Batgirl #41 – review!

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The Stewart/Fletcher/Tarr version of Batgirl has carved out a niche best described as bubblegum cyberpunk, with all manner of sci-fi information technology being used to commit crimes in a day-glo Gotham. But issue 41 – which has already gained degree of immortality due to that variant cover – starts off with an abrupt shift into a rather different genre…

At the beginning of the story, Batgirl is exploring a crumbling, cobwebbed old mansion when she comes across a circle of hooded cultists. Its leader wearing a piece of PC fascia as a mask and its acolytes staring solemnly into their laptop screens, the cult worships the remains of the evil computer program vanquished by Barbara in the previous story arc.

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This fetching Devil Rides Out-meets-Tron situation quickly gives way to another change of tone, as Barbara bonds with her father – who, it should be noted for those who have opted out of current DC continuity, has donned a robot suit to become the new Batman following Bruce Wayne’s apparent death.

In contrast to the gothic trappings of the previous sequence, artist Babs Tarr and colourist Serge Lapointe bathe this scene in airy pastels. The two Gordons meet on an old merry-go-round, a favourite hangout from Barbara’s childhood days. James Gordon drops the bombshell by revealing that he is now Batman, and Barbara very nearly comes out of the closet herself… until Jim tells her about his new orders to arrest all of Gotham’s vigilantes, Batgirl included.

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The issue prepares the table for some meaty conflict, but suffers from a weak antagonist. Throughout the series Stewart and Fletcher have shown a genuine talent for crafting entertaining villains-of-the-month, but this issue’s foe Livewire – while visually fetching in Tarr’s hands – is not one of them.

Originally created for the animated Superman series of the nineties, Livewire makes her first major post-Flashpoint appearance here, but is never given her own voice. Although she is implied to have been part of the cult’s attempts to revive the malicious AI, this part of the story is left largely unexplored.

More surprisingly, there is no mention of her established backstory as a radio shock-jock. This would have fit perfectly into Batgirl’s media-studies-in-spandex ethos, the series having previously touched upon revenge porn, social networking, performance art, anime cosplay, video games and more. A supervillainous Howard Stern would have fit right into the current rogues’ gallery, so this is a definite missed opportunity.

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So, Batgirl #41 is not the most satisfying instalment in the current run, being more concerned with setting up a forthcoming conflict between Batgirl and robo-Batman than with telling a story that stands on its own legs.

Still, the dialogue is as punchy and the art as sweet as ever. It’s good to be back in Burnside after a two-month break, and the Bat-titles’ current status quo has given the Batgirl crew plenty to play with.

 

Talent

  • Writers: Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher
  • Artist: Babs Tarr
  • Background assists: Joel Gomez
  • Colour: Serge Lapointe
  • Cover: Cameron Stewart

 

Specs

  • Series: Batgirl (2015)
  • Issue: 41
  • Price: $2.99
  • On Sale Date: June 24 2015
  • Color/B&W: Color
  • Page Count: 32

 

Bookshelves: A Love Letter

book shelvesIn the last couple years, I have fallen into a routine that takes me from my house into the office and then back home again. Consequently, most of my comic reading is done digitally. With the easy accessibility of comics both online and through platforms such as Amazon and Comixology, I have no shortage of reading material. But sometimes a pang of nostalgia comes over me for something more tangible, and that’s when I know it’s time to lace up my sneakers and go for a walk.

I love browsing book shelves. There is a beauty to book design that buying an online eBook can’t replicate. When it is in print form, a book becomes a being in its own right. Big or small, thick or thin, rough or smooth—each book occupies a distinct space on that shelf. I love being able to slide a book from the shelf and hold it in my hands, feel the physical weight of the story and thumb through the smooth finish of the pages. And how amazing is that journey the book must have undergone to get there on that shelf? Just think about it! Somewhere along the line, someone had to make the decision to get that book, anticipating that it would eventually find an owner who would take it home.

The best thing about this is that there are no digital walls in a bookstore. I can reach out and hold the entirely of a book’s contents in my hands without having to put down some money first. This is particularly important to me because I have the rather controversial habit of skimming the entire book before deciding whether or not to read it. It drives my friends and family crazy, but for me, it’s like going out on a first date with someone before committing to a relationship. Unfortunately, this is a habit that I’ve had to dispose of when reading online. It’s virtually impossible to browse in that same fashion, and no digital distributor is going to give you a sneak peek of their story’s ending.

