22 November 2012

Giving Thanks

Today has been Thanksgiving and mine was pretty good. Great, really. I tossed and turned last night until nearly 4 AM or so, and didn't wake up until a little after noon. I took my time lazing about for a bit, then had the traditional meal with my family. I met my cousin's new girlfriend, and she seems nice. She looks like Juliette Lewis, but not high. That got me thinking about From Dusk Till Dawn, of course. [Side note: From Dusk Till Dawn is awesome.]

From there, I was off to visit my friends who'd invited me to their house for the occasion. The weather was gorgeous; a high of 62 and a low in the 50s without much wind. The kids were outside in the backyard throwing around a foamy football, and I even managed to throw it a little with them before my Prednisone-ravaged back insisted I sit back down. The funny part was that the only other adult outside with me the entire time was one of my friends who actually doesn't have any kids herself. So there we were, the two childless, single adults on informal babysitting duty. We laughed and had a lot of fun anyway.

I had seen that Walmart's Black Friday ad featured an assortment of $3.96 Blu-ray Discs and one of the pictured titles was Die Another Day so I hoped that portended other 007 titles at that price point. They opened at 8:00 tonight, so I left my friends around then. I got there to discover a parking situation comparable to the Kentucky State Fair, but without even the charade of anyone helping coordinate traffic. I found the display easily enough but the only two Bond titles were the aforementioned Die Another Day and Goldfinger. Sure enough, those are two of the very few Bond movies I already have on Blu-ray so that was a bust. I didn't see much else that appealed to me. I did try to find Brave for my niece ($8.96 advertised price for the Blu-ray + DVD combo pack) but those were long gone by the time I got inside the building.

So, empty-handed, I began sort of meandering around the place. I ran into my middle school music teacher, who had also been the pianist at the very first church I attended as a child. I always liked her. She has a daughter just a little older than me and we played together as tots. Later, we worked together in the late 90s at Cracker Barrel. I was in attendance at her wedding 8 September 2001. They honeymooned at Disney World, which was of course shut down in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. After the ceremony and the reception, I went back to the church with my friend's mom and aunt (who had been one of my high school English teachers, and I feel okay being honest here in my own blog that she was my favorite) to make sure the place was properly cleaned for the next morning's service. We discovered a candle had remained burning the whole night and dripped wax all over the floor. We spent about an hour or so just trying to clean up that mess.

These are all random memories, of course, but they make me smile to recall them all. There was one brief period where my friend and her now-husband had a rough patch. She was a huge Tim McGraw fan, and she made mention to me one night that her then-ex-boyfriend had taken her McGraw CDs in what was clearly a spiteful play. That upset me, so I went out and bought her every single CD in McGraw's discography at the time - including his eponymous debut album, which I learned she hadn't even owned! I could afford such generosity in those days. I miss having money.

Cut to earlier this year. I signed into Facebook one morning and discovered a message from her that she had been thinking about that incident and wanted to repay me, about 12 years later, and so she sent me an Amazon e-gift card! I had forgotten entirely about the whole thing until she had messaged me about it. I was very touched that she had remembered it. That she had also sent the Amazon e-gift card was nice, I won't lie, but it was secondary to the fact she had held onto that specific memory all this time. It was a testament that we do make an impact on others, even if we don't realize what that impact is.

Tonight, after I all but literally ran into my friend's mother and as I began wandering the jungle of Walmart, I found my friend. She was looking for her mom, but I knew only the general direction in which she had been moving when we had parted so we elected to find a (relatively) safe place in one of the main aisles to just stand and catch up, which was fun. She likes to laugh and I like making people laugh, so we've always gotten along great. She was one of my favorite coworkers partly because she would laugh at things I said or did that no one else quite realized were meant to be funny - like the time when I first started working there and she caught me talking to the leftover croutons as I was munching on them at the end of the night.

She and her husband just celebrated their eleventh wedding anniversary in September, they have some happy, healthy kids I couldn't be happier for them. If at any point you read this blog post thinking there was some kind of sumthin' sumthin' between us, I'm afraid I have to disappoint you. I won't say we're "just friends" because I hate that term. It suggests there's something inadequate about friendship, and if I've learned anything in my life - particularly throughout the last year - it's that if there's anything at all for which we should truly give thanks, it is friendship.

