legacy aspect of the original DCU was washed away. As was Oracle. I became bitter again. The generation of characters that was wiped out, ie, the original Teen Titans and Infinity, Inc. just happened to be “my” generation of characters. And unlike Babs becoming Oracle, the new 52 just isn’t growing on me. So this Batgirl Vol 3 is a diamond in the rough for me because it occurs in the preboot DCU that I have loved my whole life and because Babs training Steph represents that legacy aspect that is now so painfully missing.
The first issue kicks off a 3-part story called “Point of New Origin.” We find a Barbara Gordon who is bitter and angry. She’s not working with the Birds at this point and her Clock Tower is a thing of the past. She’s accused of “hiding” by Leslie Thompkins, and her own father, Commissioner James Gordon, accuses her of not wanting to be happy. Meanwhile, a very wet-behind-the-ears Stephanie Brown finds finds that she just can’t quit the thrill of being a costumed vigilante, and is carrying on her nocturnal activities in the hand-me-down costume of Cassandra Cain. Cassandra at this point is under the impression that Bruce Wayne is dead and has no desire to continue crime-fighting as Batgirl. Stephanie is both cynical and self-deprecating, and it’s hard not to fall instantly in love with her. I was reminded again and again of Cassie Sandsmark, but that’s an article for another time. She botches a rescue attempt and is saved (without her knowledge) by a batarang courtesy of Dick-as-Batman who, with Damian Wayne, is watching her with growing disapproval. Yet Steph tenaciously clings to her ambition. She struggles with the concept of “free will” versus “restraints from outside factors.” In the end of the first issue, bitter Babs meets plucky Steph with explosive results. Batarangs are hurled.
With issue two, Babs begins to realize that she’s trying to break Stephanie on purpose. She admits to herself that she’s not certain if it’s because she’s concerned about Stephanie’s welfare or whether she’s jealous that Stephanie is out prowling the night. There’s an excellent scene in which Babs hauls Steph to the Batcave, where the latter marvels at the costumes that Bruce keeps in glass cases. Babs (bitterly) reminds her that the only way to get your costume on display in the cave is to retire (Dick), be murdered (Jason), become someone else (Tim), or be shot (Babs).
The third issue is where the series really starts firing on all cylinders. Stephanie, while battling the Scarecrow, is fighting the influence of an adrenaline-enhancing drug called “Thrill.” She has a hallucination in which Tim Drake appears and accuses her of being a poor girlfriend and a poor hero. She fights off the illusion, then beats the snot out of the Scarecrow, all while having an epiphany. She finally embraces the free will that the Scarecrow stole from her, shrugs off the effects of the drug, and decides to remain in Gotham as Batgirl. Babs, seeing this transformation in Stephanie, realizes that “every day is an opportunity, not a dead end.” She immediately returns to Leslie Thompkin’s clinic and begins to work with Wendy Harris (who has recently lost the use of her legs because of injuries suffered in the pages of Teen Titans). Babs tells Stephanie that she was the “nudge in the right direction” she needed to find herself and pledges (on the floor of the Batcave, no less) to support Stephanie’s crusade as Batgirl. Cut to — the new costume! And it really is fantastic. The purple and yellow together are reminiscent of the original Batgirl costume worn by Yvonne Craig in the “Batman” TV show. However this costume is rugged, includes armor plates and heavy “Doc Marten”-esque boots, perfect in this young neophyte Batgirl’s war on crime.
Side Bar: The DC Direct Batgirl Reborn action figure in this costume is currently selling on ebay for $179 to $199 mint on card. In searching for pictures for this article, I came across an insane amount of Batgirl cosplay photos, and by far the most common costume chosen was this Stephanie Brown version. I love the leg band and the collapsible staff. The inside cape’s purple color was used for the New52 Batgirl’s costume as well. Absolutely amazing. But I digress …
A quick note about the art. I wish the interiors on the book were as smooth as the covers by Phil Noto. I would describe the interior art as somewhat rough and scratchy, particularly in issues 1-3. With issue four, the art team gets an assist from Tim Levins. Unfortunately he only sticks around for this one issue. Issue four features a wonderful battle between Steph and the Superman villain known as Live Wire. Also, we begin to see parallels between the mentor relationship that exists between James Gordon and new detective Nick Gage, and the mentor relationship that exists between Babs and both Wendy Harris and Stephanie herself. Also, Stephanie is clearly developing a crush on Nick Gage.
The fifth issue kicks off another 3-issue arc entitled “Core Requirements.” Bat-drama abounds. Steph is embroiled in a battle with Diesel, a villain whose blood is flammable. Dick-as-Batman and Damian-as-Robin arrive to complicate matters. Batgirl accidentally freezes Damian with a cryo-batarang. Life is good for a few moments until Damian is revived and tells Steph he wants to stab her for her ineptitude. Dick has lost his patience with Babs and her mission to train Steph, and kicks both of them out of the Batcave. This much alone is worth the cover price, but we also get a great moment between Steph and Damian when she explains to him that what she and Babs are doing, they do out of hope, not fear. The best part of the issue for me was a disastrous attempt by James Gordon to play matchmaker between his daughter and detective Nick Gage. Suffice to say, Babs had just had a rather nasty fight with Dick and was not in the most receptive mood. Add to that an unfortunate turn of phrase on the part of Nick, and chaos ensued.
With issue six we begin to see parallels between the Dick-Damian dynamic and the Babs-Stephanie relationship. We discover a nefarious plot on the part of real-estate mogul Stefano Gracia which involves the kidnapping of his own son, Stephanie’s potential love interest and big man on campus, Francisco Gracia. By issue’s end, that stupid floating Grant Morrison Batmobile has been shot down by Roxy Rocket and Dick finds himself alone and on the run in the gang-ruled Devil’s Square.
Dick is now on the run with 2 cracked ribs. He’s being chased by the pawns of Roulette, including Doctor Phosphorous and Roxy Rocket. Enter Damian and Steph in one of the most entertaining Bat-team ups I’ve ever read. Steph has just inherited one of the coolest bat-vehicles I’ve ever seen. It can only be described as a human cannonball on wheels. Her interactions with Damian are hysterical. I must admit this was the first and only time I found myself liking Damian Wayne. By issue’s end, Dick and Babs have reconciled, as have Damian and Steph (to some degree). The stage has now been set for a new dynamic, and a new dynamic duo, in the streets of Gotham, and I for one am totally hooked on this series. I’m off to my tablet to download issue 8, where I’ll start my next review. Issue eight features the return of Tim Drake as Red Robin, his first non-illusion appearance in Steph’s book. Can you say Bat-Drama? Thanks for your kind attention and I’ll be back again soon to discuss the next few story arcs!