Saturday, February 15, 2014

Batman #28

Although I'm a huge Batman fan, with distasteful odor of Death of the Family still palpable even today, I decided to give Scott Snyder's Batman title a wide berth for an entire year, only checking in to look at the Damian remembrance issue ten months ago.

Over the past year I've picked up and dropped various of the other Bat-titles but haven't come back to Batman. This month's issue reminds me why, but it also offers a glimmer of the promise that the New 52 hasn't quite stamped everything once enjoyable about Bat-titles completely out of the DCU.

I have to start with Harper Row, who apparently is Batman's new partner and a better acrobat than Dick Grayson. Other than the asshole New 52 version of Shazam she may be the poster child for everything wrong with the state of the current DCU. The edgy street kid who disobeys Batman and even USES GUNS (which doesn't bother the Dark Knight) is a perfect example of DC Editorial's forced gritty vision that has turned off so many readers from their books.

I'm not fond of Row's new costume, but I found it to be a great relief that Bluebird was revealed to be Row and not another character who was promoted to be making her first appearance in this book (since I could easily see DC completely missing the point of the character and improperly re-branding her as they have done with so many other characters over the past two years). More on her later.

Although it allows the character new opportunities, and saves her from the fate of a punching bag and Batman's living love doll (which is kinda how the New 52 redesigned her), I don't know if I'm ready to buy Catwoman as Gotham City's new crime boss (especially this version of Catwoman who hasn't shown much aptitude for this kind of ginormous character shift). However, I am willing to give it a shot because as unbelievable as I find the storyline it's infinitely better than what DC was doing with her before.

With all that said, it's time to discuss the real reason I was inclined to pick up this title for the first time in a year: the final panel return of Stephanie Brown. On one-hand I'm grateful that DC has bowed to fan pressure and returned the beloved character to the DCU, on the other hand I'm filled with dread because in an universe where Harper Row is the kind of character the company wishes to promote I fear the smart, sassy, hopefulness of the character that makes Stephanie work may quickly get distorted and destroyed though the New 52 filter.

Before the unnecessary death of Damian and before Death of the Family destroyed the Joker turning him from the undisputed head of Batman's rogues gallery to a throwaway B-movie horror villain I may have had hope that Scott Snyder could protect the character that Bryan Q. Miller so beautiful nurtured to command and earn the role of Batgirl before the New 52 reboot (something the too mature version of Barbara Gordon has yet to accomplish in two years). Now... now I'm not so sure that any DC writer can save any character from the toxic 90's Image Extreme-style revamp that even their competitor has abandoned.

Looking optimistically, as Stephanie Brown would do, I will say Snyder and artist Dustin Nguyen succeed with this initial tease by highlighting her new Spoiler costume with traits that suggest her Batgirl run and revealing her to be far more than just another vigilante working in Gotham. Even if the comic doesn't allow the character to speak, to find out if her voice has survived the transition into the New 52, there's the tiniest glimmer of hope in this one panel that the Stephanie of old may get a shot to live again. Of course that could all go down the shitter in record time if she opens her mouth and comes off bastardized like the re-branded Billy Batson. For fans.

[DC, $3.99]

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