I have much to be thankful for, and I am.

18 November 2012

The Great CD Purge of 2012

Note: This is a live-blog post which will be updated as I progress through my library.

It's been a while since I last weeded out my music library. It occurred to me recently that my taste in music has changed dramatically in the last few years. Not only have I quit bothering with contemporary country music, but I've largely lost my interest even in the music I used to listen to on a regular basis. Part of it is that I've come to feel excluded from country music because of the culture war. I'm still a Southerner, but I can't really stomach many of the anthems anymore. Anyway, I've decided to go through and listen to a lot of the albums in my library again and see what's worth keeping and what I'm better off purging.

I'm Alright - Jo Dee Messina

One of my friends was completely obsessed with this album when it came out in the 90s. I still think of her when I hear anything from it, particularly the singles "I'm Alright" and "Bye Bye". It's clearly the album of an adult woman with a certain amount of life experiences under her belt, but also the self-confidence to look forward. It's an empowerment album, from start to finish, and one that's definitely crafted for a drive.

The drawback is that my favorite songs here were all singles and appear on Messina's Greatest Hits collection, which I also have. That includes a few other songs of hers that I also dig. Do I really need both in my library?

Verdict: Purge

That's How They Do It in Dixie: The Essential Collection - Hank Williams, Jr.

There's no shortage of Bocephus compilations, but this is one of the best. The problem I have with Hank, Jr. is that I've reached a point where I can't even really enjoy his music anymore because all I can think about is how we're diametrically opposed to one another on socio-political matters. I just can't get into "Born to Boogie" knowing that Hank honestly believes that President Obama is waging an actual war threatening "real" (read: white) Americans.

Verdict: Purge

Some Hearts - Carrie Underwood

I bought this from BMG Music Service (I know!) in large part because my wife and cousin were both into Carrie Underwood's music. "Jesus, Take the Wheel", " Before He Cheats" and "Don't Forget to Remember Me" were all hit singles and they're part of the soundtrack of my life around the middle of this past decade. How many times did we play this disc in the Escape, either running errands around town or even making the drive to visit my in-laws in Ohio or Daytona? Quite a few.

Some Hearts was an important album in my life. On the other hand, I've had to let go of that part of my life. Maybe it's time to let go of this album, too?

Verdict: Purge

Your Man - Josh Turner

The truth of the matter is, I only got into Josh Turner because I liked "Long Black Train" and the fact that when I saw him in concert at Coyote's Music and Dance Hall, he sang a few Randy Travis covers. He seems like a nice guy, and I like some of the songs here: "Would You Go with Me" and the title track are both solid, and I've always liked "Me and God" even though I tend to be ambivalent toward that kind of song in general. "Loretta Lynn's Lincoln" is a pretty stupid song, but it's catchy and kind of fun. Where the album loses me are the banal redneck anthems like "Way Down South" and "White Noise" - a song lamenting that there aren't enough country songs in a world full of hip-hop. Seriously? "I'm talkin' 'bout white noise/comin' from the white boys"? "Take me where those honkies are a-tonkin'"? Really? I just can't.

Verdict: Purge

Super Hits - Outlaws

I have a hard time getting rid of a thing if I received it as a gift. This was a Christmas gift from my wife in 2006, along with Vince Gill's These Days box set (which I'm definitely keeping). The thought was kind, but it's entirely superfluous since I have all of these songs on other discs.

It's a decent enough compilation, truthfully, and if we weren't living in the era of digital music where I could compile a playlist of these same songs from the other albums I have where they appear, I'd be inclined to keep it.

Verdict: Purge

Songs from Here and Back - The Beach Boys

As with Some Hearts, I have an obvious, direct emotional connotation to contend with here. This live EP was a Hallmark store exclusive for Father's Day, 2006. I've gone six years without acknowledging the timing of that and what it meant for me and I'm not about to start now. Speaking of it strictly as an album, it's pretty brief. The live performances sound good, but I think I'm content with the classic studio versions I have on the Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of The Beach Boys compilation CD. This is a nice supplement to a Beach Boys library, but the truth is that I'm only a casual fan and the Sounds of Summer disc is more than sufficient for my purposes.

