Today’s Super Comic — Batgirl #6 (2017)

Batgirl and Poison Ivy vs. a prehistoric plant…on a plane 35,000 feet in the air.

It’s a fun time, for the reader if not the characters. To save a bunch of innocents, two old enemies must reluctantly ally themselves in an environment that’s not even close to ideal…and Poison Ivy hardly merits unconditional trust, especially where plants are involved. An excellent scenario for a single-issue story.

Where the book truly succeeds is with the spot-on characterization of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. Her most important weapon is her intelligence, which becomes all the more potent when combined with her courage. But courage and fearlessness are not the same thing—she’ll experience fear, then do what needs doing anyway.

So far, the series seems geared toward young adolescents, which is how a Batgirl series should be. She’s a great role model for kids. I don’t feel like I need to read any further in this series, but I’d happily recommend it to younger readers looking for fast-paced action/adventure with a terrific leading character. And I’m glad it exists for them.

I also appreciate the judicious use of the retro thought balloons. Nice touch there.

Writer: Hope Larson

Penciler: Rafael Albuquerque

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Comixology; included in Batgirl vol. 1: Beyond Burnside (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Birds of Prey #56 (2003)

The second era of Birds of Prey began in #56, when writer Gail Simone kicked off a long and consistently entertaining run on the title.

It starts with the previous status quo. Oracle (the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, currently confined to a wheelchair) uses her extensive computer prowess to do good around the world, and Black Canary is her field agent and best friend. But this time, they’re operating in their homebase of Gotham to take down a CEO who’s planning on stealing his employees’ retirement funds. The plan is simply to scare him straight, but this would be a rather boring comic if everything went according to plan—and it’s certainly not that.

Simone hints at a new recruit for the team, one who will bring a fresh and interesting dynamic to the book.

This is just the start, and it’s a good one indeed, full of humor, ethical dilemmas, and cliffhangers.

Writer: Gail Simone

Penciler: Ed Benes

Inker: Alex Lei

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Birds of Prey vol. 1: Of Like Minds (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batgirl: Year One #1 (2003)

Batgirl: Year One is a fantastic miniseries from beginning to end…but I only had time to reread the first issue, so we’ll focus on that.

There have been a few different Batgirls over the years, but this book focuses on the original, Barbara Gordon, as she’s just starting out.

The issue jumps around in time a bit, kicking off with Barbara in her first outing as Batgirl against D-list costumed criminal Killer Moth, in a sort of “How did we get here?” set-up. Then we rewind to not long before that, where we’re reintroduced to Barbara as a young woman who wants to be a cop. Unfortunately, her father rejects her ambition outright, and being as he’s the police commissioner and all, he kind of has some say in the matter.

But Barbara isn’t one to let others tell her what to do with her life. So she hatches a plan to reach out to her hero. And no, it’s not Batman—it’s the Black Canary, in a nice nod to their future friendship in Birds of Prey.

Barbara makes a compelling protagonist and an excellent role model for younger readers. She’s intelligent, resourceful, brave, determined, and willing to put in the hard work. And, for the most part, she’s so positive. No angst-ridden darkness to be found here.

Writers: Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon

Penciler: Marcos Martin

Inker: Alvaro Lopez

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batgirl: Year One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Zero Hour #4-0 (1994)

zero-hour-4Zero Hour was the first company-wide crossover event I read, and the scope was suitably epic.

The superheroes of the DC Universe need to band together to save time itself, which is rapidly unraveling, creating all sorts of mysterious (and entertaining) anomalies. A young Batgirl in her prime appears in Gotham. People randomly disappear as their timelines are wiped out. The elder statesmen of the Justice Society of America stage a heroic last stand.

And at the center of it all is a classic DC superhero gone rogue. (Spoilers ahead, since I can’t really discuss this one without revealing the big bad.)

The most amazing part for me, when I read this at the age of 11, was the reveal of the villain. In the final pages of the penultimate issue, a green glowing fist clocks Superman, knocking him out cold, and then we see Hal Jordan, the definitive Green Lantern since the 1959, standing over him, taking credit for orchestrating this whole crisis in time.

It blew my young mind—the idea of a hero of this stature being the bad guy. And Green Lantern, now calling himself Parallax, is utterly convinced he’s in the right, which is an important ingredient in any great villain. He’s fixing time and removing all the mistakes. Basically, he’s playing God to bring about a utopian vision. And that never goes well.

It’s no work of literature, but it thrilled me back in the day. It lacks a central protagonist, but lots of great characters have their moments, especially Green Arrow in the final faceoff against his old friend. The Flash also gets a big heroic moment early in the series.

By the way, the numbering for this miniseries goes backward. So the first issue is #4, second is #3, and so on. It’s a countdown to the end of time. Happy New Year’s Eve.

Writer/Penciler: Dan Jurgens

Inker: Jerry Ordway

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Zero Hour: Crisis in Time (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Birds of Prey #13 (2000)

birds_of_prey_vol_1_13Comics have an unfortunate trend—a disproportionate number of crippling injuries happen to female characters. When Birds of Prey launched, it paired two characters who had been on the receiving end of that trend: Black Canary and the original Batgirl.

