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Is It Wednesday Yet?

23 November 2010 Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always, the reviews are free of spoilers, so read on without fear of having your experience ruined!

Our grading scale is simple:

Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.

Batgirl #15
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 10 November 2010
Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Penciler: Dustin Nguyen
Inker: Derek Fridolfs
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Cover: Dustin Nguyen
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
With Bruce Wayne back at the head of the table, it looks like it's finally time for the whole slew of related titles to get back to business as usual. Of course, that's not entirely a new course for Batgirl, which has already been dancing to its own tune for a few months. While Dick, Tim, Alfred, and company were off searching for Bruce and trying their damnedest to fill his shoes, Stephanie has been gaining experience, both in her pointy-eared nightware and her civvies. Now that the extended family around her is finally nearing some form of solidarity, she's in a great position to really reap the benefits of that relationship. Of course, she's something of a work in progress.

Bryan Q. Miller is still setting up shop on Batgirl, establishing characters, settings, and dilemmas with every new issue, but the groundwork he's laid thus far has the book set on a firm, whimsical course with a solid, well-rounded lead at the center of it all. As a protagonist, Stephanie is far from the typical caped crusader. Where the rest of her comrades are products of the cookie-cutter school of the slick, the quick, and the grim, Steph is more vocal and aloof. The gritted teeth, clenched fists, and spooky shadows that have become the trademarks of the Wayne family are never far from sight, but they're often balanced with a low-key character moment over the dinner table or an off-the-cuff remark that reminds us of that missing mental toughness. Where Bruce and company are all-business, Stephanie's still an occasionally flaky, almost-average girl feeling her way through one extraordinary situation after another.

This issue marks the debut of new ongoing artist Dustin Nguyen, a name which should carry some weight among dedicated Dark Knight fanatics. In between twin stints on The Authority, Nguyen has spent time on Batman, Detective Comics, and Streets of Gotham, with each run remembered fondly by the diehards. His work here is a direct continuation of those preceding stops, slightly skewed to match the more upbeat, playful tone of this series. Though this is his first visit with Stephanie's crew, his work with the lot is so solid and consistent it's already like he's known them for years. Nguyen's artwork is nicely framed and impressively complete; he never skimps on a background or trivial detail, and the simple, crisp style he employs focuses on efficiently moving the story along to its next stop. He's a fine addition to the series, with the kind of name recognition to attract new readers and the quality of work to keep them around for a while.

If you're looking for a good time to jump on-board with your first Bat-title, Batgirl #15 is an excellent opportunity. Not only are the first three pages dedicated to a quick, easy-to-skim summary of the entirety of Batman's history, but the lack of deep continuity and more open, approachable nature of the primary character makes this issue excessively easy to slide right into. It's not quite as deep as its stable-mates, but that's responsible for a lot of its charm. Borrow it.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 10 November 2010
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Lee Garbett and Pere Perez
Inkers: Pere Perez, Alejandro Sicat, and Walden Wong
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: Andy Kubert
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
As it turns out, Bruce Wayne was never really dead. Though his body appeared limp, drained, and devoid of life after taking a point-blank blast from Darkseid's Omega Sanction in Final Crisis, in actuality Bruce's spirit had been blasted out of more than just his skin. Awakening at the dawn of humanity with no memory of the battle, Wayne had also been blown through time and space in some sort of ridiculously convoluted master plan to gather cosmic energy and destroy every modicum of life as we know it.

I'm sure Darkseid imagined it as a sort of insult-to-injury kind of situation: the JLA rescues one of their most prominent members who had been lost in various states of prehistory, they all enjoy a good laugh and a series of pats on the back, and then Wayne goes kablooey at the afterparty and destroys all consciousness on the planet. At any rate, Bruce (being the galactic-level detective that he is) figured out the big plan, and this issue represents his final efforts to thwart it and make the bad guy feel all pouty and defeated off in the corner somewhere.

It's been my experience that Grant Morrison is an exceptionally hit-or-miss writer. When he's in "hit" mode, he not only knocks the ball out of the park, he sends the sucker off into another arena altogether. We3, New X-Men, and All-Star Superman are all fine examples of the very best the medium can deliver. When he steers his train of thought off the path of the conventional, though, it can be a bona fide disaster. The man has a knack for getting caught up in high concepts, jagged dialog, and elaborate explanations that only serve to confuse. Some consider this style of work to be among his very best, ripe with hidden meanings, thoughtful undercurrents, and weighty theories. Personally, I see them as an infuriatingly inefficient means to conveying his ideas. Either way, The Return of Bruce Wayne #6 has dashes of both. The primary narrative of the Justice League arriving at the restaurant at the end of the universe to rescue their lost comrade is married at the hip to a series of wacky, verbose statements and observations about the whole of recorded history, the role of a set of simple-minded robotic record-keepers, and the futility of changing one's fate from the precipice of time itself. In short, it's both literally and figuratively all over the place.

That means the issue's artists, Lee Garbett and Pere Perez, had their work cut out for them. Dodging word balloons at every corner, working with increasingly abstract concepts and visual demands as the issue wears on, the duo still manages a mostly competent contribution. Their take on a cold-faced hybrid Wayne-cyborg at the story's peak is appropriately chilling and disturbing, and the two deal with an obscenely large cast of characters without losing sight of who each and every one of them are. Illustrating this issue could not have been an easy task, and while their artwork isn't on the same level as, say, Frank Quitely, they manage to tell Morrison's story admirably without sacrificing their own identities to the sea of ideas.

While The Return of Bruce Wayne won't be going down on my list of favorites, I have to admit I appreciate Morrison's effort and ingenuity. Tackling the root of what makes Batman who he is, then emerging from the other side with not just a clear-cut ending in sight but a genuine revelation, well, that's one hell of a tall order. My complaint lies more with the author's means of arriving at that natural, appropriate finale than the conclusion itself. Working through this issue was like walking through a thick patch of swampland weeds: difficult, maddening, and painfully slow; it's a relief to come out the other side, but I'm still not really sure it needed to be such a struggle to get there. It's worthy of a flip through, at any rate.

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