Birds of Prey volume 1


By Chuck Dixon, Jordan Gorfinkel, Gary Frank, Jennifer Graves, Matt Haley, Sal Buscema, Stefano Raffaele, Dick Giordano, Greg Land & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5816-0 (TPB)

Truly groundbreaking at the time, the exploits of the Birds of Prey recount the missions and lives of a rotating team of female crime-fighters led by Barbara Gordon, the computer genius known as Oracle. Daughter of Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon, her own career as Batgirl was ended when the Joker blew out her spine in a terrifying kidnap attempt. Trapped in a wheelchair, she hungered for justice and sought new ways to make a difference in a very bad world…

Reinventing herself as a covert information gatherer for the Batman’s clique of avengers and defenders, she became an invaluable resource for the entire superhero community, but in the first of these collected tales Babs undertakes a new project that will allow her to become an even more effective crusader against injustice…

This volume contains numerous one-shots, specials and miniseries that successfully introduced a mindblowing blend of no-nonsense bad-girl attitude and spectacular all-out action which finally convinced timid editorial powers-that-be of the commercial viability of a team composed of nothing but female superheroes.

Who could possibly have guessed that some readers would like effective, positive, clever women kicking evil butt, and that boys would follow the adventures of violent, sexy, usually underdressed chicks hitting bad-guys – and occasionally each other …? Or even eventually spawn their own TV series and sub-genre?

The issues gathered here – Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey #1, Birds of Prey: Revolution, a pertinent section of Showcase ’96 #3, Birds of Prey: Manhunt #1-4, Birds of Prey: Revolution #1, Birds of Prey: Wolves #1 and Birds of Prey: Batgirl #1 (spanning June 1996 – February 1998) – comprise a breathtaking riot of dynamic, glossy crime-busting, heavily highlighting the kind of wickedness costumed crusaders usually ignore: white collar and thoroughly black-hearted…

The first tale ‘One Man’s Hell’, written by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Gary Frank & John Dell, is set at a time when veteran martial arts crime-crusher Black Canary was slowly going to hell after the death of her long-time lover Oliver Queen. Of course, he got better a few years later (don’t they all?)…

Broke, uncontrolled and hell-bent on self-destruction, the increasingly violent and adrenaline-addicted heroine is contacted by a mysterious unseen presence and dispatched to a third world country to investigate a series of “terrorist attacks” that always seem to profit one unimpeachably benevolent philanthropist…

With nothing left to lose, Canary undertakes the tragically brutal mission and gains an impossibly valuable prize… purpose.

Peppered with an intriguing array of guest-stars and villains, this socially-conscious high-octane thriller established the Canary as one of the most competent and engaging combatants of the DCU and a roving agent of conscience and retribution more than capable of tackling the villainous scum who were clever enough to stay below the regular superhero radar: a reputation enhanced in the sequel ‘Revolution’.

Here Dixon, Stefano Raffaele & Bob McLeod craft a superbly compelling tale from a time when Oracle was no more than a rumour to everybody but Batman and the Canary, who got “intel” and advice from an anonymous voice that came by phone, text or the radio-jewellery of her new costume. Canary and her silent partner track a human trafficking ring to the rogue state of Santa Prisca and stumble into a dirty campaign by American interests to topple the standing dictator. Not for long…

When the venerable Showcase title was revived in the 1990s it was as a monthly anthology highlighting old unemployed characters and events already originated, rather than wholly new concepts, swiftly becoming a place to test the popularity of the company’s bit players with a huge range of heroes and team-ups passing through its eclectic pages. This made it a perfect place to trot out the new team for a broader audience who might have ignored the one-shots.

Showcase ‘96 #3 cover-starred Black Canary and Lois Lane, featuring a frantic collusion between the reporter, the street fighter and the still “silent partner” Oracle in a tale scripted by series editor Jordan B. Gorfinkel, laid out by Jennifer Graves and finished by Stan Woch. ‘Birds of a Feather’ finds Superman’s then Girlfriend and the Birds taking out a metahuman gangmaster who enslaves migrant workers to work in Metropolis’ secret sweat shops. Punchy and potent, the tales led to a 4-issue miniseries which introduced a new wrinkle in the format… teaming Oracle and Canary with an ever-changing cast of DC’s Fighting Females.

‘Manhunt’ has Dixon again scripting a breakneck, raucous thriller which begins ‘Where Revenge Delights’ (illustrated by Matt Haley & Wade Von Grawbadger) as the Birds’ pursuit of a philandering embezzler and scam-artist leads them into heated conflict and grudging alliance with The Huntress – a mob-busting vigilante who even Batman thinks plays too rough…

She also wants the revoltingly skeevy Archer Braun (whom she knows and loathes as Tynan Sinclair) but her motives seem a good deal more personal…

The two active agents cautiously agree to cooperate but the mix gets even headier after Selina Kyle invites herself to the lynching party in ‘Girl Crazy’ (with additional inking from John Lowe).

Canary consents – over the strident objections of the never-more-helpless and frustrated Oracle. Braun, it seems, is into bigger, nastier crimes than anyone suspected and has made the terminal error of bilking the notorious Catwoman

Fed up with Babs shouting in her ear, Canary goes off-line subsequently getting captured by Braun, ‘The Man That Got Away’ (inked by Cam Smith) and clearly a major threat. He might even be a covert metahuman…

Shanghaied to a criminal enclave in Kazakhstan for the stunning conclusion ‘Ladies Choice’ (with art from Sal Buscema, Haley & Von Grawbadger) Canary is more-or-less rescued by the unlikely and unhappy pairing of Catwoman and Huntress, but none of them is ready or able to handle Braun’s last surprise – Lady Shiva Woosan, the world’s greatest martial arts assassin…

The eponymously entitled Birds of Prey: Revolution (#1, February 1997, limned by Stefano Raffeale & Bob McLeod) then switches locale to Caribbean rogue state and playground of the evil idle rich Santa Prisca, where the Canary trusts the wrong allies but still manages to shut down a human trafficking ring and drug-peddling general with delusions of grandeur.

Another one-shot came cover-dated October as Birds of Prey: Wolves #1 (illustrated by Dick Giordano & Wayne Faucher) saw long-festering tensions over suitable targets seemingly split the duo. However, after separately stopping Ukrainian mobsters and a gang of high-tech home invaders, the warrior women realize that flying solo is for the birds and that they are better together…

The action and adventure pause for the nonce after Birds of Prey: Batgirl #1 (February 1998, with art by Greg Land & Drew Geraci) offers a baffling mystery, with a somehow fully physically functional Batgirl battling beside Black Canary to end the threat of the mindbending Mad Hatter and a host of Batman’s most vicious foes. All is obviously not as it seems, but the true nature of the spellbinding threat is almost too much for cerebral savant Oracle. Almost…

These rollercoaster rides of thrills, spills and beautifully edgy, sardonic attitude finally won the Birds their own regular series which quickly became one of DC’s best and most consistently engaging superhero adventure series of its era.

This opening salvo is both groundbreaking and fantastically fun, and will delight any comics Fights ‘n’ Tights follower.
© 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman Adventures volume 4


By Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Kelley Puckett, Alan Grant, Dan Raspler, Ty Templeton, Ronnie Del Carmen, Mike Parobeck, Rick Burchett, Dev Madan, Glen Murakami, Dan Riba, Kevin Altieri, Butch Lukic & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6061-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An Ideal Gift for Young, Old and Especially Yourself… 10/10

The brainchild of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. The TV cartoon – ostensibly for kids – revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and inevitably fed back into the printed iterations, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all eras of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, re-honed the grim avenger and his team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form.

