Bryan Q. Miller's "Batgirl" has frequently surprised me in positive ways over the last (nearly) two years. And a few months ago, "Batgirl" #18 by Miller and Dustin Nguyen was a revelation: a nearly perfect comic, exceptional from top to bottom. Unfortunately this issue is pretty standard fare overall.
In "Batgirl" #21, Stephanie Brown (Batgirl) continues her not terribly interesting battle with some not terribly interesting villains. The Grey Ghost, a wannabe sidekick/pseudo stalker, shows up again mostly to annoy us, it seems; and we get a small side story about Proxy, who I'm sorry to say is still too new to the book to be of much interest. It's hard at this juncture to feel invested in her character, or her arc, and so the side story just comes off as a way to either get her out of the way, or the first building blocks to actually make us care about her. Either way it isn't especially compelling.
Miller has done wonders with Stephanie Brown over the last two years, really finding a great voice for a character that I've never particularly cared for, but this issue is unfortunately mediocre. While Miller usually writes Brown as a great light-hearted jokester, full of life and fun, that's strangely lacking here. The villains also lack depth, though I appreciate Miller's attempt to build Brown's rogue's gallery, which is critical to giving the book the weight and balance it needs. I don't know if Miller is doing this deliberately or not, but the parallels between The Grey Ghost as an annoying wannabe sidekick with Stephanie, since that's a role she once filled as well, are a bit obvious and so far, not particularly insightful. It only serves to remind me how annoying that aspect of Brown's character once was, which after the great rehab Miller has done with her, feels like step backwards.
Nguyen's pencils (strangely mis-credited on the cover) are solid and enjoyable overall, as always. Some areas looked a bit rushed and there was certainly none of the magnificence of Nguyen's issue #18, but when you've got Nguyen you'd have to be an idiot to complain. The man can draw some damn fine comics. His work continues to be breezy and loose, without ever becoming fussy or overly complicated. And he finds great moments to create powerful iconic superhero imagery, which, like a rogue's gallery, is something "Batgirl" definitely needs. The cover, also by Nguyen, is nothing less than stunning.
Nguyen is a great fit for this book, and a coup. Miller is lucky to have him, and I hope he'll continue to bring his A-game while he has one of the best pencilers in the business at his disposal. And Stephanie Brown is lucky to have them both.