Verdict: Purge

I Hope You Dance - Lee Ann Womack

This CD single includes the regular, country version and the pop-crossover mix. I've always been a fan of the song and even during my I'm-Sick-of-Country-Starlets-Trying-to-Go-Pop phase, I liked this one. Still, the truth is that I don't really need both versions in my library and I have the regular mix elsewhere.

Verdict: Purge

Some People Change - Montgomery Gentry
Best Buy exclusive edition with bonus tracks

MG's debut album, Tattoos & Scars, was one of my favorites of its era. Then I saw them play at Coyote's one night and got to hang out for a bit after the show with Troy Gentry and I became a fan for sure. I still like the guys, but their aesthetic changed dramatically after they started touring with big acts like Kenny Chesney (who had previously recorded the title track of this album). It's not necessarily a bad thing that they changed their style, but they changed it to something a little more...generic, I hate to say. "Hey Country", "Takes All Kinds" and "Your Tears Are Comin'" are all examples of this forgettable style.

To be honest, I've kept this CD as long as I have because it was a Best Buy exclusive with two bonus tracks and I didn't want to part with it only to have seller's remorse.

"Lucky Man" is one of the better songs in their catalog, though, and one that I've enjoyed since I first heard it. Unfortunately, it's on an entirely disappointing album.

Verdict: Purge

Stand Still, Look Pretty - The Wreckers

I liked "Leave the Pieces" and "My, oh My" as singles enough that I ordered this album from BMG. Oddly enough, those were the two tracks on the album not produced by John Leventhal. Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp sound great together. The lyrics, most written by Branch and Harp, are a cut above the standard radio fare.

The problem with this album is that there isn't enough variety. It's hard to really tell when one song ends and another begins because the album maintains the same tempo and aesthetic throughout. I'd be interested to hear more from The Wreckers (a shame they disbanded after just two albums), but I don't feel the need to keep this in my library.

Verdict: Purge

16 November 2012

Travis and Tawkify: Not a Match

You may recall, Dear Reader, that I signed up with Tawkify earlier this year. They're an online match-making service that operates by having actual human beings look through the profiles of clients for compatibility. I joined in late June. It wasn't until late September that they finally found me a match, and then that didn't pan out because when she got to the dive bar our handler chose for our blind date, she felt so uncomfortable that she refused to come inside and she left.

I received the following email on 1 November from my matchmaker:
Hello Travis!

We're trying something new at Tawkify -- assigning a matchmaker who best relates to you! Your new matchmaker, Keith, lives in a sparsely populated state as well and understands exactly how hard it is to find love where options are slimmer than Robinson Crusoe's waistline.

I had the most fun looking for Melody Gardot! Alas, we must part, but I feel that Keith's fresh outlook will add more spontaneity into your life.

With love,
I interpreted this as a frustrated matchmaker passing the buck. She'd had my case since June and the only match she managed to make was the debacle referenced above. Still, I hadn't paid for the Tawkify service and where was the harm in letting someone new take a whack at it? Keith found me a match and set me up for a phone call this time, rather than a blind date. It was set for tonight at 8:00. Here's the entire conversation, which lasted all of two minutes and fourteen seconds (and that includes the automated greeting from Tawkify asking me to press "1" on my dial menu to activate the call):
Her: "Um, hi? My name is Elizabeth."
Me: "Hi. I'm Travis."
Her: "I just left the office. I had to work late."
Me: "Fun."
Her: "Yeah. What do you do?"
Me: "Oh. Yeah, I hadn't wanted to get to this right off the bat, but it's fair to get it out of the way. I'm a leech on society because I have Crohn's disease and that's incompatible with the work place. I understand if that's an issue for you."
Her: "What?"
Me: (repeat)
Her: "Yeah, that's not going to work. But good luck. You sound like a nice guy."
Me: "Thanks." (which she may or may not have heard because she had already hung up)
I was particularly annoyed by this because I had emphasized to both Tawkify matchmakers what my situation was, with the expectation that they would screen out women for whom that was going to be a deal-breaker. Instead, it feels as though the only thought that went into the match was that we were in the same general area and of opposite genders. I cannot imagine an attentive matchmaker - particularly one who allegedly checked out this blog when he took over my profile - failing to suss out something like how open-minded the woman would be about my health and money situations.

