Batman #28: The Bluebird of Harper-ness (CONTAINS AT LEAST ONE SPOILER)

 Oh Bruce, you say that to all your future sidekicks.

Oh, Bruce. You say that to all your future meat shields... I mean, partners.


Ever since DC Comics (isn't "DC Comics" "Detective Comics Comics"?) decided to initiate a poorly-planned mess of a reboot in 2011, creating the universe of the "New 52" (or Prime Earth), which combined the already existing DC universe with that of Vertigo and Wildstorm (only to largely dispose of those elements later), it hasn't been easy to find solid, compelling DC titles that wouldn't vary in quality from week to week. After all, they didn't just restart the timeline, they skull fucked continuity with a diamond dick and blew their load through the back of its head. The Teen Titans' history? Gone. Superman? He wears a t-shirt and jeans and then switches to battle armor, all the while romancing Wonder Woman (he's no longer married and was in fact never romantically involved with Lois Lane). Also, he's kind of a jerk now. Wally West who? Cassandra Cain who? Donny Troy who? Also, the Amazons rape men and throw out the male babies (sort of a reverse China). Amanda Waller is thin and attractive, somebody thought Cyborg would make a good Justice League member, Billy Batson is a little prick, the Justice Society lives in a parallel world again, Roy Harper wears a trucker hat, and nobody's quite sure what happened and what didn't happen in the past, which has been relegated to a six year time frame.


Batman's legendary hatred for punk rock music is replaced with an undying rage for the equine.


Batman titles are no different, in the sense that they've also been affected by editorial mandates regarding the timeline and characters. With a Batman that hasn't been around long, and yet has still had several sidekicks named "Robin" (the latest, Damian Wayne, was brutally murdered in the pages of Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated), it seems as though the title of "Boy Wonder" has taken quite a hit. Dick Grayson became Robin at sixteen now, Jason Todd was roughly the same age, Tim Drake was technically only "Red Robin" (what difference does that make if he was still Batman's partner?), and to the answer of "Who's going to fill the R slot next?", I might answer, "Who cares? Robin is a joke now." Not a joke because he's a brightly colored child following a bat-themed ninja crimefighter, but because Robins now have a shelf life of about a year at the most, so whoever's next isn't bound to last very long. The new timeline is extremely vexing. 
Pictured: Total bullshit
Fortunately, the main Batman title, at least, is saved through the writing talent of one Scott Snyder, scribe of the Eisner Award-winning horror comic American Vampire, who, along with artist Greg Capullo, and several other talented artists and co-writers, has given one home run story arc after another (though perhaps Death of the Family was more of a triple). And if you can grit your teeth through some of the timeline changes DC insisted on, I think you'll have trouble finding a better cape book out today. 
Uh, for, uh, the most part. 
However, perhaps owing to the fact that Damian Wayne is now deceased and Nightwing's identity has been exposed (in the pages of Geoff Johns' multi-part event, Forever Evil), a new Batman sidekick has popped up in the pages of Snyder's Batman (v2), in issue #28, a sneak peek into the upcoming weekly series Batman: Eternal. And this new sidekick is none other than minor supporting character Harper Row, introduced at the beginning of Snyder's run on the book as a fan of Batman who wants to help him after he saved her and her brother. Harper, under the name Bluebird, assists Batman in inflitrating the headquarters of Gotham City's newest kingpin of crime, who turns out to be Selina Kyle, formerly Catwoman. She arms herself with a gun that fires "shock pellets", and appears to have received some training in combat. Selina isn't impressed. But I am, given Harper Row's story thus far. 
At first glance, Harper Row seems very, well, "fanfiction-y", for lack of better term. Many people have accused her of being a Mary Sue (but don't get me started on that bullcrap), and at first she seemed like a pretty poor substitution for the female sidekicks the Dark Knight lost in the reboot, Cassandra Cain (Batgirl/Blackbat), and Stephanie Brown (Spoiler/Robin/Batgirl). In her first appearance alone, in Batman (v2) #7, she saves Batman's life with just a car battery and some jumper cables after his narrow escape from the lair of the dangerous Court of Owls. Batman immediately recognizes her, and rebuffing her, is on his not-so-merry way. Looking very much like a goth/punk hybrid alternative girl, she utters the phrase: "Epic Bat-Fail" and made anyone with two brain cells to rub together slap their head in disapproval. In an otherwise brilliant storyline, this seemed like cheap pandering to today's hip youth (though a tad late for that particular scene). She has purple hair, a nose ring, used the "epic" meme, and later, we find out she a gay brother that's the target of hate crimes and bullied by their criminal father. It 's like an afterschool special about tolerance and sibling bonds waiting to happen. But as TV Tropes puts it, some anvils need to be dropped, and more power to both Harper and Cullen.
The original line was, "Can I has sidekick privilege, cis scum?"
Wanting to assist Batman in his war on crime to thank him for saving her and her brother, Harper begins to track down the Caped Crusader and like a guardian angel, assist him. In Batman (v2) #12, we see her helping Batman in a fight with Tigershark, draining the water out of a sewer tunnel. Later, Batman tells her to leave him alone, but she returns in (v2) #18, trying to curb Batman's recklessness in the wake of Damian's death. It's here that she's armed with what she attempted to use to ward off street toughs before: a taser (albeit a souped up one this time), and tries to pull Batman back from the brink. While Batman initially disapproves (and punches her in the face), eventually he thanks her for reaching out to him.

