A new story-arc – 'Robins are Red …'; a new cover artist – Stanley 'Artgerm' Lau; a new interior artwork team – Talent Caldwell with Yvel Guichet and John Stanisci; plus a distinguished guest-star – Red Robin himself, Tim Drake: and maybe because there was so much 'new' about it Batgirl #8 felt, for me, just a little unsatisfactory. An enjoyable read? Yes, for sure, but just a little unsatisfactory nevertheless.
Following a brief – indeed very brief – appearance in Red Robin #9 this issue of Batgirl opens about 60 seconds or so before Red Robin #9 closes: Stephanie is in full combat mode, feverishly engaged in physical training. Pounding the training droids, who in turn scream motivational messages at her, Stephanie is very much 'in the zone'. Moments later, as she discovers she's not alone, she snaps out of the zone and we're back where Red Robin #9 ended -'Stephanie?!?', 'Tim'.
Stephanie and Tim, Batgirl and Red Robin, come face to face – the occasion catching both of them by surprise leading to some puzzled looks, sharp exchanges and barbed comments. No sooner had the former 'couple' calmed down and each taken a deep breath than they receive a warning that the Thompkins Clinic has been broken into, at which point Tim seizes control of the Bat computer – much to Steph's irritation! – and prepares to set off for the city – but not before sarcastically calling Steph 'Batgirl' and mocking her vehicle, the Ricochet that was revealed in issue #7.
In the meantime, we cut to a city center diner where we witness Barbara Gordon and Detective Nick Gage flirting shamelessly over a cup of coffee and a 'simple meal' – certainly not a date apparently! – as Babs does her best to apologize that their last get-together didn't go particularly smoothly. The two are getting along famously when they, and other diners, realize that despite being on a variety of networks none of them is able to get a mobile signal. At the very moment Steph and Tim race past the restaurant, both Barbara and Detective Gage realize that something is amiss, make their excuses and leave.
Arriving at the Thompkins Clinic, Tim immediately engages a couple of tech assassins who he discovers had broken into the offices – as Stephanie watches on she reflects how they have each changed and wonders what's happened in Tim's life to change him.
Discovering that the assassins were trying to access Leslie's patient files, with a menacing threat that 'Leslie's the first' and with electronic communication – internet, mobile phone and the comms link to Oracle – down, Steph realizes it's up to the two of them to intervene as Tim in turn, reluctantly it must be said, accepts that he needs her help.
Out of their costumes, Stephanie and Tim attend the Gotham Metropolitan Museum of Art where there is a fundraiser for the Thompkins Clinic taking place. Concerned for Leslie's safety Tim decides this would be a good moment for his public return to Gotham City high-society – with the hope of creating a distraction that will allow Steph to 'extract' Leslie.
At the Batcave, meanwhile, and still struggling to access any form of electronic communication, Barbara is surprised to discover the Ricochet – minus it's owner/driver (pilot perhaps?) – labeled 'return to sender' with an accompanying hand-written note from Stephanie explaining what she and Tim are planning.
Returning to the fundraiser, Leslie and Wendy Harris are having a 'heart to heart' – Wendy feels she's being used to promote the work of the Thompkins clinic while Leslie reminds Wendy that she's an attractive, strong, young woman who needs to start believing in herself a little more – when Stephanie interrupts, takes Leslie by the hand and leads her away, explaining that she's in danger.
Reunited with Tim in a museum storeroom, and with Leslie concealed, the two come under attack from a dozen or so of Ra's assassins. With a reminder of past encounters as Spoiler and Robin, Stephanie and Tim engage the assassins and as the last assailant hits the ground Stephanie – in something of a daze at this point – inadvertently punches Tim! With the immediate danger averted Barbara reveals that she's managed to overcome the communication problems that the city has been experiencing thanks to a little help from 'a little bluebird'.
Later that night, back in costume and high up on the rooftops of Gotham City, Stephanie tells Tim that she wants him to know that she's a different woman that the one he used to know; that she's changed. As Tim takes her hand, Steph pulls back – and the two discover they are not alone …
With the previous story-arc in Batgirl #7 ending very much on a high – for me at least, I know not everyone felt the same – this issue, as a whole, delighted and disappointed me in equal measures.
On the face of it I thought the story was excellent – who couldn't enjoy Stephanie and Tim versus The League of Assassins? Scratch beneath the surface though and I felt that the story flattered somewhat to deceive. I enjoyed the overall look and feel of the book although I felt it suffered somewhat from a lack of consistency.
The relationship between Stephanie and Tim was, quite naturally, a core theme throughout and was written, I thought, very nicely – interactions between the two had an 'awkward' feel that I sure many of us can relate to from our own personal or professional lives: a sense of 'we ought to talk about it, but I really don't want to talk about it'. Likewise, I enjoyed the Spoiler/Robin flashback panels and thought these were used very well.
I felt we saw a different Stephanie, and a different Batgirl, as a result of Tim's involvement in the issue and having seen her grow into a confident, head-strong young woman through previous issues she seemed to lose some of her self-belief and independence while working with Tim – she almost became his 'sidekick' at one point when she stood and watched on through a window while Tim fought the assassins at the clinic. This isn't a criticism as such, it's just that I've enjoyed seeing Stephanie grow and through this issue she appeared, to me at least, to have taken a couple of steps backwards – many would say that's a true reflection on life, and I couldn't disagree.
Onto the 'look' of the book and I've said many, many times that probably more than anything else art is very much a subjective thing: who hasn't looked at a painting or sculpture at some time and thought 'very nice, but is it art?'. If I was coming to this book afresh I'd be very happy with how it looked but I'm not, and following Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott's superb art throughout the first seven issues, I couldn't help but make comparisons – I like the artwork in this book, I just didn't like it as much as in the previous issues. Furthermore, as I say, it felt inconsistent at times, never more so than with what I think the credits are referring to as the 'end sequence': I'm not sure why it was necessary, or desirable, to have guest artists but the change of style mid-story jarred with me.
In summary, did I enjoy this book? Absolutely. Did it leave me feeling a little dissatisfied? Yes, it did somewhat.
Would I recommend picking the book up? Yes, 100% yes.
Reviewed by Zaius