I reported this to Keith, adding that I was upset that I had been put in this situation by Tawkify. Here's how he responded:
Hi Travis, My friend I'm terribly sorry you had a bad experience and, yes, we'll try something else, but let's review your part in this fiasco. "I'm a leech on society because I have Crohn's disease and that's incompatible with the workplace." That's tactless. That's putting a shotgun to the head of a conversation. I mean, I know, you've got health issues, job issues, mental issues, emotional issues, whatever, but why would you lead with that? I mean, I. personally, have extraordinary mental health, psychological, and financial issues, but I don't introduce myself that way to polite society. I appreciate your profile and your idiosyncracies. But think of how you present yourself. Just be nice, intelligent, erudite, empathetic! I'm frankly horrified that you would present yourself with such acerbic anger and a touch of self-loathing. I'm sorry you had a horrible experience, but there is so much to be learned from this little humiliation in how you present yourself to other people. However, I wish you a wonderful evening. Keith
Note that Keith failed to acknowledge that I was put on the spot by the very first question that the woman asked. He instead blames me for "lead[ing] with that." Never mind that I stated myself that I hadn't wanted to open with that. Nor is there any allowance for how I should have answered her. I've been jumped on Facebook by several people for the same thing, but here's the problem: there is no honest, acceptable way of answering that question. None. I will not lie or deceive her or anyone else.

You know, people pitch this big fit about how dishonest people are today, but this situation of mine is a great microcosm of why that is. No one has actually praised me for being forthright with her. Instead, like Keith, they've bashed me for it. It's not Keith's fault for failing to pay attention to how compatible I, someone who doesn't work because of his health, might be with a woman who values employment. It's my fault for not finessing things better.

It's a good thing we never even got to things like my battle with depression, still being legally married or, God forbid, my liberal politics! That reminds me: Earlier in the week I tried to emphasize to Keith the importance to me personally that any match he may make be compatible with my politics. His response? "Don't talk about politics." I simply don't believe that anyone who has actually even looked at this blog of mine could fail to understand how important socio-political issues are to me. What kind of chances would I have at forming a relationship with a woman who opposed LGBTQ equality, for instance, given how protective I am of my LGBTQ friends? Or how accepted I could ever feel with a woman who thought Mitt Romney was right to say that 47% of the American people are just moochers, given that I'm one of them?

My greatly agitated reply to Keith:
It's worth noting that I didn't "choose" to "lead" with this. She put me on the spot with the very first question of the conversation. I had no choice but to be honest with her. I tried to demonstrate that I have a sense of humor about being in such a miserable situation. I did the best I could with it. The problem was not "how I presented myself". The problem is that I have very real and legitimate issues and sweeping them under the rug as best I can is not an acceptable approach. 
It's clear to me that Tawkify is not up to the task of handling a client like myself. I'm disappointed but I understand that it's much easier to make matches for healthy, gainfully employed clients than people like me. At least this woman rejected me for who I am and not where we were assigned to meet like the last woman Tawkify tried to match me with.
I will be chronicling this experience in my blog, as I did with my previous disappointment. I hope Tawkify succeeds and helps make lots of other people happy, but it clearly isn't going to work out for me.
And his final, succinct reply:
Well, Travis. We'll remove your profile from the site. I look forward to reading the blog post which I'm sure will be insightful and humorous. At least art will be made from the experience. Best, Keith
That's it. No apology for failing to make a match, no appeal to me to give them another chance, no "I'll do better next time." Just, "See ya!" I can easily picture Keith exhaling a sigh of relief that he doesn't have to deal with me now and can focus on easier clients, ones who have a lot less baggage and are a lot more willing to lie to cover up that baggage to their matches.

I don't deny that I'm difficult to match with women. I've got some hefty baggage. I have some selling points, though, candidness and honesty among them. I lost what remaining confidence I had in Tawkify when my matchmaker berated me for actually demonstrating those qualities and for not spinning my situation. If I wanted to just lie my way into a relationship, I wouldn't have needed a matchmaker in the first place! I have no remaining confidence in Tawkify. There was no evidence that either matchmaker really understood my needs or my selling points. Maybe they did try. I just know I feel that they're a one-size-fits-all organization and that they're happier not having to deal with misfits like me.

