Book Review – Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond

  • Title: Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond
  • Author: Adam Beechen
  • Artist: Adam Archer
  • Characters: Batman (Terry McGinnis), Bruce Wayne, Barbara Gordon, Dana Tan, Max(ine), Dick Grayson, Ace the Batdog 
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/14/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Batman Beyond was an excellent animated television series produced by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, with voice direction by Andrea Romano. Bruce Wayne has, amazingly, lived to a ripe old age, so much so that he has to give up the cape and cowl due to his physical limitations. But Terry McGinnis ends up as the New Batman in a tech savvy suit – saving Neo Gotham from a new breed of super villains. Although Terry’s father was murdered (by Amanda Waller it later turns out), Terry’s mother and younger brother survive. Terry is also dating Dana Tan, and his best friend Max(ine) is a computer expert who knows Terry is Batman. And Bruce has a dog, Ace.

This is the second Batman Beyond graphic novel I’ve read (the other being Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond) and I really enjoyed this book. I thought that in Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond the characterization was excellent. We see the familiar characters from the TV series, even the Bat-dog Ace makes an appearance, and they are all in character. The world of Neo Gotham also seems very familiar and true to the animated series. Even little details that were confusing, such as Barbara Gordon not only being the police commissioner but being able to walk are explained. Dick Grayson, a character completely ignored in the series and the follow-up movie, makes an appearance that begins to explain what happened to him.

The story starts with the aftermath of a disaster, the street gang the Jokerz are blowing themselves up all over Neo Gotham – causing chaos, destruction, and death. But rather than focusing on this disaster – the story starts in a hospital waiting room. Present are Dana Tan, her mother, Terry, and his mother. Dana’s father is in intensive care, Dana’s brother is also in emergency and dying and the one behind the Jokerz bombings, Bruce Wayne is also in the hospital, dying of liver failure. A doctor tells those gathered that Dana’s brother has died. Dana asks Terry to come with her to see Bruce Wayne, as they make there way there, Terry makes up a story about being saved by Batman but being knocked out (he’s beaten-up and has a concussion).

When they see Bruce however, Dana tells them both she’s realized that Terry is the new Batman, and that Bruce was once Batman. Bruce welcomes her to the family and stresses the need for secrecy. Terry tells Dana he loves her. A doctor comes in and tells Bruce they’ve found a compatible liver for him – Bruce realizes it was Dana’s brother’s liver, but allows the transplant to take place.

Meanwhile, Max has gone on a mission on her own to investigate the Undercloud, a secretive hacker group, lead by Rebel. She’s forced to work with some old superhero tech to create a giant robot to destroy the upper levels of Neo Gotham that are home to the rich and powerful. Max struggles to find a way to send a message to Terry secretly.

Max finally sends an SOS, and Terry arrives but not before the robot is released on Neo Gotham. Yet Rebel’s control box doesn’t work. Terry tries to lead the robot away and minimize damage. Max knocks out Rebel and tries to decode the box. Terry shocks the robot as a defense mechanism – and the different metals start to pull apart. Max realizes that the six metals need to be separated and urges Terry to “do it again”. He does – and what emerges is the Metal Men.

Terry and the Metal Men work to prevent further damage in Gotham and to safely bring down Reed Tower in a more controlled fashion, as well as evacuating the restoration crews inside. Max angerly condemns Rebel’s selfish “point” of mass destruction – telling her she could have made her hacker army a force for good.

With the success of Terry and the Metal Men, and Max getting rescued and Rebel turned over to the police – everyone meets up at Wayne Manor. Bruce mentions the hundreds of space junk satellites in Earth orbit, and suggests that the Metal Men take up residence in one as Watchmen for Earth, to respond to any disaster, natural or man-made, immediately and world-wide. He adds Max and Dana to his bat-family (Max already knew about Terry) and Max comes up with the idea to secretly focus the Undercloud into a force for change and for good (moving it away from the destructive model that Rebel had set-up). Finally, Bruce tells Terry he has to decide if he wants to continue to be Batman (Terry has doubts) but that he will support him no matter what.

