SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Batgirl #1

A comic review article by: The Firing Squad
Barbara Gordon got her legs back, and she's using it to their fullest potential: by beating up trick 'r' treaters. Also, she gets a roommate!

Rafael Gaitan:
Karyn Pinter:
Ray Tate:




Rafael Gaitan:


Gail Simone has been tasked with perhaps the most difficult job in the DC reboot. While there are a few baffling titles, some that have all the pedigree in the world, and some that have to work a little harder for recognition, no character in the new universe has more eyes focused on her than the beloved Batgirl. Long a point of contention for arguments of feminism and the disabled in comics, when the news broke that Barbara Gordon would be returning to her mantle (stripped from her by a bullet from the Joker's gun in Batman: The Killing Joke ), the Internet set itself on fire with arguments. Simone, herself a writer who came to prominence through the blogosphere, has always been a vocal proponent of Barbara as both Batgirl and as Oracle. When she was announced as being the creative helm of this story, I was more excited than most, being a huge fucking fan of her work.



Batgirl #1 is not an amazing issue, nor is it a terrible one. Barbara's return to being Batgirl was hyped so much, and in the issue is treated rather matter-of-fact. The biggest argument, whether The Killing Joke is still canon, is addressed succinctly: it is, but she got better. This issue feels a bit too grim and serious for what one would expect from a Batgirl title. I'm usually for grim and gritty, but that's what we have the Bat-Man for: the fun of reading Batgirl is that… well, that it was fun. Simone can do gritty and fun with fascinating ease, as Secret Six has proven, but the images are incongruous -- on the cover we have a smiling Batgirl, and on the credits page she could not be more elated to be back, but then the story takes a sudden turn for the dark. Mark Waid's Daredevil has proven you can have a vibrant, excitable hero without losing any gravitas or significance, but with Barbara's return being so sudden, it feels like too much too soon. A lot of the issue's focus is on Barbara's legs, including having her several times concentrate on them, or having passing references to being shaky or needing to stretch -- a conversation between her and James Gordon feels too forced because of this motif, and Barbara and James' relationship is usually one of the more fascinating parts of those characters.

While I admire Simone's inclusion of a menacing serial killer as an attempt to bring some more severity to the title, it strikes me as a bit too much "Batgirl R.I.P," down to the masked and caped killer who is mostly gloves and a weapon, much like Morrison used Dr. Hurt in "The Black Glove" -- when asked "Who the devil," the villain replies, "Precisely." By no means am I accusing Simone of ripping off or watering down Morrison (okay, Internet?) -- it just feels like an idea that is a touch too similar for two wildly different characters.



That said, the motivations for the The Mirror and his list are revealed gradually, and it does hint at a much larger game that has quite some time to unfurl. Simone and Ardian Syaf work really well together, however- his clean yet kinetic style really fits the way Simone's energetic take on the character. There's plenty of action to be had, including a neat gang of killers who wear awesomely homemade monster costumes, and Simone's talent gives her title a voice much removed from Bryan Q. Miller's run. Her sense of humor runs throughout these pages, which gives them a brisk clip for the most part. I thoroughly enjoy the amount of story and sequence that get packed into these 20 pages -- it doesn't feel incomplete or lacking, like Justice League #1 did. My major complaint can be summed as this: this issue feels like it needed to have a sense of importance, when in actuality its obsession with doing so saps some of the spirit. Barbara's an old friend we've been waiting to see for a while- we're happy to have her back, so she doesn't need to be so somber. While Batgirl #1 isn't a perfect issue, it's assuredly a fine start, and I have all the trust in the world that the series will find its footing.



Rafael Gaitan was born in 1985, but he belongs to the '70s. He is a big fan of onomatopoeia, being profane and spelling words right on the first try. Rafael has a hilariously infrequent blog and writes love letters to inanimate objects as well as tweets of whiskey and the mysteries of the heart at @bearsurprise. He ain't got time to bleed.



