The New 52: Batgirl #1
I don’t know how damning this is as a comic book nerd, but I’ve never had an affinity for Barbra Gordon, Batgirl. Barbra Gordon as the Oracle being something totally different, in her original form Gordon evolved from a swinging mod-librarian more excited about accessorizing than fighting crime to one of Batman’s many interchangeable sidekicks, only she was a girl and the daughter of Jim Gordon, so she had certain advantages, story-wise, that both Nightwing and Robin didn’t have–imagine the chief of Gotham P.D.’s daughter being captured by the police and revealed as a vigilante! Of course, the Joker shot Barbara Gordon in the spine, paralyzing her from 1988 to 2011, a remarkable era of consistency in a medium that resurrects characters who didn’t die violently enough in the past.
With Batgirl #1, that’s over, and all of Barbara’s post-Killing Joke stories seem to have been tossed out the window. The Joker still shoots her, the gunshot still paralyzes her, but after three years she’s able to walk again. Gail Simone doesn’t put much effort in explaining the whys and wherefores of this development in Barbara’s life, but she doesn’t exactly need to. Like Grant Morrison in Action Comics #1, Simone is less concerned with history and more concerned with character building. So it’s not important to Gordon why she’s able to walk again, but what she’s going to do now that she can. The answer, obviously, is to go back out on the streets and fight crime.
Things are hardly perfect on her first night out, however. She’s rusty, prone to error, and almost gets herself and her perp killed. What’s obvious, however, is that Batgirl will soon have more pressing issues than the local murder gang. There’s a supervillain going around town calling himself Mirror. He’s none too pleased with individuals who should have died in random accidents and, like death (the metaphorical concept of death, I suppose) in the Final Destination movies, he takes it upon himself to finish nature’s job. This suburbanite watering his grass, for instance:
A confrontation between Mirror and Batgirl is inevitable (Barbara Gordon is on his list), and when it does happen, we find that Batgirl is very much afraid of what should happen to her if she is shot through the spine again. This…is actually rather shocking, as it’s not everyday that a superhero demonstrates fear of anything, let alone something as practical as a gun pointed at her stomach. Most superheroes, you will recall, have some sort of weakness. Superman has kryptonite. Green Lantern has yellow. Batman is merely human. But these guys charge headlong into threatening situations without thinking twice and, to be frank, it’s a little boring. Barbara Gordon goes into situations where guys have guns even though she’s terrified of guns and, though one is pointed right at her, she wills herself to continue. If every issue has a moment where a bad guy gets the drop on her and she freezes up, it’ll get old quickly, but it’s nice to know that Gordon isn’t just headed back to the field, carefree, like nothing ever happened. She’s got scars, and she’ll need to battle those.
Mirror, though, is kind of a lame villain. Beyond the awful name and his spike-knuckled gauntlets, the guy is dressed in black and kills people in a decidedly 1990s way, with as much violence as possible. This may be Simone’s intent, since, as the former curator of Women in Refrigerators, she knows a thing or two about 90s violence, a lot of which can trace its roots back to Moore’s Killing Joke (and his Watchmen, and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns). Looking at the guy stroll through a hospital blasting cops in half is a stark reminder of what I dislike about comic books, and while Simone does it well enough and, I’m sure, is pushing Mirror in a logical direction, something about the later realism of his killings takes a lot of the fun out of this issue.
As far as the art goes, I can’t imagine that Batgirl’s costume stays the way it is for long–the only thing here not covered in intricate line-work is the cape. Adrian Sayf does a good job with it, though, as Batgirl is never portrayed inconsistently. Eventually, though, I suspect a lot of that detail will go away, like when Spider-Man’s costume lost half of its webbing when Steve Ditko left the book. There are moments when the action from panel to panel is so cluttered that the backgrounds melt away into solid color, which is a little annoying, but I suppose that can’t be helped and nothing gets lost along the way.
It’ll be interesting to see where they go with Barbara, who moves out of her dad’s place and into a new apartment with an activist roommate, the Craigslist special. Simone is one of the best mainstream superhero authors when it comes to depicting women (this is a skill many comic scribes lack) and shortcomings, and it’s clear that Barbara has a lot to deal with. If she’s allowed to deal with it, this’ll be a successful book, and one of my favorites of DC’s relaunch. If she’s a free-swinging airhead this time next year, consider it a lost opportunity.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
Paul Arrand Rodgers has this blog, and that's about it.