Commissioner Barbara Gordon, meanwhile, walks through Crown Point – a less than good neighborhood in Neo Gotham that’s in the middle of a gang war. She’s able to take care of herself, but when the odds are overwhelming she’s rescued by a new Batgirl. This Batgirl tells her the violence isn’t just a co-incidence – there’s literally something in the water. Gordon goes to the ME’s office and is told one of the dead from Crown Point is soaked in chemicals and has very low serotonin levels. Gordon remembers Bane. She also takes her officers and a search warrant and goes after a businessman for his “super steroid”. The businessman attacks in a rage. Gordon’s cops arrest him. Barbara looks up Batgirl and offers her a type of partnership – but insists Batgirl not go to far. At first, Batgirl thinks she can ignore this – but she learns she can’t.

In a story drawn to look very much like the animation style of the Batman Beyond and featuring Ace, Terry’s mom, and Terry’s brother – Bruce and Terry go up against Spellbinder, who puts Bruce in a hallucination using television signals.

Finally, Terry goes up again Inque – a unique character also from the series.

I loved this book – again, it’s very in keeping with the television series and everyone is in character. The only negative comment I have is that for a book entitled, “Batgirl Beyond” – there really wasn’t much of Batgirl. And we didn’t see the new Batgirl meet Terry, or Bruce or anyone in the cast. I liked seeing Commissioner Barbara Gordon being given her own story, and watching Batgirl meet a new Batgirl was fun, but considering the volume title it needed more “oomph”. Maybe other volumes will include more of this new Batgirl.

Highly recommended.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 5: Soul Crisis (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 5: Soul Crisis
  • Author: Christy Marx
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Daniel Sampere, Travis Moore, Robson Rocha, Jonathan Glapion, Vicente Cifuentes, Jordi Tarragona, Oclair Albert, Mark Deering, Julio Ferreira, Scott McDaniel, Chris Sotomayor, Taylor Esposito, Dezi Sienty, Travis Lanham, Carlos M. Mangual
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller
  • Collection Date: 2015
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #25, 27-34; Birds of Prey: Future’s End 1 (2013-2014)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/15/2016

**Spoiler Alert** The fifth volume of the collected New 52 version of Birds of Prey really feels like the end of this series. The book opens with a flashback, telling us how Black Canary became Black Canary. It’s a wonderful story. The book ends with a flash forward to five years in the future – having survived a dip in the Lazarus Pit, Black Canary now leads the Red League – rescuing women from abuse, sex trafficking, slavery, and other crimes. Some of the women she rescues willingly join her. Black Canary runs into a future bizarre Batgirl called Bête Noire (the Black Beast). I liked this taste of a future Black Canary – the only issue I had was the internal monologue boxes were red print on a black background which is very, very hard to read. Actually, I find red print difficult to read on any background.

Beyond those two very separate books – this volume wraps up the loose ends from the previous volume. Then the newly regenerated Mother Eve sends the Birds of Prey on a rescue mission to the Congo in Africa to retrieve one of her operatives. There they run into the Suicide Squad (Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Capt. Boomarang, and King Shark) and Amanda Waller. Waller tells Black Canary “the truth” of why Kurt, her husband, has no memory of her – their marriage was a sham and part of Kurt’s cover. Waller then takes Kurt out of the rehab facility he’s been in since his recovery. Black Canary is devastated by this “truth” – but this is Amanda Waller we’re taking about – a master manipulator who wouldn’t know the truth if it walked up to her and introduced itself.

The story ends, however, with the Birds breaking up – Batgirl leaves in disgust and returns to Gotham. Condor tries to stay with Black Canary, since he’s fallen in love with her (for awhile now) but we know the relationship will go nowhere. Canary strikes out on her own – and the flash-forward last story I already mentioned tells us how that will go.