It entranced young fans whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only the most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to.

A faithful comicbook translation was prime material for collection in the newly-emergent trade paperback market but only the first year was ever released, plus miniseries such as Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures: The Lost Years. Nowadays, however, we’re much more evolved and reprint collections have established a solid niche amongst the cognoscenti and younger readers…

This fourth, final and Seasonally sensitive compendium gathers issues #28-36 of The Batman Adventures (originally published from January-October 1995) plus The Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1 and The Batman Adventures Annual #2: a scintillating, no-nonsense frenzy of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy that celebrates traditional values such as gift-giving, crime-crushing, mistletoe-related smooching, world conquest, forgiveness, and all out action in uncanny and outlandish places…

The merriment and mayhem open with the varied contents of The Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1: and a moody ‘Intro’ from Dini & Dan Riba before grossly uncivilised cop Harvey Bullock and his so very long-suffering partner Renee Montoya go undercover as Department Store Santa and Elf in ‘Jolly Old St. Nicholas’ (Dini & Timm).

The apparently invisible thief plundering the store was expecting cops – but not Batgirl – but the assembled embarrassed heroes never contemplated having to battle a seriously-slumming super-villain exposed by the police action…

Next shiny bauble is ‘The Harley and the Ivy’ wherein Dini & Ronnie Del Carmen depict the larcenous ladies going on an illicit shopping spree after kidnapping Bruce Wayne, thanks to a dose of Ivy’s mind-warping kisses…

Slightly darker and far colder, ‘White Christmas’ by Dini & Glen Murakami then pits Batman against the increasing bereft and deranged Mr. Freeze who tries to turn Gotham City into a vast snow-globe as a tribute to his dead wife before The Joker enquires ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’ (Dini & Timm, Kevin Altieri & Butch Lukic) whilst attempting to kill every reveller in Gotham Square at the stroke of midnight…

Having saved the city yet again old comrades Batman and Jim Gordon then get together for a spot of breakfast and moment of quiet contemplation in ‘Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot’ (Dini & Riba) to wrap up this potent parcel of Christmas cheer.

Like the show, most Batman Adventures stories were crafted as 3-act plays and the conceit resumes here with issue #28 (January 1995) as Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett celebrate the holidays with ‘Twelve Days of Madness’ It opens with ‘What Child is This?’ as escaped loon Harley Quinn misses her Mistah J and drops him a note in Arkham Asylum.

As a strange outbreak of lunacy suddenly grips the city, ‘God Rest Ye Psycho Councilmen’ finds esteemed psychologist Dr. Heimlich visit the institution and recommending making the Joker direct a little Christmas theatre for the inmates…

Happily, the Dark Knight is on hand to expose shocking charlatanry and handle the ‘Asylum Fideles’ threatening to upset he mental applecart…

Batman Adventures #29 finds Bruce Wayne again hunting Ra’s Al Ghul as ‘Demonseed’ (Dev Madan & Burchett), opens with ‘Secret Hopes, Secret Fears’ and the in-mufti manhunter trailing a deadly Tesla Device aLl over the world, with former beloved Talia trying to kill him at every opportunity.

‘Wayne: Bruce Wayne’ sees the ex-lovers reunited to stop a third party purloining the menacing mechanism before facing inevitable and ultimate betrayal in ‘Till Death Do You Part’

It’s a spotlight on bad guys as Puckett, Burchett & Murakami reveal the story of a ‘Natural Born Loser’ in #30.

In-joke Triumvirate of Terror Mastermind, Mr. Nice and The Perfesser (who bear litigiously remarkable resemblances to DC editors Mike Carlin, Archie Goodwin and Dennis O’Neil) return in a tryptic of origin tales beginning with ‘Waiting for the Dough’ as yet another criminal mastermind breaks into their prison in search of a treasure map.

Sadly, those individual confrontations – continued in ‘The Dark Nice Returns’ and concluding with ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Pearl’ – only prove that the top dog in Gotham is actually the Bat…

Alan Grant scripts #31 for Madan & Burchett to illustrate as youthful ideologue ‘Anarky’ convenes ‘The People’s Court’ to judge rich businessmen such as Bruce Wayne for their money-grubbing acts. With his mentor captured, teen wonder Robin becomes the key ‘Witness for the Defense’ and combines ‘The Gentle Art of Philosophy’ with his usual derring-do to win the argument and save the day

Dan Raspler, Parobeck & Burchett reveal ‘A Soldier’s Story’ in #32 as ‘Into the Valley of Death’ sees criminals wage war in Gotham dressed as rival armies from history. Crazed rival millionaires playing games from their childhood have sponsored this chaotic ‘War and Remembrance’ but it’s Batman who wins ‘The Last Battle’

Batman Adventures #33 covers ‘Just Another Night’ (Ty Templeton, Madan & Burchett) as a movie night with single mum Veronica Thomas and her son Justin spirals into terror when they are mugged by a gunman on the way home. Paralysed by traumatic ‘Deja Vu’, Bruce goes on a maddened rampage of childish revenge leading to a justice and a ‘Dark Victory’ of sorts, but ‘At What Cost…’?

The first volume of the series wraps up with a 3-issue epic starring one of the Dark Knight’s most insidious enemies. It begins with ‘In Memoriam’ (#34 by Puckett, Parobeck & Burchett) as deranged psychologist Hugo Strange pays ‘Charons Fee’ to exact his vengeful schemes. Later, as Batman pursues super-thief Catwoman, he realises some of his memories have been erased. However, by deductively ‘Filling in the Gaps’ the Caped Crimebuster only allows Strange ‘Total Recall’ to Bruce Wayne’s past…

In #35 ‘The Book of Memory’ (Puckett, Templeton, Parobeck & Burchett) heralds ‘Strange Days’ as Catwoman turns a mindwiped Batman into her perfect acrobatic accomplice. With Gotham’s guardian missing Robin consults Commissioner Gordon and soon ‘The Trap is Set…’.

Elsewhere, as Hugo Strange spirals into breakdown, ‘Uptown, Saturday Night’ reveals how Batman is captured and cured. Or so it seems…

‘The Last Batman Adventure’ appears in #36 as Templeton, Parobeck & Burchett depict Robin and his junior partner, ‘Batman, The Boy Wonder’, still searching for Bruce’s purloined past. Afflicted with the mentality of a child, the hero convinces Catwoman to help him ensure ‘Batman, The Dark Knight Returns’, but they are almost too late to prevent ‘The Unusual Fate of Hugo Strange’ after the tragic madman goes after the true author of all his woes…

This spectacular softcover selection (also available as an eBook) concludes with a high-octane occult romp by Dini, Murakami & Timm first published in The Batman Adventures Annual #2.

‘Demons’ sees Ra’s Al Ghul blow up parts of Gotham to secure a long-lost mystic tablet and win a rare victory over the late-arriving Dark Knight. Overpowered and outgunned, Batman contacts consultant supernatural specialist Jason Blood and discovers the demonologist and the “Demon’s Head” are ancient adversaries…

Surviving drug-induced magical dreams, Batman realises that Al Ghul plans to invoke a demonic entity Haahk in his city and scourge humanity from the Earth. Nevertheless, he heads for a showdown he knows he cannot win, but Blood has one more secret to reveal: his longevity is caused by a demon imprisoned in his body…

Etrigan dwells inside Jason, lives to fight and is ferociously eager to settle score with Ra’s and Haahk…

Epic and electrifying, this rocket-paced tribute to Jack Kirby crackles with kinetic energy and moody menace: a perfect point to end on and one that promises more and greater thrills to come…

Breathtakingly written and iconically illustrated, these stripped-down rollercoaster-romps are pure, irresistible Bat-magic and this is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.
© 1995, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman Adventures volume 3


By Kelley Puckett, Paul Dini, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett with Michael Reaves, Bruce Timm, Matt Wagner, Klaus Janson, Dan DeCarlo, John Byrne & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5872-6

The brainchild of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. The TV cartoon – ostensibly for kids – revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and inevitably fed back into the printed iterations, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all eras of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, re-honed the grim avenger and his team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form.