Karyn Pinter:

There are so many flexible things in the DC universe, death and severe injury being a few of them. Batman had his back broken and managed to come back from it, he's also died and traveled through -- even Jason Todd was blown up and still that guy couldn't be kept down. Eventually he was killed at the behest of the fans. Characters come and go from the hospital and the grave like it's their commute to work. Nothing is permanent, one just has to wait it out for a year and all will be back to normal, this is the general rule of things in comic book land.



So then imagine the surprise when Barbara Gordon was shot by the Joker, crippled and confined to a wheelchair and didn't get back up. For 22 years. That's practically forever, and I think damn near everyone was in awe of DC ability to keep Barbara Gordon crippled and not just dunk her into the Lazarus Pit. This option was brought up so I've heard and it was vetoed because the fans liked Babs as Oracle. Stepping back to look at the bigger picture I agree with that. As Oracle, Barbara got to use her smarts so much more than she did as Batgirl. The gunshot that crippled her only made her a stronger character. Women usually play the piece of ass in a tight fitting suit who run around as the sidekick. They possess average knowledge, but are generally lead by their bigger, stronger male counterparts. When Barbara became Oracle, she became the go to girl for all the info, she knew everything, Batman would have been lost without her. She was the voice inside everyone's head guiding them, viewing the world they walked in; she played a godlike role.

Now, 22 years later, Barbara Gordon is Batgirl again and I've got so many mixed feelings about it. First of all, Barbara will always, always be Batgirl to me and to so many others and to see that mane of red hair under the cowl again sets my heart aflutter. But after reading this new first issue it seems Barbara has lost her strength of character. All that hard nosed Oracle attitude is now missing because she's hasn't had that trauma of life in a wheelchair. She's still has that good ol' Batgirl gumption, but it's the hard fought bitterness that made Barbara Gordon evolve into a grown up.



She has doubts and fears and even freezes up when a gun is pointed at her. The events of The Killing Joke have still happened, but have been altered so that Barbara only spent three years in a wheel chair and has recovered, except for her unsettled fear of getting shot again. This won't work. Plot-wise I get it, the gun was pointed right at the same spot where she was shot by Joker, but it bothered me. As a crime fighter in Gotham City getting shot at is a night ritual. It's the same as if you hate vacuuming; you're not going to cut it as a maid. I really don't know what I was expecting from the comic, it's a bit of a heavy situation -- basically undoing comic history and thrusting a character back into a role that had all but been forgotten. I think that's my problem with the story. We've gone back in time and have been asked to forget all we knew. Barbara had changed for the better but that doesn't apply anymore. That's my problem.

But shall I get to the actual story now? Gail Simone has stepped up as writer and this just sent Wonder Woman flashbacks running through my mind. Here I am ragging on Batgirl tripping out over being shot and I'm having my own PTSD about a bad run on Wonder Woman. You know I can forgive Gail Simone to some extent on her Wonder Woman, at least it wasn't absolute crap like Straczynski's nail-in-the-coffin run.



While I liked the general story involving The Mirror, the Final Destination inspired villain, it's some of Simone's dialog and internal monologues I don't care for. They make Barbara sound kind of naïve and immature. You know what I did like though? The artwork. Liked it lots with the great facial details and the expressions on characters' faces where really well conveyed. Colors as well, I'm a big sucker for coloring in comics. Ulises Arreola did marvels with the tones of the comic. I flip though the comic from time to time just to look at Batgirl's purple cape.

I guess I should summarize here, since that's a whole ton a stuff to sift through for any sort of meaning. For those of you who read through my babble, I commended you, and for those of you that made through myself and Ray Tate, you need a medal. You know what, I'm just harsh and cynical and I love tearing into DC, but Batgirl wasn't horrible. We've all seen, read, or heard of worse, let's face it. I think this was just such a big move, next to the end of Action Comics and Detective Comics and their renumbering. Giving Barbara Gordon her legs back after two decades is a shocking and uneasy thing. It's that proverbial knife's edge situation. People loved her as Batgirl and people loved her as Oracle, so no matter what one group or the other isn't going to be as pleased as the other. I, for one, am happy to have her back in her proper tights and I'd like to see how DC handles her big return -- but just don't cripple her again; the kid's been through a lot.



