Posted by: erikmona | September 10, 2011

NEW 52 REVIEW 4: Batgirl #1

Batgirl #1
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Ardian Syaf

I don’t think I’ve ever read a Batgirl comic in my entire life, so much of the teeth-gnashing that’s gone on around the internet about the changes related to Batgirl has been completely lost on me. The last time I checked in with the character she was getting shot in the spine by the Joker in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s classic Batman: The Killing Joke one-shot way back in the late 1980s. I guess there’s been a recent incarnation of the character that a lot of folks really miss, but to them I say: Sorry. I don’t have any affection for the character, so I don’t really care.

Batgirl, daughter of Gotham City’s Commissioner Gordon has mythic resonance that Batgirl, daughter of fifth-string Batman villain Calendar Man just doesn’t for non-hardcore comics fans. So DC reverting the character to the original Barbara Gordon identity is an inevitable consequence of the publisher’s desire to make their books easier for the audience to understand and less cluttered with confusing, multi-generational continuity.

There’s a bit of a problem, though. After getting shot by the Joker, Barbara Gordon lost the ability to walk, and in the subsequent decades—under the guise of super-hacker hero-information network mastermind Oracle—she became a rare thing: An actual honest to goodness cool handicapped superhero. Sure, there’s on-again-off-again wheelchair-user Professor X, but beyond that, there’s some slim pickin’s. Rebooting Barbara Gordon as Batgirl deprives the DC Universe of its foremost handicapped role model and hero, potentially reversing decades of character development of Gordon as Oracle.

Much of that development came in the beloved crime series Birds of Prey, which teamed Oracle with Black Canary. As fate (or DC’s editorial board) would have it, the author of this new Barbara Gordon—the one with the potential to undo all that character development—turned out to be Gail Simone, the most famous (and probably most beloved) long-time writer of the Birds of Prey series.

Simone starts by not throwing everything out with the reboot. The Joker shooting her in the spine—indeed, a recreation of the actual panel in which it happened—looms large in the story, which depicts Barbara after her recent emergence from the chair. It’s not clear at this point how she was healed, but she’s definitely up and about, kicking bad guy ass like in the old days. It’s not clear if this Gordon ever adopted the Oracle persona. That, like the deal with her newly working spine, will likely be revealed later.

For now, we’re left with a fairly regular Bat_____ story in which the hero tracks down some bad guys, crashes through a window, and solves the situation before the police arrive. Simone’s thugs, it should be noted, are particularly nasty.

Here’s their leader’s opening monologue, delivered from the foot of the bed of a recently awoken couple in the middle of the night:

“Have you ever wanted something so badly that it was all you thought about, day and night? To be free, I mean unfettered, without any chains to hold us down. You can’t call it a dream, even, it’s a need. A necessity. So deep, it’s in the blood. It’s in the bones.”

“That’s how I feel about home invasion and murder.”

Yeesh.

Weaved into this fairly standard narrative is Gordon’s inner monologue about her life, alternatively joyful at leaping through city streets or revving up the Batcycle and haunted by the memory of the gunshot wound that put her in a wheelchair. There’s a particularly nice suggestion that Barbara Gordon has a perfect, photographic memory, which intensifies the impact of her troubled past.

There’s also some business about a cool-looking new villain called Mirror who’s hunting down folks who avoided near-death experiences (Barbara’s name is on the list!), a couple of fun scenes with Barbara’s loving father and her quirky new roommate, and an interesting final confrontation in which Batgirl’s fear of being shot results in tragic consequences.

The book is surprisingly violent. A cop gets shot in the face, another in the gut, and a bad guy gets tossed out a window. I thought there might be a chance that BatGIRL would be aimed at a younger audience, but that’s definitely not the case here.

Ardian Syaf clearly enjoys drawing Batgirl, and his title splash page is one of the best “pinup” shots of any of this week’s books. Although he manages to draw Batgirl in a number of interesting, acrobatic poses, the book lacks the sort of cheesecake approach that so many of the female-oriented Batman-family books tend to lavish in, which I mark as a good thing.

Simone and Syaf work well together to tell a smooth story that serves as an ideal introduction to the character. I didn’t enjoy the story in Batgirl #1 quite as much as I enjoyed Action Comics #1 and Animal Man #1, but like those issues, this one embraced the opportunities presented by the relaunch with aplomb. It’s worth reading, especially if you’re a big fan of the secondary and tertiary classic Batman characters.

Status: Safe.

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