Somewhere in the Louisville Metro area is a woman named Crystal who feels that Tawkify is a shady operation setting her up for abduction at a dive bar and another woman named Elizabeth who's having drinks right now with her friends, grousing that they wasted her time by setting her up on a phone date with a complete and total loser (i.e., me). To them I would simply say that I empathize with their aggravation and if they should read this post and recognize themselves, I'll happily meet up with you sometime and we can go over just how let down we've been by Tawkify.

While I was piecing together this blog post, Keith sent the following message which I just saw:
But that said, friend, there is a lid for every pot. Should the right girl appear, we'll let you know. We're on your side, ultimately, and don't beat yourself up too much that this Tawkify experience didn't go well. Dating is a silly game with a plethora of vagaries. You plowed forward with blunt honesty and you were yourself. I She shouldn't have hung up on you. I empathize.
Sure. Whatever. Funny how he went from "We'll remove your profile" to "We're on your side".

15 November 2012

"Batgirl" #14 (Jan 2013)

Batgirl #14
"A Courtship of Razors" | Death of the Family tie-in
Gail Simone - Writer
Ed Benes and Daniel Sampere - Art
Vicente Cifuentes - Inks, pgs 13-20
Mark Irwin - Inks, pgs 11, 12
Ulises Arreola and Kyle Ritter - Colors
Dave Sharpe - Letters
Ed Benes and Ulises Arreola - Cover
Katie Kubert - Assistant Editor
Brian Cunningham - Editor
Batman created by Bob Kane
Date of Publication: 14 November 2012
$2.99/32 pages


I generally open my comic reviews with some context. Last week when I went to The Great Escape with a friend before we saw Skyfall, I signed up with their holds program to ensure that I got Batgirl each month beginning with issue #14 because they're getting much harder to snag before selling out. I strolled in this afternoon, picking up Detective Comics #14 for myself, Batman #14 for a friend and Legends of the Dark Knight #2 (same friend and I are splitting it, trading off the buying each month and each of us reading the book). Lo and behold, they did indeed already have my Batgirl #14 waiting behind the counter.

I started tonight with my friend's Batman #14. I'd read his copy of #13 last week and was curious to see what happened. I won't spoil that here, but it was pretty obvious what the implications were for Batgirl #14. I wanted to rush straight to it, but I always read Batgirl last because it's my favorite. Next, I read Legends of the Dark Knight #2; not part of the "Death of the Family" story but eerily timely. Then 'Tec #14 which kinda-sorta fits into "Death". And then I was left staring at Batgirl #14.

I'll be honest. I debated not reading it at all and going to bed, leaving it for tomorrow. Delayed gratification? Maybe, but I'm not exactly known for my willpower. The truth is, I was squeamish about opening it. Issue #13 ended with Barbara's mother being abducted by three men in a recreation of The Joker's vicious assault on Barbara in Batman: The Killing Joke. (Babs was also recovering from injuries sustained fighting Knightfall that should have had her laid up in a hospital bed for weeks, but I'll forgive her swift recovery.)

Throughout the previous 14 issues (and Annual), Gail Simone has tested Barbara with a parade of conflicts designed to suss out our heroine's true nature: her values, her compassion, her self-confidence and, yes, her physical prowess as a fighter have all been put through the ringer. When I read a Batman story, I take for granted that he'll have the upper hand at all times and even if he doesn't appear to have it, I know he'll regain it momentarily. He's Batman. That's what he does.

In Simone's hands, though, Batgirl doesn't fare so well. She prevails in the end, of course, but it's nowhere near as neat or tidy. And so I reluctantly opened Batgirl #14 knowing that Babs herself will survive...but all other bets were off. Her mother? Her father, the intrepid police commissioner? Roommate Alysia, last seen beginning to date Babs's psychotic brother, James, Jr.? For that matter, James, Jr.? The entire Bat-family? Hell, even hunchback Harold was on the table and I don't even think he exists in The New 52!