It entranced young fans whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only the most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to.

A faithful comicbook translation was prime material for collection in the newly-emergent trade paperback market but only the first year was ever released, plus miniseries such as Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures: the Lost Years.

Nowadays, however, we’re much more evolved and reprint collections have established a solid niche amongst the cognoscenti and younger readers…

This third inclusive compendium gathers issues #21-27 of The Batman Adventures comicbook (originally published from June to December 1994) plus that year’s Batman Adventures Annual: a scintillating, no-nonsense frenzy of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy from Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett and a few fellow-pros-turned-fans…

Puckett is a writer who truly grasps the visual nature of the medium and his stories are always fast-paced, action packed and stripped down to the barest of essential dialogue. This skill has never been better exploited than by Parobeck who was at that time a rising star, especially when graced by Burchett’s slick, clean inking.

Although his professional career was tragically short (1989 to 1996 when he died, aged 31, from complications of Type 1 Diabetes) Parobeck’s gracefully fluid, exuberantly kinetic, frenetically fun-fuelled, animation-inspired style revolutionised superhero action drawing and sparked a renaissance in kid-friendly material and merchandise at DC… and everywhere else in the comics publishing business.

The wall to wall wonderment begins with the contents of Batman Adventures Annual #1: a giant-sized gathering of industry stars illustrating Paul Dini’s episodic, interlinked saga ‘Going Straight’.

Illustrators Timm & Burchett set the ball rolling as jet-propelled bandit Roxy Rocket is released from prison, prompting Batman and faithful retainer Alfred to discuss whether any villains ever reform…

Apparently one who almost made it was Arnold Wesker, who played mute Ventriloquist to his malign dummy Scarface. Tragically in ‘Puppet Show’ (art by Parobeck & Matt Wagner) we see how even a good job and the best of intentions are no defence when Arnold’s new boss wants to exploit his criminal past…

Harley Quinn is insanely devoted to killer clown The Joker and Dan DeCarlo & Timm wordlessly expose her profound weakness for that bad boy as she’s released from Arkham Asylum but is seduced back into committing crazy crimes in just ‘24 Hours’

The Scarecrow’s return to terrorising the helpless resulted from his genuine desire to help a girl assaulted by her would-be boyfriend in the chilling, poignant ‘Study Hall’ (with art by Klaus Janson), after which ‘Going Straight’ concludes with Timm detailing how Roxy Rocket is framed by Catwoman and Batman has to separate the warring female furies…

The melange of mayhem even came with its own enthralling encore with The Joker solo-starring in ‘Laughter After Midnight’ as the Mountebank of Mirth goes on a spree in Gotham, courtesy of artists John Byrne & Burchett…

The Batman Adventures #21 then saw Michael Reaves join Kelley Puckett to script tense thriller ‘House of Dorian’ for Parobeck & Burchett as deranged geneticist Emile Dorian escapes from Arkham and immediately turns Kirk Langstrom back into the marauding Man-Bat.

Moreover, although the Mad Doctor’s freedom is bad news for Gotham, Langstrom and Dorian’s previous beast-man Tygrus; for a desperate fugitive afflicted with lycanthropy, the insane physician is his last chance at a cure for his curse…

Dorian couldn’t care less. All he wants is revenge on Batman and Selina Kyle…

Like the show, most stories were crafted as a three-act plays and the conceit resumes with #22 as Puckett, Parobeck & Burchett settle in for the long haul.

‘Good Face Bad Face’ sees the return of Two-Face; also busting out of Arkham in ‘Harvey Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’ to settle scores with Gotham’s top mobster Rupert Thorne. His first move is to set free his gang in ‘Nor Iron Bars a Cage’, but this time Batman is waiting…

Poison Ivy is back in #23, spreading ‘Toxic Shock’ as she teams up with the Dark Knight in ‘Strange Bedfellows’ to save a famed botanist and ecologist dying from a mystery toxin. ‘Fighting Poison with Poison’, she and Batman search for a cure, forcing the mystery assassin into more prosaic methods in ‘How Deadly Was my Valley’

‘Grave Obligations’ sees the Gotham Guardian’s past come back to haunt him when a ninja clan invades the city. They seem more concerned with fighting each other in ‘Brother’s Keeper’, but a little digging reveals how one has come ‘From Tokyo, With Death’ in mind for Batman, and it takes the force of a much higher authority to halt the chaos in ‘Cancelled Debts’

An inevitable team-up graces Batman Adventures #25 as Puckett, Parobeck & Burchett reintroduce legendary ‘Super Friends’.

With Lex Luthor in town and bidding against Waynetech for a military contract, a mystery bombing campaign begins in ‘Tik, Tik, Tik…’

Even as unwelcome guest Superman horns in, Batman realises his old foe Maxie Zeus might be taking the credit but is certainly not to blame for the ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Zeus!’

A little deduction and a grudging alliance with the Caped Kryptonian results in the true scheme being unravelled in ‘The Gods Must be Crazy’ and Batman rejoices in having made a powerful friend and a remorseless and resourceful new enemy…

‘Tree of Knowledge’ focuses on college students Dick Grayson and Babs Gordon as they score top marks in a criminology course. ‘Pop Gun Quiz’ sees them singled out for special study by their impressed Professor Morton and on hand in ‘Careful What You Wish For’ to experience an impossible crime in the University Library. Despite all their investigations, it’s only as Robin and Batgirl that a devilish plot is unravelled and crucial ‘Lessons Learned’

The last tale in this terrific tome revisits the tragedy of Batman’s origins as ‘Survivor Syndrome’ sees an impostor risking his life on Gotham’s streets in search of justice or possibly his own death.

‘Brother, Brother’ reveals how athlete Tom Dalton’s wife was murdered and how he surrendered to a ‘Call to Vengeance’. Everything changes once the real Dark Knight takes charge of Tom and trains him to regain ‘The Upper Hand’

With a full compliment of covers by Timm and Parobeck & Burchett – plus a ‘Pin-Up Gallery’ with stunning images by Alex Toth, Dave Gibbons, Kelley Jones, Kevin Nowlan, Mark Chiarello, Mike Mignola, Matt Wagner and Chuck Dixon & Rick Burchett – all coloured by the astounding Rick Taylor – this is another stunning treat for superhero lovers of every age and vintage.
© 1994, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Batman Adventures volume 2


By Kelley Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5463-6

As re-imagined by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. The TV cartoon – ostensibly for kids – revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and happily fed back into the print iteration, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, re-honed the grim avenger and his team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to.

The comicbook version was prime material for collection in the newly-emergent trade paperback market but only the first year was released, plus miniseries such as Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures: the Lost Years. This second modern compendium, however, gathers issues #11-20 of The Batman Adventures (originally published from August 1993 to May 1994) in a scintillating, no-nonsense frenzy of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy from Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett.