Barbara Gordon fell victim to a bullet to provide motivation for Batman and Commissioner Gordon, and she had been confined to a wheelchair since. Black Canary was brutally tortured to provide motivation for Green Arrow, and she lost her one superpower, her canary cry.

Really unfortunate. But none of this stopped them from being awesome in Birds of Prey.

In the earliest issues, they were the only two co-leads. Barbara had reinvented herself as Oracle, and she used her computer skills and intelligence to provide information to the superhero community. Black Canary served as Oracle’s field operative for highly dangerous covert missions, proving herself to be incredibly formidable even without her canary cry. The two balanced each other nicely—one was more rational and cerebral, and the other was more intuitive and idealistic, but both were highly likable leads.

Issue #13 shows how fun the series could be, and how writer Chuck Dixon made the right call in deciding this series shouldn’t be shy about inhabiting the DC Universe. When a mission goes awry, Canary and a certain party-crasher, the even more free-spirited Catwoman, end up stranded on the hellish alien world Apokolips—way out of either’s usual element. And back on Earth, Oracle and guest-star Powergirl try to piece together what the hell happened.

Great fast-paced action, great guest stars, great cliffhanger. It doesn’t excuse the unfortunate trend, but it fights against it.

Writer: Chuck Dixon

Pencilers: Greg Land and Patrick Zircher

Inker: Drew Geraci

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batman: The Killing Joke (1988)

Batman Killing JokeWith the animated adaptation coming out, it seemed like a good time to revisit Batman: The Killing Joke. After rereading it, I find myself thinking, yes, it is possible for a book to be both brilliant and terrible.

Of course, this series of reviews focuses exclusively on good comic books, those that would rate a B+ or better. And yes, The Killing Joke is a great graphic novel. I’ll address the justifiably controversial part and move on.

What happens to Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) is terrible. Without getting into specifics, an excellent heroine is sacrificed to test a man’s strength of character (her father, Commissioner Gordon). The biggest problem with this is that it contributes to an unfortunate trend—hurting female characters to motivate male characters. If it just happened once in a while, and if the reverse also happened about as frequently, then it wouldn’t be as big a deal (though still a waste of Batgirl in this case). As part of a trend, though, it makes for an uncomfortable read. Plus, this is a pivotal, traumatic event in Batgirl’s life, and she’s barely a supporting character in the story. It reeks of sexism.

But as a Batman/Joker/Commissioner Gordon story, The Killing Joke is amazing, with a perfect premise—the Joker wants to prove that even a man as rational and normal as Jim Gordon is only one bad day away from going as insane as he is. Flashbacks to Joker’s own “one bad day” are carefully placed throughout, though the book is delightfully ambiguous about whether the Joker’s origin story is true or if it’s an invention of his crazy brain.

Alan Moore’s script is full of memorable, insightful dialogue and strong, well-earned moments, and Brian Bolland’s art is nothing short of fantastic, the drawings themselves as well as the structure of the page layouts. Even a simple nine-panel grid feels fluid and dynamic because of how Bolland stages the scene. These characters act, and it all feels so cinematic.

I can’t think of any other comic that makes me want to simultaneously throw it across the room and praise it as a work of art. But The Killing Joke achieves that distinction, which is twisted, really, like the Joker himself.

One more thing—KEEP YOUR KIDS AWAY FROM THIS BOOK. Not every Batman book is appropriate for kids, and this is one of the least appropriate Bat-books ever. There’s a reason the cartoon adaptation is rated R.

Writer: Alan Moore

Artist: Brian Bolland

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology


Today’s Super Comic — Batgirl #16 (2011)

Batgirl_Vol_3_16This Batgirl was such a fun series before the New 52 killed it.

It starred Stephanie Brown, the former Spoiler, as the new Batgirl operating under the guidance of the original, Barbara Gordon. As written by Bryan Q. Miller, this Batgirl’s personality leapt off the page and set her apart from DC’s ever-growing cast of Batman-related characters. She’s a fantastic lead.

Issue #16 is a typically solid example of what made this book a joy to read. Batgirl is wanted for a crime she didn’t commit—murder, specifically—which of course turns the police and public against her. And that plot serves the character; the situation highlights Stephanie’s drive to be the best Batgirl she can be, perhaps for a mix of altruistic as well as selfish approval-seeking reasons.

But it never pulls her down to a dark or brooding place. For the most part, she retains her lighthearted demeanor, and the book retains its strong sense of humor.

Example one from Stephanie’s first-person caption narration while she’s falling through a roof:

And it was only then that young Stephanie truly realized gravity would forever be her enemy.

And example two, this exchange with her police officer friend/crush:

“Your boomerang—”


“You realize that sounds more ridiculous, right?”

“Ridiculously awesome.”

Truly one of the most purely fun Bat-books in recent years, and one cancelled much, much too soon.

Writer: Bryan Q. Miller

Penciler: Dustin Nguyen

Inker: Derek Fridolfs

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batgirl vol. 3: The Lesson (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up