I am extremely fortunate to live in a city where there are no shortage of options when it comes to places to wander and explore different comics. Big retail chains claim real estate blocks away from local comic book shops and bookstores. Libraries stand proud alongside them despite years of budget cuts, ready to offer their dog-eared volumes to hungry readers. It is a fierce, competitive ecosystem. Who thrives and who struggles seem to switch up every few years—but one thing I hope is for certain. No matter what the future for comics may hold, I hope we never lose those bookshelves.

Prez #1 – review

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Well, this one came out of nowhere. Prez is a revival of a short-lived 1970s series about a teenage boy being elected president, which is probably best remembered for inspiring an issue of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Now, this bygone relic from an earlier age of youth culture has been dusted off and given a fresh coat of paint…

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Mark Russell’s story takes place in the year 2035, with the society of the future portrayed as hinging on social media. The President has been forced to stay out of the next election after being found to have placed an ad on a BDSM dating website. The time is coming for a replacement, but too many of the candidates are found to have left trails of embarrassing selfies. Votes in the election can be placed via Twitter, but despite this measure, there is a grave lack of interest amongst the electorate.

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Meanwhile, teenager Beth Ross toils away at a fast food restaurant while trying to earn money to pay off her bedridden father’s medical fees. In the hopes of winning the requisite four million dollars, she goes on a brutal game show, but is never given the time to even attempt any of the tasks (which include being chased by crocodiles and shooting oneself in the leg).

But Beth’s life is changed when an on-video mishap involving a corndog grill turns her into a viral Internet celebrity. Amongst her fans are Anonymous (depicted as wearing Guy Fawkes masks even as they sit at their computer) who launch a protest campaign: they want Beth Ross for president.

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Prez #1 strives to be a comic for the social media generation, and takes every opportunity to use its science fiction setting to this end. The fast food employees have advertising slogans floating above their heads in holographic speech balloons, while Beth attempts to raise medical funds using a website called Sickstarter.

Some may dismiss all of this as trying too hard to be hip, but Russell shows an infectious enthusiasm for the fast-changing world of social media. In the world of Prez, youth subcultures of the Internet are a breath of fresh air into the corrupt political scene.

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A key subject touched upon by Prez #1 is the influence of corporations upon politics, which is satirised in broad terms: one of the presidential candidates is shown to have been chosen by a cabal of senators called the Colonels, each of whom wears a badge resembling the KFC logo. Beth, a child of the Facebook era, represents a challenge to these old interests – and the latter side of this conflict is represented by the one and only Boss Smiley.

The original Boss Smiley (image from Major Spoilers)
The original Boss Smiley (image from Major Spoilers)

Yes, Boss Smiley, one of the few things from the original Prez that people remember. This strange happy-faced character is reinvented as the leader of the Build-a-Burger group (a shout-out to an old favourite amongst conspiracy buffs), which consists of various influential CEOs. Their faces hidden by holographic logos, these mysterious figures are the illogical conclusion of corporate personhood…

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Penciller Ben Caldwell and inker Mark Morales take on art duties, and between them they do a lovely job. The expressions are a delight – from the grave Colonels to the Barbie-faced TV anchor, to the cute-cum-goofy Beth – and the many throwaway details in terms of fashion and scenery make for an entertaining vision of the near future.

As a first issue, Prez #1 is a hit. Part political cartoon, part celebration of youth culture and part tongue-in-cheek conspiracy theory, Mark Russell has started a series that is just oozing with potential.

More, please!

 Talent

  • Writer: Mark Russell
  • Penciller: Ben Caldwell
  • Inker: Mark Morales
  • Colour: Jeremy Lawson
  • Cover: Ben Caldwell

 

Specs

  • Series: Prez (2015)
  • Issue: 1
  • Price: $2.99
  • On Sale Date: June 17 2015
  • Color/B&W: Color
  • Page Count: 32

A bunch of literary girls reading comics. We're champions of comic books, realistic female superheroes, indie webcomics & manga. Reading, and reviewing!