Puckett is a writer who truly grasps the visual nature of the medium and his stories are always fast-paced, action packed and stripped down to the barest of essential dialogue. This gift has never been better exploited than by Parobeck who was at that time a rising star, especially when graced by Burchett’s slick, clean inking.

Although his professional comics career was tragically short (1989 to 1996 when he died, aged 31, from complications of Type 1 Diabetes) Mike Parobeck’s gracefully fluid, exuberantly kinetic, fun-fuelled animation-inspired style revolutionised superhero action drawing and sparked a renaissance in kid-friendly comics and merchandise at DC and everywhere else in the comics publishing business.

Like the show itself each story is treated as a three-act play and kicking off events here is moodily magnificent ‘The Beast Within!’ as obsessed scientist Kirk Langstrom agonises; believing he is somehow uncontrollably transforming into the monstrous Man-Bat whenerer ‘The Sleeper Awakens!’

The truth is far more sinister but incarcerated in ‘G.C.P.D.H.Q!’ neither the chemist nor his beloved Francine can discern ‘The Awful Truth!’ Happily, ever-watchful Batman plays by his own rules…

Following on with a shocking shift in focus, young Barbara Gordon makes a superhero costume for a party in ‘Batgirl: Day One!’ and stumbles into a larcenous ‘Ladies Night’ when the High Society bash is crashed by Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.

With no professional help on hand, Babs has to act as ‘If the Suit Fits!’ and tackle the bad girls herself… but then Catwoman shows up for the frantic finale ‘Out of the Frying Pan!’

The troubled relationship of Batman and Talia, Daughter of the Demon was tackled with surprising sophistication in ‘Last Tango in Paris’ with the sometime-lovers teaming up to recover a statue stolen from diabolical Ra’s Al Ghul. ‘Act 1: Old Flame’ saw them stumble into a trap set by one of The Demon’s rivals but turn the tables in ‘Act 2: Paris is Burning’ before each of the trysting couple’s true motivations was exposed in the heartbreaking ‘Act 3: Where there’s Smoke’

Despite being a series to be read one glorious tale at a time, the creators had also laid groundwork for an epic sequence to come, but whilst Bruce was occupied in Europe the spotlight shifted to Dick Grayson as the Teen Wonder worried about how to break the news of a game-changing decision to his mentor, even as ‘Public Enemy’ saw the latest incomprehensible rampage of crazy crook The Ventriloquist

‘Act 1: Greakout!’ found the wooden weirdo and his silent stooge escaping clink and orchestrating a massive heist in ‘Act 2: The Grinks Jog’, only to ultimately have the limelight stolen by Robin in ‘Act 3: The Gig Glock!’

Police Commissioner Jim Gordon then teamed with Batman in ‘Badge of Honor’, uniting to save a hostage undercover cop from Boss Rupert Thorne in ‘Act 1: Officer Down!’ ‘Act 2: Cop Killer!’ saw the seemingly unstoppable duo track down the fallen hero only to face their greatest obstacle in ‘Act 3: Code Dead!’ when Thorne himself gets his hands dirty…

In ‘The Killing Book’ the Harlequin of Hate took offence to his portrayal in comics and ‘Act 1: Seduction of the Innocent!’ saw the Joker kidnap a publisher’s latest overnight sensation in order to show in ‘Act 2: How to Draw Comics the Joker Way!’ Naturally ‘Act 3: Comics and Sequential Death!’ only proved that Batman is not a guy to tolerate funnybooks or artistic upstarts…

Seeds planted in Paris flourished and bloomed in ‘The Tangled Web’ as The Demon’s latest act of genocide finally begins with ‘Act 1: Into the Shadows!’ However ‘Act 2: New World Order’ proves yet again that Ra’s has critically underestimated his enemy when a different masked stranger saves Earth from catastrophe in ‘Act 3: What Doth it Profit a Man?’

Following the epic victory Robin meets the mysterious Batgirl for the first time on ‘Decision Day’ as conflicted Barbara Gordon again succumbs to the addictive lure of costumed crime-fighting. Thwarting a bomb plot in ‘Act 1: Eyewitness!’ the feisty if untutored fire-breather opts to find the culprit herself in ‘Act 2: Smoking Gun’, even if she does grudgingly accept a little assistance from the Teen Wonder in ‘Act 3: No Justice, No Peace!’

Gotham’s Master of Terror turns up inside Batman’s head in ‘Troubled Dreams’ as the Dark Knight becomes one of many sufferers of ‘Act 1: Nightmare over Gotham!’ Just for once, however, there’s another instigator of panic in the mix, enquiring in ‘Act 2: Who Scares the Scarecrow?’ until the Caped Crusader catches the true dream-invader in ‘Act 3: Beneath the Mask’…

The fabulous foray into classic four-colour fun concludes with another spectacular yet hilarious outing for a Terrible Trio of criminals who bear a remarkable resemblance to DC editors Dennis O’Neil, Mike Carlin and Archie Goodwin.

‘Smells Like Black Sunday’ opens with ‘Act 1: And a Perfesser Shall Lead Them!’ as the Triumvirate of Terror bust out of the big house, hotly pursued by the Gotham Gangbuster in ‘Act 2: Flying Blind with Mastermind’. Sadly their scheme to become a three-man nuclear power falters as ‘Act 3: Legend of the Dark Nice’ finds the evil geniuses underestimating the sheer cuteness of guard dogs and their cataclysmic comrade’s innately gentle disposition…

Breathtakingly written and iconically illustrated, these stripped-down rollercoaster-romps are the impeccable Bat-magic and this is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.

Pure, unadulterated delight – so keep buying until every tale is back in print!
© 1993, 1994, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Collected Adventures volume 2


By Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett (DC Comics/Titan Books)
ISBNs: 978-1-56389-124-3 (DC)                   978-1-85286-563-6 (Titan)

As re-imagined by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in America from September 5th 1992 until September 15th 1995. The TV cartoon series – ostensibly for kids – revolutionised the image of the Dark Knight and happily fed back into the print iteration, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence-year publishing history.

By employing a timeless visual style (dubbed “Dark Deco”), the show mixed elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, re-honed the grim avenger and his team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to.

The comicbook version was inevitably prime material for collection in the newly-emergent trade paperback market and this long out-of print second volume – published in America by DC and by Titan Books in Britain – gathered issues #7-12 of The Batman Adventures all-ages comicbook (originally published from to April -September 1993) in a stunning, no-nonsense furore of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy.

After a mere half-dozen superb stories the comicbook adventures took a step towards total sublimity when rising star Mike Parobeck assumed the pencilling duties.

Although his professional comics career was tragically short (1989 to 1996 when he died, aged 31, from complications of Type 1 Diabetes) Parobeck’s gracefully fluid, exuberant and purely kinetic fun-fuelled animation-inspired style revolutionised superhero action drawing and sparked a resurgence in kid-friendly comics and merchandise at DC and elsewhere else in the comics publishing business.

Following an ‘Introduction by Bruce Timm’, accompanied by a wealth of series concept sketches, the stories – all divided into three chapters scripted by Kelly Puckett and inked by Rich Burchett – begin with ‘Raging Lizard!’ which sees shady pro wrestler Killer Croc face a long dark night of the soul in ‘Requiem for a Mutant!’ when he’s scheduled to fight Masked Marauder – a grappler who humiliated and broke him in their last match…

Batman meanwhile is searching for Chicago mobster Mandrake who’s planning on taking over Gotham by ousting reigning crime czar Rupert Thorne in ‘Eye of the Reptile!’ and naturally all those trajectories converge in the third act for a major throw-down ‘Under the Waterfront!’

