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COMIC BOOK REVIEW

BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL #20

Author: John Bierly
Sunday, August 24, 2008

FROM DC COMICS: "In part 4 of the 5-part tale ;The Bat and The Cat,' Batman enters the fray as Batgirl and Catwoman continue their first, explosive confrontation over Commissioner Gordon's stolen notebook!"

"The Cat and the Bat" part four (in issue #20 of BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL) adds the other Bat I've been waiting for, but after asking for him for three issues I'm not sure it needed him after all.

So far we've had a fun (if not frustratingly inconsistent) run with a tale about the first run-in Barbara Gordon's Batgirl ever had with Catwoman. They've traded verbal quips, seen each other naked, gotten shot at (and in the case of Catwoman, gotten shot), and tussled with Russian mob muscle over Commissioner Gordon's secret notebook, which Catwoman stole to use as a bargaining chip to rescue her friend who's being used as a sex slave by the Russians.

And that's one of the inconsistencies from writer Fabian Nicieza that's bothered me throughout this storyline. It's one thing to use women as sex objects for laughs (like he did in the first two issues) and then another thing entirely to portray a woman literally being used as a sex object by brutal captors (as he did in part three and continues to do here in part four). The tone just doesn't match, you know what I mean? Furthermore, I feel like there's too much sexual violence against women in comics anyway. I know far too many girls who've gone through the real thing, and it makes me queasy to read about it in the very same comics I read as an escape. Especially when something so serious and vile is trading pages with flippant slap-and-tickle between Batgirl and Catwoman.

Am I getting too old? Am I turning into a prude? Probably. But it bothers me. So there. :)

Right from the start in this issue, there's more fun dialogue in the form of Barbara Gordon's remembrances of past embarrassing moments. The idea of Babs dropping her valedictorian speech and barking a curse word into the microphone during her high school graduation fits the character and is hilarious, and so are Selina's barbs to Batman about Babs on the following pages. I'd love to quote it all but I won't spoil it for you. Not even the freckles line.

There's also a lot of fun here in the ways in which Nicieza and artist Kevin Maguire -- who's particularly talented at conveying facial expressions -- portray Barbara's disgust at not only the way Catwoman talks to Batman but also surprise at how he lets her get away with it.

It's also a lot of fun when The Riddler shows up to help the Russians crack the code of Gordon's notebook, and there's a really nice dialogue nod to CATWOMAN: WHEN IN ROME which had Selina reluctantly teaming up with The Riddler to solve a mystery in Italy. (It takes place during BATMAN: DARK VICTORY, which is the sequel to BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN, and, like those books, it's essential Bat-reading.) In just a few short sentences, Nicieza totally nails the Riddler's character. Well done.

But other characters don't fare so well. It didn't sit well with me that Batman would allow the huge Russian strongman to beat the hell out of Catwoman because he's working the "bigger picture"; Batman would have found a way to protect Selina AND still get what he needed because, well, he's Batman.

Similarly, Selina wouldn't leave Barbara to suffer the same fate her friend Elena did. She'd have found a way to help. Then again, she probably assumed that Batman would take care of Barbara and she was indeed trying to get Elena to safety, so I guess it makes sense after all, but I still felt like that moment was more a convenience of writing than it was an honest character portrayal.

I got over it in a hurry when Batman did some typical Batman stuff and that you'll enjoy seeing when you read the issue.

Just as the previous arc of BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL (called "Wrath Child") brought in the BATMAN BEGINS element of Gordon consoling a young Bruce Wayne the night his parents were murdered, this arc brings in the Narrows and places Arkham Asylum there. That's where Barbara has to go to follow The Riddler and the notebook while Batman goes after the other Russians.

But as soon as Batgirl gets into Arkham ...

Nah. That would be telling. Check it out for yourself. I will say, however, that this story arc looks like it's going to get even more schizophrenic, with a final issue that won't match what was going on in the previous issues. We'll find out next month.

Other than some tonal inconsistencies that are really bugging me, this story line has had lots of entertaining dialogue from Nicieza and lots of fun art by Maguire. The colors by ILL are bright and fit the tone of the sillier stuff quite well, and inker Sal Cipriano has done a really nice job of giving the words in each girl's thought bubbles a distinct visual style.

If you haven't been buying the individual issues of this, I'd suggest picking up a trade when it gets collected, because I think this storyline will read better that way.

One more issue to go! We'll talk more about it then.

On a side note, I saw THE DARK KNIGHT (for the sixth time) on Navy Pier in Chicago last weekend, which is where the ferry boats leave from in the film. Awesome! -- John Bierly

Indiana native John Bierly started writing for publications when he was 17 and never stopped.
His favorite things in life are family and friends, concerts, burgers, Mountain Dew, and, of course...
...THE BATMAN!
You can read his blog at JOHNBIERLY.COM.

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