Birds of Prey is a great graphic novel series because it features all women superheroes. Women who are bad-asses who can take care of themselves. The New 52 version compromises that premise (which has been around since the Chuck Dixon series of the 1990s) by introducing Condor who, although cool, doesn’t really belong in this series. These “birds” do not need a man to rescue them. The series also compromises Black Canary, a long-time DC heroine by making her entire existence about her guilt over accidentally “killing” her husband and then her determination to rescue and restore him. Canary even considers betraying the team and allowing R’as al Ghul to kill Mother Eve – simply to get her husband back and whole. Come on! This is the woman who was the defacto leader of the Justice League! (Batman was the leader on paper, but as he tended to be busy he appointed Canary as his lieutenant.) Canary was the trainer for Young Justice in that animated series. She’s had her own series. And for awhile, she was married to Oliver Queen – the Green Arrow. So why wimp her out? Oh, that right, this is New 52.

Fortunately, Rebirth brings her bad-ass self back. Birds of Prey becomes a story of betrayal and of character after character leaving – another trope of “women can’t work together”. There are some great moments (Starling – I miss her!) and some truly beautiful art. But I prefer the original series. And Rebirth is looking to be good too. I rate things based on it’s own merits – and by that score, this novel was pretty good, but other versions of the Birds are better.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 4: The Cruelest Cut (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 4: The Cruelest Cut
  • Author: Christy Marx, James Tynion IV
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Jonathan Glapion, Vicente Cifuentes, Julio Ferreira, Scott McDaniel, Graham Nolan, Miguel Sepulveda, Robson Rocha, Sandu Florea, Oclair Albert, Chris Sotomayor, Rain Beredo, Taylor Esposito, Dezi Sienty, Travis Lanham
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Strix, Talon, Condor, 
  • Collection Date: 2014
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #18-24, 26; Talon #9 (2013-2014)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/29/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Volume 4 of the Birds of Prey series focuses on betrayal. Starling is kidnapped from Dinah (Black Canary)’s Dojo and a ransom demand sent: turn over the Talon and get Starling back. Batgirl begins to reassure the Talon (now called Strix) only to have Strix run. Black Canary and Batgirl follow – only to find Strix at the Court of Owls experimental lab. Suddenly, Mr. Freeze shows-up with Starling. Starling had thrown in her lot with Freeze, declaring, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and since Freeze wants vengeance on the Owls for stealing his cryogenic technology, Starling figures she can use Freeze to get to the Court and the Owls. Black Canary and Batgirl don’t see it that way, and are angered at and feel betrayed by Starling. Condor, meanwhile, proves his mettle, and provides shelter at his workshop.

No sooner are the Birds settling in than Batgirl gets a mysterious message and leaves.

We follow the Talon who refused to kill Strix, on his own adventure to try to free his girlfriend (or wife) and child and then to invade Santa Prisca to challenge Bane.

Back at Condor’s workshop, Basilisk attacks, including a new member, Uplink, who psychically attacks the group, trapping them in dreams. Black Canary and Condor are kidnapped. A former police officer arrives and offers help from “the Benefactor”. Batgirl and Strix go to free Black Canary and try to figure out if Condor, a former member of Basilisk, can be trusted.

At the Basilisk stronghold, Canary discovers her husband, Kurt, isn’t dead – but he is comatose and he’s also a metahuman who’s power is the ability to magnify or block the powers of other metas. She also discovers the leader of Basilisk, Regulus, is a fused being that combines Kaizen and Dean Higgins. Canary had thought Dean was killed in a disastrous black-ops mission to destroy the villain Kaizen, and also “killed” Kurt.

The book ends with Canary holding Kurt, whom Batgirl has returned to his coma because he is experiencing continuous seizures. Condor has proven himself, as has Strix. Presumably, the Birds of Prey will escape.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 3: A Clash of Daggers (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 3: A Clash of Daggers
  • Author:  Duane Swierczynski, Gail Simone
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Vicente Cifuentes, Admira Wijaya, Daniel Sampere, Juan Jose, RYP, Dezi Sienty, Dave Sharpe, Chris Sotomayor
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Katana, Talon, Condor, Catwoman, Comissionor Gordon, Amanda Waller
  • Collection Date: 2013
  • Collected issues: Batgirl Annual 1, Birds of Prey #13-17 (2012-2013)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/26/2016

