Batman Confidential #17–21 by Fabian Nicieza and Kevin Maguire
I was tempted to label the writer as ‘Author Not Important’, which is not a slight on Nicieza’s abilities but because the reason to read this book is the wonderful art of Kevin Maguire. His rendering – detailed but with strong clear lines – has always been a delight and his abilities have only got stronger, staying in the same style because it works so well. This isn’t to say he’s stagnated but he hasn’t experimented unnecessarily with a winning formula.
The plot is quite straightforward – this is the story of the Barbara Gordon Batgirl with Catwoman: Batgirl has borrowed her father’s notebook, which has been stolen by Catwoman, and Batgirl has to get it back (her father is Commissioner Gordon, and the notebook contains cryptic notes on all his police work). First one has the notebook, then the other, as they chase each other across Gotham. The most notorious incident is in the third issue, when Batgirl has to follow Catwoman into The Gotham City Hedonist Society – which has a strict policy of ‘No Attire’, meaning lots of suitably placed obstacles (limbs, bags, a bowl of fruit) to keep this a family book.
Nicieza does a professional job, although the narration from the two lead characters does get a little twee at times (and Batgirl’s is done in a font that makes it look like it’s written in a diary, which seems an odd choice), but it is all about Maguire’s art. He is know for his facial expressions, which sell the comedy of the situations brilliantly, but he also draws beautiful and curvy women, which means a five-issue story about Batgirl and Catwoman fighting each other is a perfect vehicle for his talents.
Splash pages, double-page spreads, multi-panelled pages, dynamic action sequences, sexy ladies, the expressive faces (the characters display the emotions they are feeling, rather than just clenched teeth or smiles – it’s quite a talent, and something that’s not done enough), the humour; Maguire does it all with skill and exuberance and love of his job. His Batman is suitably dour and, in the fifth issue where Batgirl has to go into Arkham Asylum (which is perhaps where Nicieza takes it too far), he does a wonderfully creepy and maniacal Joker – and all you can see of him are his eyes through the cell door.
I will never tire of Maguire’s art – he is on my list of Comic Book Artists to write about in my themed blog topic – because he makes every book he draws so much better. From his great work on the Justice League with Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis, to the Defenders mini-series, to his own work Strikeback! and Trinity Angels, his art never falters in quality and makes you happy just looking at it. I wish he was more prolific, but perhaps that is the balance – he does the work he enjoys at his pace, which means he only produces brilliance when we see it. I know that was the case here. No offence to Nicieza, but Maguire is why you will read this book.