We open with intensity and it never slows. Not for a single panel. At one point, Simone tweeted that she was working on something really dark, surprising stuff for this issue. I thought I had favorited it so I could refer back to it, but apparently I didn't and after spending nearly 40 minutes scrolling through her tweets, I still can't find it. Seriously, Gail Simone tweets more than just about anyone I follow except Rosanne Cash, and I didn't realize how much of it is actually spent replying to people until I tried to find this one tweet.

Anyway, story page 5, panel 5: "He knows. He knows." Even after having already read Batman #14, this was the most chilling moment in all four comics I read tonight. I've read Detective Comics since its first issue as well, but because that's the only Batman book I follow, I don't really think of myself as necessarily keeping up with the Caped Crusader. "Death of the Family" will only mean to me whatever its effects are in 'Tec...and Batgirl. I care about Barbara Gordon. I care about Batgirl, both as a character and as a comic. I felt a sort of twisted thrill reading Batman #14, but I felt totally threatened reading Batgirl #14.

The art has been terrific on this book from the beginning, though this might be the strongest example to date. Kudos to Ed Benes, Daniel Sampere and Vicente Cifuentes, as well as Mark Irwin, Ulises Arreola and Kyle Ritter for their collective part in telling this story. The range of emotions on Barbara's face, even in just the first few pages, is captivating. She's alternately terrified, furious, stunned and determined, fluctuating from one panel to the next. One might expect to see her move from one to the next in a progression, but instead her emotions are dictated by the revelation of each panel. Just as she's recovered from one moment comes another that provokes an entirely different emotional reaction. She's off-balance throughout this entire issue, and that keeps us off-balance, too.

Story page 7, panel 2: Barbara flying into action wearing just a shirt - Maybe the most kinetic image we've seen yet, and Babs has done a lot of fighting. Story page 11: Barbara and Alysia - I don't care what Barbara thinks; this just can't be the end of Alysia in this book! That's right: I care about Barbara's roommate enough to be bothered by the prospect of her not being in the book anymore. Then there's that last page. After the anxiety-inducing tension of the issue itself, that last page is actually almost a relief. I needed to stop there, I think. There's something oddly comforting about there being a cliffhanger here, if for no other reason than that it didn't end with page 5. That would have been agonizing!

This brings me to a point I've made previously when discussing Batgirl and that's that it really is a perfect monthly book. A lot of comics are suitable for collected editions. Batwoman, for instance, is really a series of graphic novels presented in serialized form first rather than a monthly comic later collected. Batgirl, however, takes full advantage of that four week wait between issues to pay off our anticipation while rebuilding it for the next issue. Anyone who's trade-waiting on this book is missing out on a large part of the fun.

But seriously, issue #15 needs to come out, like, tomorrow because HOLY. DAMN.

10 November 2012

"Batgirl Annual" #1 (Dec 2012)

Batgirl Annual #1
"The Blood That Moves Us"
Writer: Gail Simone
Art: Admira Wijaya
Pencils 26-28: Daniel Sampere
Letters: Dezi Sienty
Cover by: Ed Benes and Ulises Arreola
Assistant Editor: Katie Kubert
Editor: Brian Cunningham and Brian Smith
Batman created by Bob Kane
Date of Publication: 31 October 2012
$4.99/48 pages

I noted in my review of Batgirl #13 that it's become increasingly difficult to make sure I get my grubby paws on the latest issue of this book. Given that this Annual isn't part of the "Death of the Family" story and its $4.99 price tag, I thought I might stand a better chance at snagging one of these. I didn't get to The Great Escape when this issue was published on Halloween. I did, however, pop in on Barnes & Noble this Wednesday. They stocked the Batman Annual earlier this year, and I'm pretty sure I've seen other Annuals there so I figured I'd catch a copy there (they stock a week behind the direct market). Nada. I didn't get to The Great Escape until this Thursday, a full eight days after its publication. By then, all that was left was an empty spot on the new arrivals wall. This prompted me to do something I've never done: I signed up with their holds program to reserve forthcoming issues of Batgirl for me.

