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...!