In issue #8 ‘Larceny, My Sweet’ begins with the hunt for an unstoppable thief who can ‘Break the Bank!’ with his bare hands, whilst TV reporter Summer Gleeson divides her time between chasing scoops and being romanced by a dashing stranger in ‘Love’s Lost Labours’. Sadly when the Gotham Gangbuster ends the crime-wave he also exposes a monstrous old foe and ends the affair of ‘Beauty and the Beast!’

In #9 ‘The Little Red Book’ everyone is chasing holds all Thorne’s dirty secrets and Commissioner Gordon is presiding over a ‘Gangster Boogie!’ with the cops and entire underworld looking to win out over ‘The Big Boss’. It takes all Batman’s energy and wits to bring the diary to District Attorney Harvey Dent for the beginning of ‘Rupert’s Reckoning!’

‘The Last R?ddler Story’ describes ‘Nygma’s Nadir!’ as the perpetually frustrated Prince of Puzzles considers retirement. Dispirited because the Caped Crusader always solves his felonious games, the villain is convinced by his faithful hench-persons to give it one more try in ‘Days of Wine and Riddles!’

How upset would Eddie Nygma be if he knew Batman isn’t even aware of him, absorbed as he is in apprehending the infamous trio Mastermind, Mr. Nice and The Perfesser in ‘Triumph or Tragedy …?

‘The Beast Within!’ features obsessed scientist Kirk Langstrom who believes he, is uncontrollably transforming into the monstrous Man-Bat in the ‘The Sleeper Awakens!’ The truth is far more sinister but incarcerated in ‘G.C.P.D.H.Q!’ neither the chemist nor his beloved Francine can discern ‘The Awful Truth!’ Happily Batman plays by his own rules…

This fabulous foray into classic four-colour fun finishes with a shocking shift in focus as young Barbara Gordon makes a superhero costume for a party in ‘Batgirl: Day One!’ and stumbles into a larcenous ‘Ladies Night’ when the High Society bash is crashed by Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.

With no professional help on hand, Babs has to act as ‘If the Suit Fits!’ and tackle the bad girls herself… but then Catwoman shows up for the frantic finale ‘Out of the Frying Pan!’

Breathtakingly written and iconically illustrated, these stripped-down rollercoaster-romps are the ultimate Bat-magic, and this is a collection every fan of any age and vintage will adore.

Pure, unadulterated delight – so keep kicking and agitating for new editions now!
© 1993, 1994 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batgirl: The Flood


By Bryan Q. Miller, Lee Garbett, Pere Perez & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3142-2

Batman has gathered young allies about him since the second year of his all-consuming crusade: adopting assorted waifs or strays and training them to be the best that they can be, all for the greater good of his beloved GothamCity.

Stephanie Brown, daughter of C-list bad-guy Cluemaster, began her costumed crime-busting career as the Spoiler, secretly scotching Daddy Dearest’s schemes before graduating to a more general campaign against the city’s underworld.

Eventually, she undertook a disastrous stint as the fourth Robin: a tenure which provoked a brutal gang war which devastated Gotham and ostensibly caused her own demise under torture at the red hands of psychopathic mob boss Black Mask.

When Stephanie returned to Gotham after months in self-imposed exile, she overcame incredible obstacles – the greatest of which was her former Bat-family’s deep mistrust. Thus she inherited the role of Batgirl from Cassandra Cain, a former assassin who had revived the role after her own predecessor was crippled and forced to retire…

Barbara Gordon, the computer crusader known as Oracle, is the daughter of Gotham City’s Police Commissioner. Her own valiant vocation as Batgirl was ended after the Joker blew out her spine during one of his incomprehensible capers. Although trapped in a wheelchair, she still hungered for justice and found new ways to make a difference in a very bad world.

Reinventing herself as a cyber-world information gatherer for Batman, she wound up an invaluable resource for the entire superhero community, before putting together her own fluctuating squad of female fighters – the Birds of Prey.

She also crossed keyboards with her intellectual antithesis: a sociopathic computer hacker and ex-costumed whacko called the Calculator

Barbara, with grudging acceptance of stand-in Dark Knight Dick Grayson, then decided to mentor Stephanie as the troublesome teen attempted to combine undergraduate studies with her compulsive mission to save lives and help the helpless…

Collecting issues #9-14 of Batgirl volume 3 (from June-November 2010), this full-on action romp scripted by Bryan Q. Miller blends grim urban adventure and deadly Weird Science with infectious wry humour, as perfectly seen in the 4-part ‘Batgirl Rising: The Flood’ (illustrated by Lee Garbett, Pere Perez and inkers Jonathan Glapion, Richard Friend, Rodney Ramos, Walden Wong).

After Batgirl saves a subway train from a crazed suicide bomber, Stephanie is drawn into her mentor’s deadly ongoing cyber-war with the Calculator.

Not only does the digital desperado bear an unhealthy grudge for his past humiliations at the hands of the enigmatic Oracle, but now, since the computer crusader harbours his own estranged and wheelchair-bound daughter Wendy, turning her against him, all bets are off…

His diabolical revenge includes not only a devastating hack-attack on Oracle’s database and systems but also, using stolen alien programming code, mind-controlling thousands of citizens. The Apokolips nanites are everywhere, turning ordinary folk into savage suicide-assassins aimed at Barbara and the new Batgirl.

Either they surrender Wendy or an army of innocents will turn the city into a charnel-house…

Forced to lethal lengths to combat the Calculator’s bloody assault, Babs goes mobile but succumbs to the mind-stealing mechanoid plague, leaving Wendy to act as Stephanie’s new partner and digital quartermaster. However since the villain’s army of thralls now include brain-bound techno-zombies like Man-Bat, Catwoman and The Huntress, the task seems impossible…

Reduced to a last-ditch frontal assault Batgirl spectacularly invades the Calculator’s base, unaware that, despite being a victim of the nanovirus, Barbara has begun her own counterattack from within the vengeful villain’s own mind…

After the main event this delightful Fights ‘n’ Tights fun-fest clears the palate with a brace of one-off yarns beginning with ‘Trust’ (illustrated by Pere Perez) detailing Stephanie’s unique response to a cocked-up bank hostage-situation perpetrated by Clayface.

The grim debacle is made excessively complicated not only because the Teen Tornado’s Person of Potential Romantic Interest (Police Detective Nick Gage) is on scene, but also -since the shape-shifting charlatan is disguised as one of the imperilled customers – because Batgirl is the one holding them all captive until she can deduce who he is…

Manic insanity rounds off this chronicle with ‘Terror in the 3rd Dimension’ (Garbett & Trevor Scott) as a civilian Girl’s Night Out with BFF Supergirl goes crazily wrong when a campus science experiment goes “boink!” and 24 Draculas from an all-night classic movie show are materialised to run riot through the city.

With obviously no peace for the wicked-hot, the World’s Finest Blondes have their work cut out doing a passable imitation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer before things return to any semblance of “normal”…

With a stunning cover gallery by Stanley “artgerm” Lau, this collection offers that rarest of modern delights for comics fans: complication-free, easily accessible thrills, chills, spills and fun, fun, fun!!!

So get some before the next angst-storm drags us all down again…
© 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Batgirl volume 1


By Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Don Heck & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1367-1

Today comics readers are pretty used to the vast battalion of Bat-shaped champions infesting Gotham City and its troubled environs, but for the longest time it was just Bruce, Dick and occasionally their borrowed dog Ace keeping crime on the run. However in Detective Comics #233 (July 1956 and three months before the debut of the Flash officially ushered in the Silver Age of American comicbooks) the editorial powers-that-be introduced heiress Kathy Kane, who sporadically suited-up in chiropteran red and yellow for the next eight years.