This volume of Birds of Prey consists of essentially three stories. In the first story, Commissioner James Gordon visits a Talon in jail. He’s trying to get some information from her, but she’s a Talon and a Mute, so his inquiries are a bust. However, Catwoman frees the female Talon. Later this Talon helps Catwoman and Batgirl in a fight against a group of Talons, led by a man who is organizing the arson of a series of buildings occupied by the poor in one of the worst sections of Gotham (and framing Bruce Wayne for the destruction and death). The Talon fights her former cult-mates and helps Batgirl and Catwoman saving their lives. Batgirl is especially impressed by both Catwoman’s heroics and the Talon’s integrity. The art of the first story is beautiful with a painted/watercolor look and a sepia tone.

In the second story, Katana is attacked and her sword is stolen. Katana follows the sword to Japan where she’s captured by the Daggers – a secret society and crime organization. The Birds of Prey follow her. Throughout the story there’s a countdown to something, “24 hours to detonation, 12 hours to detonation”, etc. which gives the story a tense undercurrent. The something turns out to be a scorched Earth bomb. The Birds, Katana, and a mysterious maybe-hero called “Condor” stop the bomb and Katana recovers her sword which she believes hold her husband’s soul. But in the end, Katana decides to stay in Japan.

Black Canary, Starling, and Batgirl return to Gotham. Batgirl brings in Talon as a new member, upsetting the other two who see her, well, by her costume, as The Enemy. Events happen so fast, Batgirl is unable to explain why she trusts this Talon. Condor also arrives, intent on joining the team – despite it being all women. A few weeks later, this new team is up against the Basilisk tech-terrorist group. Things again go terribly wrong when Canary loses control of her powers, Starling covers for her, and then Starling secretly calls in Amanda Waller. Basilisk turns from attacking a building and power grid to attacking the team with “heartstoppers” electric balls that can fire power that would literally stop the heart. Talon saves Canary, and Condor and Starling’s cry to Waller help the rest of the team.

The art in the rest of the collection varies by book. However, it’s all competent to good. Birds of Prey continues to be a fun series to read – full of powerful kick-ass women. I could do with a bit more characterization, but it’s still well-worth reading. Recommended.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 2: Your Kiss Might Kill (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 2: Your Kiss Might Kill
  • Author:  Duane Swierczynski
  • Artists: Travel Foreman, Jesus Saiz, Javier Pina, Jeff Huet, Timothy Green II, Joseph Silver, Cliff Richards, Romano Molenaar, Vicente Cifuentes, June Chung, Gabe Eltaeb, Chris Sotomayor, Carlos M. Mangual, Dave Sharpe
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Katana, Poison Ivy
  • Collection Date: 2013
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #8-12, #0 (2012)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/13/2016

The second volume of DC Comics New 52 version of Birds of Prey builds on Black Canary’s background – explaining why everyone is after her. Dinah Lance, it seems, was not framed for murder after all – but did actually kill her ex-husband, though it was an accident. He was training her to learn to control her Canary Cry, and well, things didn’t go well.

This volume also explores Poison Ivy’s character – she does betray her fellow teammates as well as show her more violent tendencies. However, this gives her some depth – and in many ways she becomes sympathetic – despite everything in the comic that tries to point to her as an “terrorist” and extremist. There is also some background and information given about Starling, though she remains enigmatic. Batgirl – and yes it is Batgirl, not Oracle, also shows up. Katana remains one of my favorite characters – despite her extremely violent nature.

Birds of Prey is a fast-moving action-packed book, but there is some characterization that manages to sneak in. And it is awesome to see unique, powerful, strong women who are determined in their convictions. Poison Ivy may be called a “terrorist” and Black Canary condemns her for betraying the team, but you can also understand her point of view, even if her methods are a bit extreme. At least Ivy focuses her attacks squarely at criminals rather than the innocent.

It will be interesting to see how this version of Birds of Prey develops.

I will say that although I prefer the Chuck Dixon Birds of Prey series from the 1990s; this book is one of the better New 52 books.