When setting this comic on my desk for easy reference while writing this review, I found myself looking at the cover and, in a sympathetic tone, saying, “Oh, ‘Batgirl,’ you’re not a good comic...” I wanted to like this comic. It has energy and a fun feel to it as Stephanie Brown struggles to earn her place as the new Batgirl despite Barbara Gordon’s objections. It’s a concept that could go far, but the execution is so heavy-handed and sloppy that it’s lost under rushed scenes and confusing moments.
Bryan Q. Miller obviously follows the storytelling tenet of entering a scene late and leaving early, but overdoes it, so that scenes rush by without context, making this issue read like a highlight reel of the real story. Early on in the issue this works as Miller has a previous conversations between Stephanie and Barbara play out in captions over a fight scene, a great way to have both a ‘talking heads’ scene and action. Later, though, the storytelling gets more rushed with scenes acting as little more than ways for one piece of new information to be introduced.
A great example is Stephanie attending one of her classes where the idea of ‘Thunderdome’ is brought up and quickly discarded for what appears to be a character-building moment as Steph talks back to a rude student, but even that is rushed and not delivered well. Telling a story with quick cuts can be very effective, but since this book is so rooted in both Stephanie and Barbara’s inner thoughts and motivations, those character moments are essential and rushing through them is a mistake.
The tension between Barbara and Stephanie is compelling much of the time as both continually question the other’s abilities and motives. Since each clearly have personal problems of some sort that are motivating their actions, it’s easy to sympathize with both and not necessarily take sides. Hitting that balance is what Miller does best in this issue. The actual plot surrounding a drug called Thrill is a little generic and non-descript, but it ties into the villain, who is revealed on the final page.
Lee Barbett’s art matches with Miller’s writing, full of speed, movement, and energy. His characters always look like they’re ready to burst, constantly in movement. He also draws Stephanie as a believable young woman who looks younger than Barbara and different from other women her age. There isn’t a drastic change when she puts on her costume, giving her a consistent look. His facial expressions lack a range that hampers some scenes, but since so much of this issue is action and constant movement, it’s not a big flaw. He even plants some great visual clues as to the identity of the story’s villain in a key scene.
“Batgirl” #2 has many of the right components for a quality book: interesting characters with unique perspectives and motives, a solid art team, and a great overlying concept. But, the pacing of the issue makes it hard to find an entrance point and leads to confusing, jumbled scenes. If Miller would slow down a little, I’m sure this could be one of DC’s better books.