In Batman #139 (April 1961) her niece Betty started dressing up and acting out as her assistant Batgirl, but when Editor Julie Schwartz took over the Bat-titles in 1964 both ladies unceremoniously disappeared in his root-and-branch overhaul.

In 1966 the Batman TV series took over the planet, but its second season was far less popular and the producers soon saw the commercial sense of adding a glamorous female fighter in the fresh, new tradition of Emma Peel, Honey West and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. especially when clad in a cute cape, shiny skin-tight body-stocking and go-go boots…

Of course she had to join the comics cast too and this Showcase edition re-presents her varied appearances as both guest-star and headliner in her own series, beginning with her four-colour premiere…

In ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl’ (Detective Comics #359, cover-dated January 1967) writer Gardner Fox and the art team supreme of Carmine Infantino and Sid Greene introduced young Barbara Gordon, mousy librarian and daughter of the Police Commissioner to the superhero limelight, so by the time the third season began on September 14, 1967, she was well-established.

Whereas in her small screen premiere she pummeled the Penguin, her funnybook origin featured the no-less-ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever, fast-paced yarn involving blackmail and murder that still stands up today and which opens in fine style this long-awaited monochrome celebration of the brief but stellar career of one of the most successful distaff spin-offs in the business.

Her appearances came thick and fast after that initial tale: ‘The True-False Face of Batman’ (Detective #363, by Fox Infantino and Greene) was a full co-starring vehicle as the new girl was challenged to deduce Batman’s secret identity whilst tracking down enigmatic criminal genius Mr. Brains, after which she teamed-up with the Girl of Steel in World’s Finest Comics #169 (September 1967) wherein the uppity lasses seemingly worked to replace Batman and Superman in ‘The Supergirl-Batgirl Plot’; a whimsical fantasy feast from Cary Bates, Curt Swan & George Klein.

Detective #369, illustrated by Infantino and Greene, somewhat reinforced boyhood prejudices about icky girls in the classy thriller ‘Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo’ which segued directly into a classic confrontation in Batman #197 as ‘Catwoman sets Her Claws for Batman!’ by Fox, Frank Springer and Greene. This frankly daft tale is most fondly remembered for the classic cover of Batgirl and Catwoman (with Whip!!!) squaring off over Batman’s prone body – comic fans have a psychopathology all their very own…

Gil Kane made his debut on the Dominoed Daredoll (did they really call her that? – yes they did, from page 2 onwards!) in #371′s ‘Batgirl’s Costumed Cut-ups’, a masterpiece of comic-art dynamism that inker Sid Greene could be proud of, but which proffered some rather uncomfortable assertions about female vanity that Gardner Fox probably preferred to forget – and just check out the cover of this tome if you think I’m kidding.

Batgirl next surfaced in Justice League of America #60, February 1968, wherein the team barely survived a return match with alien invader Queen Bee and were temporarily transformed into ‘Winged Warriors of the Immortal Queen!’ (by Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Greene whilst in the June-July The Brave and the Bold (#78) Bob Brown stepped in to draw her in for Bob Haney’s eccentric crime-thriller ‘In the Coils of the Copperhead’ wherein Wonder Woman found herself vying with the fresh young thing for Batman’s affections. Of course it was all a cunning plan… wasn’t it?

That same month another team-up with Supergirl heralded a sea-change in DC’s tone, style and content as the girls were dragged into ‘The Superman-Batman Split!’ (World’s Finest Comics #176) with Bates providing a far darker mystery for the girls and boys (including Robin and Jimmy Olsen) to solve whilst artists Neal Adams & Dick Giordano began revolutionising how comics looked with their moody, exciting hyper-realistic renderings.

Although Barbara Gordon cropped up in the background of occasional Batman adventures that was the last time the masked heroine was seen until Detective Comics #384, (February 1969) when Batgirl finally debuted in her own solo feature. Written by Mike Friedrich and illustrated by the phenomenal team of Gil Kane & Murphy Anderson ‘Tall, Dark. Handsome …and Missing!’ began a run of human-scaled crime dramas with what all the (male) scripters clearly believed was a strong female slant as in this yarn wherein librarian Babs developed a crush on a frequent borrower just before he inexplicably vanished.

Batgirl investigated and ran into a pack of brutal thugs before solving the mystery in the second part, ‘Hunt For the Helpless Hostage!’ (Detective #385), after which the lead story from that issue rather inexplicably follows here.

‘Die Small… Die Big!’ by Robert Kanigher, Bob Brown & Joe Giella is one of the best Batman adventures of the period, with a nameless nonentity sacrificing everything for a man he’s never met, but Babs is only in three panels and never as Batgirl…

Adventure Comics #381 (June 1969) made far better use of her skills as she went undercover and was largely at odds with the Maid of Steel whilst exposing ‘The Supergirl Gang’ in a tense thriller by Bates & Win Mortimer. Batgirl shared the second slot with Robin in alternating adventures, so she next appeared in Detective #388 which welcomed aboard newspaper strip veteran Frank Robbins to script ‘Surprise! This’ll Kill You!’ a sophisticated bait-and-switch caper which saw Batgirl impersonate herself and almost pay with her life for another girl’s crimes. Spectacularly illustrated by Kane & Anderson the strip had expanded from eight to ten pages but that still wasn’t enough and the breathtaking thrills spilled over into a dramatic conclusion in ‘Batgirl’s Bag of Tricks!

Although the tone and times were changing there was still potential to be daft and parochial too, as seen in ‘Batman’s Marriage Trap!’ (Batman #214, by Robbins, Irv Novick & Giella) wherein a wicked Femme Fatale set the unfulfilled spinsters of America on the trail of Gotham’s Most Eligible Bat-chelor (see what I did there? I’ve done it before too and you can’t stop me…). Not even a singular guest-shot by positive role-model Batgirl could redeem this peculiar throwback – although the art rather does…

‘A Clue… Seven-Foot Tall!’ (from Detective #392, October 1969, by Robbins, Kane & Anderson) was another savvy contemporary crime-saga which also introduced a new Bat cast-member in the form of disabled Vietnam veteran and neophyte private eye Jason Bard (who would eventually inherit Batgirl’s spot in Detective Comics). Here and in the concluding ‘Downfall of a Goliath’ Babs and Bard sparred and joined forces to solve a brutal murder in the world of professional basketball.

In issues #396 and 397 (February and March 1970) Batgirl faced the very modern menace of what we’d now call a psycho-sexual serial killer in the chilling and enthralling mystery ‘The Orchid-Crusher’ and ‘The Hollow Man’: a clear proof of the second string character’s true and still untapped potential…

The anniversary Detective #400 (June 1970) finally teamed her with Robin in ‘A Burial For Batgirl!’(Denny O’Neil, Kane & Vince Colletta) a college-based murder mystery that referenced the political and social unrest then plaguing US campuses, but which still found space to be smart and action-packed as well as topical before the chilling conclusion ‘Midnight is the Dying Hour!’ (Detective #401).

With issue #404 Babs became the sole back-up star as Robbins, Kane & Frank Giacoia sampled the underground movie scene with ‘Midnight Doom-Boy’ mischievously spoofing Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory studio in another intriguing murder-plot, diverting to and culminating in another branch of Pop Art as Batgirl nearly became ‘The Living Statue!’