Of course, I still didn't have a copy of the Annual. It was suggested that there may well be a second printing of this issue and I was willing to wait for that but then I remembered that there's a new comic/gaming shop on Bardstown Road: Role of the Die. Thankfully enough, they had two copies remaining of Batgirl Annual #1. They're presently running a promotion where if you buy four comics, you get a fifth free. That was mighty tempting, since I also wanted Detective Comics #14 and Legends of the Dark Knight #2, but at their $3.99 cover prices I just couldn't do it that day. Still, I'd like to make note of that for my fellow comic book readers in the Louisville area.

So, this brings us to the actual comic. "The Blood That Moves Us" is a direct follow-up to Batgirl #9, the "Night of the Owls" tie-in issue that introduced the mute, female Talon. As with her cohorts, she's been cooling her heels in a maximum detention cell at Blackgate Prison since that crossover event (not that I had any idea what became of it since I only read the Batgirl and Detective Comics tie-ins). Catwoman has been hired to spring her, setting up the first New 52 meeting of Babs and Selina.

Meanwhile, Batgirl is trying to get to the bottom of an alarming series of arson fires set by homeless people. It's obvious that someone is orchestrating the fires through fear, but who is it and why? As it happens, it's an operation of the Owls - setting Batgirl, Catwoman and the Talon on a collision course with the Owls and one another.

"The Blood That Moves Us" is a terrific microcosm of the book itself, showcasing Gail Simone's social sensibilities through Batgirl herself and her interactions with the downtrodden of Gotham, as well as Catwoman's bonding with the Talon. Also on display is her sense of humor - particularly in Batgirl's interior thought boxes.

One thing that kind of troubles me is that it does directly connect with previous stories; not only the Talon from #9, but we also catch up with Ricky, the maimed victim of Knightfall from the most recent arc. Annuals have often been independent of the ongoing books, allowing casual readers to sort of sample other characters and books with no strings attached. I, of course, have been invested in Batgirl from the beginning so I enjoyed that this Annual advances the book's subplots and themes, but I can easily see where it might be  off-putting for readers who just wanted to get a sense of what the book is like without being reminded that they're more than a year behind already.

Admittedly, though, this is more of an abstract thought of mine and not directly related to my personal enjoyment of the story. I'm glad to see that Ricky will be sticking around, at least for the time being, and even though I have no actual feelings about the Owls on account of not having read really anything about them so far, I do like this specific Talon. So far, none of Batgirl's adversaries are Top Tier material (that is, they're not Penguins or Talias) but they're well developed characters and they fit into the book's themes and aesthetics nicely. They've all got potential to become compelling character, and the Talon is a welcome member of the Batgirl stable of characters. I look forward to seeing her resurface periodically. The tag at the very end of the issue says she'll appear in Birds of Prey. After checking DC Comics's website solicits, it seems this Talon's name will be Strix. It also seems that Batgirl has joined the Birds of Prey team.

The art here, by Admira Wijaya, is among the most impressive I've seen throughout the New 52 books I've read to date. So often, the computerized coloring makes art seem less organic than it should, but Wijaya's work feels like the product of an actual human being. Look at story page 9, the first appearance in the issue of the Talon perched atop a book case. It's not photo realistic, but it captures the feeling of the meeting between Commissioner Gordon and the Talon. She's defensive, but unimpressed that he represents an actual threat to her. Gordon, in panel 4, is trying to offer her an olive branch but we see in his clenched jaw that he's uncomfortable being so close to her.

Story page 12, top panel: the Talon opens the package of art supplies and there's genuine pleasure on her face. It's a very touching moment, and the fact it's dashed by her startled, defensive face just two panels later on the same page reinforces just how guarded she is about her emotions. There's also a great shot of Batgirl swinging through Gotham on story page 20; the frightened homeless family on story page 21, panel 2; Catwoman's resignation to befriend the Talon on story page 23. These are just my personal favorite examples, of course.

I'd be lying if I said I was content with the $4.99 cover price of this issue, but I'd also be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. At least Batgirl has remained a $2.99 monthly instead of expanding a few pages to the $3.99 format, which makes it more palatable to splurge once a year for a double-sized issue like this. As happens each time I read an issue of Batgirl, I find myself eagerly looking forward to the next. Thankfully, that's just a few days away...!