"Well, maybe if I turn it into a gun..."
After aiding Batman in his fight with Penumbra in John Layman's Detective Comics (v2) #21, Harper disappeared for a while. With Forever Evil going on, as well as story arcs involving Clayface, Wrath, and Man-Bat, the Batman franchise seemed like it was too busy for another Harper Row adventure. With Snyder in Zero Year mode, Harper only got a back-up story set when she was but a tot (Batman v2 #25). But in December of 2013, Snyder teased a character design sheet drawn by artist Dustin Nguyen, that appeared to be Harper in a costume resembling Nightwing's.
Nightwing fans lost their shit. Nightwing's status has been in doubt ever since his capture and exposure by the Injustice Society from Earth-3, and solicitations of future issues of both Forever Evil and Nightwing (which is coming to an end) hint at the ultimate fate of Dick Grayson. Fans of Nightwing suspected that Snyder intended to replace Dick Grayson as Nightwing with Harper Row, a character that's only been around a couple of years. This only aggravated a lot of people's dubious feelings about Snyder's pet character, leading to much furor, riots, burning of effigies, twelve murders, citywide arsons, streets running red with blood, and at least one military-launched police action that still rocks the nation to this day. In other words, nerds bitched on the internet about a longtime hero suddenly being replaced with a rookie that, to many, was a Jenny-come-lately. It's one thing to have Harper become Robin, some argued, but Nightwing? Blasphemy! 
Oh, look, it's the Masquerade Ball at Comic Con!

Fortunately, that was not the case when #28 came long, flashing forward to a time sometime during the upcoming Eternal weekly, where when Gotham is under cerfew, Batman and Harper as Bluebird (again, armed with electricity), infiltrate the club that the big crime boss runs. Harper mentions offhandedly that her brother has been "infected", perhaps hinting at her motivation to put on a mask. Bluebird has a costume that is certainly reminiscent of Nightwing's former costume color scheme and has a similar ensignia. However, at least the storm of rage has, for the most part, subsided, even if Nightwing's future is still in doubt.


 Shock and awe tactics.


The question, of course, is what do I personally think of Harper Row and her new role of Bluebird? Well, I like Harper Row. She's spunky, in her own way, or at least enthusiastic, and while a little jaded by certain aspects of her life and Gotham City, obviously has a deep respect and admiration for Batman. Far from just being a Batman fangirl, she also brings some of her technical skills to the plate and a resourcefulness and knowledge of the literal underground. All right, she's still a bit of a question mark, and has all the markings of Snyder's desire to be socially relevant. She's more Suicide Girl than Batgirl, and the gun makes me nervous (though it is a shock cannon), but I find her pretty interesting and potentially a great character, with plenty room for growth.

Sorry, Cullen. Tim Drake doesn't go that way. And by "that way", I mean being relevant at all in the New 52. 

And you know what? I like her nose ring. I like her affection for her brother. I like her brother! I like her desire to help Batman at his lowest. And in issue #28 she kicks ass and makes me smile. I already like her better than Stephanie Brown.


Pfft, Stephanie Brown. Chuck Dixon-created or not, I never liked that useless git. I hope we never see that annoying little bitch aga---


Oh. Hi, Steph. Uh... yikes, this is awkward. Epic Bat-Fail.


So... seen Cass around anywhere?




(Batman v2 #28, written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, with art by Dustin Nguyen, is available now from DC Comics)


- Penguin Truth



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