In ‘The Explosive Circle!’ (#406, with Colletta back to ink) the topic du jour was gentrification as property speculation ripped Gotham apart, but not as much as a gang of radical bombers, leading to the cry ‘One of Our Landmarks is Missing!’ The next issue (#408) saw the vastly underrated Don Heck take over as artist, inked here by Dick Giordano on ‘The Phantom Bullfighter!’ wherein a work-trip to Madrid embroiled Batgirl in a contentious dispute between matadors old and new, leading to a murderous ‘Night of the Sharp Horns!’

Inevitably fashion reared its stylish head in a strip with a female lead, but Robbins’ immensely clever ‘Battle of the Three “M’s”’ (that’s mini, midi and maxi to you straights out there) proved to be one of the most compelling and clever tales of the entire run as a trendsetting celebrity found herself the target of an unscrupulous designer, leading to a murderous deathtrap for Babs in ‘Cut… and Run!’ Clearly inspired, Robbins stayed with girlish things for ‘The Head-Splitters!’ (Detective #412) and Heck, now inking himself, rose to the occasion for a truly creepy saga about hairdressing that features one of the nastiest scams and murder methods I’ve ever seen, ending in a climactic ‘Squeeze-Play!’

Babs reunited with Jason Bard for an anniversary date only to stumble onto an ‘Invitation to Murder!’ (another celebrity homage; this time to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) – a classy fair-play mystery resolved in ‘Death Shares the Spotlight!’

A cop-killing had torn apart the city and Babs’ father Commissioner Jim Gordon was taking it badly in ‘The Deadly Go-Between!’, but militant radicals weren’t the only threat as seen in the concluding episode ‘A Bullet For Gordon!’, which presaged a far greater role for the once-anodyne authority figure and leading to the character’s integral role in today’s Bat-universe.

Robbins and Heck also revealed a shocking secret about the Commissioner that would build through the remaining Batgirl adventures, beginning with ‘The Kingpin is Dead!’, concerning a “motiveless” hit on an old gang-boss all cleared up in spectacular fashion with ‘Long Live the Kingpin!’ in #419.

‘Target for Mañana!’ saw Babs and her dad travel to Mexico on a narcotics fact-finding mission only to fall foul of a sinister plot in ‘Up Against Three Walls!’ before the series took a landmark turn in ‘The Unmasking of Batgirl’ as a charmer broker her heart and Babs decided to chuck it all in and run for Congress in ‘Candidate For Danger!’

Detective Comics #424 (June 1972) featured ‘Batgirl’s Last Case’ as “Battlin’ Babs” overturned a corrupt political machine and shuffled off to DC, leaving Jason to manage on his own, but that wasn’t quite the end of her adventures. Superman #268 (October 1973) found her battling spies in the Capitol beside the Man of Steel in ‘Wild Week-End in Washington!’ courtesy of Elliot S. Maggin, Curt Swan & Bob Oksner and repeating the experience a year later in ‘Menace of the Energy-Blackmailers!’ (Superman #279, by Maggin, Swan & Phil Zupa.

This eclectic but highly entertaining compendium concludes with one last Supergirl team-up, this time from Superman Family #171 (June/July 1975) wherein a distant descendent of the Empress of the Nile used magic to become ‘Cleopatra, Queen of America’ overwhelming even Superman and the Justice League before the Cape and Cowl Cuties finally lowered the boom…

Batgirl’s early exploits come from and indeed partially shaped an era where women in popular fiction were finally emerging from the marriage-obsessed, ankle-twisting, deferential, fainting hostage-fodder mode that had been their ignoble lot in all media for untold decades. Feminism wasn’t a dirty word or a joke then for the generation of girls who at last got some independent and effective role-models with (metaphorically, at least) balls.

Complex yet uncomplicated, the adventures of Batgirl grew beyond their crassly commercial origins to make a real difference. However these tales are not only significant but drenched in charm and wit; drawn with a gloriously captivating style and panache that still delights and enthralls. This is no girly comic but a full-on thrill ride you can’t afford to ignore…
© 1967-1975, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Robin/Batgirl: Fresh Blood


By Bill Willingham, Andersen Gabrych, Damion Scott, Alé Garza & Jesse Delperdang (DC Comics)
ISBN: 987-1-84576-200-1

Batman has gathered young allies about him since the second year of his crusade: adopting waif and strays and training them to be the best that they can be, all for the greater good of his beloved Gotham City.

When Gotham City was devastated by an earthquake and abandoned by the US government (Batman: Cataclysm and Batman: No Man’s Land volumes 1-3), a few heroes stayed to protect the innocent. One of these was a new, mute incarnation of Batgirl.

The crisis ended and a semblance of normality returned to the battered metropolis. The new heroine, named Cassandra Cain, was brought under the wing of Barbara Gordon, wheelchair-bound crime-fighter Oracle (and the previous Batgirl) who now ran her own crew of women heroes – the Birds of Prey.

Cassandra, mute, unable to communicate in any manner yet fluent in reading gesture, posture and body-language, was raised as an experiment by her father, super-assassin David Cain. The hired killer had over-ridden her language centres to make combat her only method of expression. An apparent runaway, she was adopted by Batman as a weapon in his never-ending battle, but the more humane Oracle had become her guardian and teacher.

Cassandra’s brain and learning disabilities were subsequently alleviated by a telepath and the unbeatable martial artist was just beginning to carve out her own life when the War Games crisis made Gotham too hot for heroes…

Tim Drake was the third Robin, a child prodigy who deduced Batman’s secret identity and his impending guilt-fuelled nervous breakdown following the murder of Jason Todd – Robin #2. Drake attempted to manipulate Dick Grayson – the first boy hero to be dubbed “Boy Wonder” – into returning as the Dark Knight’s partner before grudgingly accepting the position himself (see Batman: A Death in the Family and Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying).

After a long period of training and acclimation Batman offered Tim the job instead, and this interpretation took fans by storm, securing a series of increasingly impressive solo mini-series (see Robin: A Hero Reborn) and eventually his own long-running comic book.

Being trained by Batman is clearly an arduous and agonising undertaking. During the terrifying Batman: Wargames saga Drake in his turn became estranged from his moody mentor and forcibly retired from the fights ‘n’ tights game. Batman replaced Tim with Stephanie Brown, daughter of the criminal Cluemaster, who became the vigilante Spoiler to compensate for her father’s depredations. Don’t get too excited though, since she only starred as the fourth Robin for a fraction over six pages…

Soon Tim was back – ‘though you won’t see how or why here – setting up on his own as defender of the nearby city of Blüdhaven – a mini-Metropolis that made Gotham look like paradise…

The slim volume collects monthly issues #132-133 of Robin and #58-59 of Batgirl, a canny crossover concoction entitled Fresh Blood that saw both newly emancipated and independent street warriors striking out on their own in the very heart of urban darkness. The drama opened with ‘Too Many Ghosts’ as Tim, still recovering from Stephanie’s death, cautiously planned his first anti-crime campaign.

With faithful family Butler Alfred in tow as mentor and quartermaster he had moved to Blüdhaven planning to methodically dismantle the city’s mob hierarchy, but had no inkling that deceased criminal-mastermind Blockbuster was seemingly returned from the dead. Whilst on his first reconnaissance run Robin was ambushed and almost killed by super-assassin Shrike until an unexpected ally stepped in…

‘Following Footsteps’ revealed how Cassandra Cain also set up in Blüdhaven to go it alone. Soon however she was working with Tim; her combat skills meshing perfectly with his strategic flair and deductive abilities. Establishing clandestine links with two of the few honest cops in town they planned to take down the returned Blockbuster, but discover a shocking secret in ‘The Auction’ and end up tackling one of Batman’s greatest and most insidious foes instead: a deadly and spectacular clash that they cannot possibly survive…

Na-aah, just kidding – of course they do: but the concluding chapter ‘Settling Up’ is probably one of the best and most satisfying fight-fests of that era, with assorted thugs, wise-guys and meta-threats Brutale and the Trigger Twins adding to the panorama of exotic carnage before the new kids in town triumph and carve up the territory between them: their incompatible approaches pulling them apart before they could really get together….

Where does the time go? It seems like only yesterday that these nifty little thrillers were the acme of the Batman franchise, but the pace of change in comics is relentlessly rapid and remorselessly unforgiving, so engaging little gems like this come and go like wisps of mist caught in a million candlepower bat-signal beam…

Nevertheless, the edgy, fresh scripting of Bill Willingham and Andersen Gabrych married to the unconventional but superbly effective art of Damion Scott, Alé Garza & Jesse Delperdang prove to be a heady and irresistible brew that delivers as much kick now as it ever did. This is a Bat-bunfight no fan could possibly bear to miss…

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batgirl: Death Wish


By Kelley Puckett, Chuck Dixon, Damion Scott & Robert Campanella (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-707-8

Here’s another chronologically complex but swift-moving, sure-footed combat classic featuring Cassandra Cain, the third and by far most competent and compelling Batgirl.

When Gotham City was devastated by an earthquake and abandoned by the US government (Batman: Cataclysm ISBN13: 978-1-56389-527-2 and Batman: No Man’s Land Volumes 1-3, ISBN 13’s: 978-1-56389-564-7, 978-1-56389-599-9 & 978-1-56389-634-7 respectively), a few heroes stayed to protect the innocent. One of these was a new, mute incarnation of Batgirl.

The crisis ended and a semblance of normality returned to the battered metropolis. The new heroine was brought under the wing of Barbara Gordon, wheelchair-bound crime-fighter Oracle (and the previous Batgirl) who now runs the Birds of Prey.

Cassandra, unable to communicate in any manner but fluent in gesture reading and body-language, was raised as an experiment by super-assassin David Cain. Her brain’s language centres opened by a telepath, Cassandra was beginning to adapt to a normal world, when she encountered Lady Shiva – the most dangerous person on Earth.

This ultimate martial artist was initially defeated but the two agreed to meet again in a year – in one final death match.

This fourth collection of tales gathers together Batgirl #17-20, 22, 23, 25, and Batgirl Secret Files #1: a seemingly disjointed array of stories that read perfectly well in this order and clearly show how the old-fashioned stand-alone story can still work in a modern milieu.

Kelley Puckett is a master of fast-paced, visual story-telling, allowing the artist to carry the tales in frenetic bursts of information in motion. Pages go by without a single word and this discipline carries the reader through the adventures at dizzying speeds. Here Damion Scott and Robert Campenella give full rein to their cinematic impulses as the new Batgirl prepares for her date with death by invading a US government spook base in search of a corrupt agent, repeatedly trips over Boy Wonder Robin as both discover they’re working the same case from opposite ends, and explores the ramifications of the death penalty – by far and away the best and most troubling tale in the book – when she intervenes in the execution of a felon she’d previously captured…

Throughout these tales (if I’m vague it’s because most of the little gems are inexplicably untitled) Cassandra’s problems with speech and inability to read are handled cleverly and with sensitivity, and when Chuck Dixon guest-scripts a telling and bitterly funny parable about families that singular McGuffin is the trigger for Batgirl to join Stephanie Brown (the hero-in-training called Spoiler) in an attempt to handle the fallout of a kidnapping gone bad.

Puckett resumes with a moody tale as David Cain returns to Gotham with a contract to kill one of the “Bat-Squad”, and in the penultimate story ‘Little Talk’ Batman and Oracle debate the young hero’s motivation in meeting Shiva again in a moody prelude to the climactic ‘I am Become Death, Destroyer of Worlds’ which features the ultimate confrontation between the two greatest martial artists on Earth – a tale full of style and surprise which still finds room to reveal a deep well of psychological subtext.

These gripping tales of flash and razzle-dazzle are picture-perfect examples of comics combat, with just the right ratio of action to plot, to keep the reader’s pulses pounding and eyes wide. Great, great stuff…

© 2001, 2002, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batgirl: Fists of Fury


By Kelley Puckett, Scott Peterson, Damion Scott, Vincent Giarrano, Phil Noto & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-820-4

After Gotham City was devastated by an earthquake (Batman: Cataclysm ISBN13: 978-1-56389-527-2) it was abandoned by the US government in a prescient foretaste of what happened to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (see also Batman: No Man’s Land Volumes 1-3, ISBN 13’s: 978-1-56389-564-7, 978-1-56389-599-9, and 978-1-56389-634-7 respectively). From the rubble, a few heroes struggled to protect the innocent. One of these was a new incarnation of Batgirl.

The crisis ended, a semblance of normality returned to the battered metropolis, and the new heroine got her own series. Mentored by Babs Gordon, the wheelchair-bound crime-fighter called Oracle (and the previous Batgirl) who now runs the Birds of Prey, the new wearer of the cape-and-cowl is something of a problem.

Raised as an experiment by martial arts super-assassin David Cain, she could not speak or communicate in any normal manner since her language centres were over-ridden by Cain to make combat her only method of expression. An apparent runaway, she was adopted by Batman as a weapon in his never-ending battle, but the more humane Oracle has become her guardian and teacher.

Her learning disabilities alleviated by a telepath, Cassandra Cain is beginning to adapt to a normal world, but things are still skewed since she defeated Lady Shiva – the most dangerous person on Earth – in a martial arts duel. By beating someone even Batman never could, she’s forced her close circle of new friends to look at her in a different way, and the inevitable challengers for Shiva’s title are now dogging her tracks…

This third collection of tales gathers together Batgirl #15, 16, 21, and 26-28: a seemingly disjointed array of stories that actually blend together surprisingly well.

Puckett and Peterson’s scripts are always lightning paced, sparsely dialogued and both have perfect ears for the great one-liner. The art from Damion Scott, Vincent Giarrano, Phil Noto, Robert Campenella and Jesse Delperdang is light and brisk with a delightful flavour of anime – if not quite manga – about it, and three of the six untitled stories (don’t ask me why) run the range from the dramatic tale of a mad scientist’s murder ray, a boy’s desperate plea to stop his dad becoming a killer and a purely manic tie-in to the Last Laugh company crossover event (Batman: the Joker’s Last Laugh ISBN: 978-1-84576-843-0) featuring a startling battle with intangible villain Shadow Thief.

The remaining three adventures deal with the fallout of Batgirl’s defeat of Shiva (set during the time of Batman: Bruce Wayne Murderer? – ISBN-13: 978-1-56389-913-3): a fast-paced, captivating treatise on girl friends a la Thelma and Louise (or perhaps Buffy and Faith) as Robin-in-training Spoiler briefly becomes Batgirl’s best buddy to train, talk trash about dads and generally take care of Gotham in the Big Man’s absence.

Spellbinding, overwhelmingly rapid-paced and brilliantly executed, these tales are a breakneck, supercharged thrill-ride that concentrates on non-stop action yet still manages to be heavily plot-based with genuine empathy and emotional impact. A perfect book to remind you just why and how comics are so great…

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