Karyn Pinter has been writing for Comics Bulletin since 2008. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and was one of those kids who was raised by TV, babysat by the likes of James Bond, Mary Poppins and Darth Vader. In college she spent her days critically analyzing Dorothy's need to befriend a lion, scarecrow and man of tin and writing papers on how truth, justice and the American way ultimately lead to Superman's death.

Karyn gladly accepts bribes in the form of carnitas burritos and/or Catwoman paraphernalia.




Ray Tate:

Opening with a stylish murder committed by a new Big Bad that's staged with all the flair of a Sergio Martino giallo, Batgirl segues into a home invasion thwarted by Barbara Gordon not just walking but vaulting, kicking and fighting as the Darknight Damsel, the one true Batgirl. I've waited 22 years for this. I wasn't disappointed.

Simone cleverly observes that The Killing Joke was a home invasion, and it's fitting that this crime should be Batgirl's first case after a three-year hiatus. That's right. According to the new continuity, Barbara was confined to a wheelchair for only three years, presumably she also performed her duties as Oracle within that time. Hope that's good enough for the Wheelies, the fully mobile fans who wanted to keep Babs crippled. Oh, no, wait. I actually don't care what the Wheelies think. In fact, the Wheelies can suck it. Boo-ya!



The reduction in years allows Simone to bestow greater upper body strength to Barbara's arms and torso while preserving the muscle tissue in her legs, which would have atrophied in twenty-two years and made her more than merely "rusty" when using the gams. Adrian Syaf, Vincent Cifuentes and Ulises Arreola incidentally spotlight numerous visuals on Batgirl's legs. She uses them for trademark kicks, of course, but she also swings with them through the air and anchors them when performing a particularly awesome martial arts move in which she uses leverage and her foe's strength against him. Thanks to Batgirl, a heinous crime turns into a hopeful incident tricked out with Gothamites happy to be rescued by the Queen of the Batman Family .

Fetchingly outfitted, the accurately blue-eyed, crimson-haired Batgirl doesn't just look and fight like Batgirl, Simone characterizes Batgirl as Batgirl. She remembers her eidetic memory and fosters in her an upbeat attitude. She even makes her kind of hip, peppering her dialogue with some sixties grooviness that fits the history of the character.

When referring to her quarry, Babs states, in the narrative, "Found you didn't I? Oh yes I did, babies. How sad for you." When pulling her Batcycle out of its hideout in her van, she quips, "Come to momma, sweetheart." Batgirl has been associated with a motorcycle since the '60s television series, and it's fantastic that this aspect returns with the Daredoll Detective. Then we have a blast from the past with this: "Heh. Oh, my." The home invader protests. What is Batgirl laughing at? "You, little man." That "little man" comment was commonplace in the '70s. Batgirl used the phrase when disposing of the General's Batgirl-assassin, just before she saves Batman's life in a memorable Bronze Age issue of Detective Comics.



As much as I loved Batgirl, Simone's understanding of police and medical protocols needs improvement. No doctor is going to allow the police to wait in a patient's room, even if that patient is a felon. There's also no reason for the detectives to wait. They don't need information or even a confession. There's plenty of evidence for the DA to prosecute, and Batgirl rounded up the whole gang. So the detectives being in the room is just an ill-thought plot convenience.

Simone's dialogue-parceling for the detectives creates an inelegant and inaccurate portrayal: "Precinct sixty-three, we have an emergency here, repeat, we have..." That's just wrong. A cop reports to central dispatch. A detective would only call a specific precinct in a non-emergency. Instead, a police officer would identify himself to central, report the situation and request back-up. The dialogue of the two detectives should have been combined to read something like this: "Central, this is Officer John Smith. Shots fired at Sacred Hands! Shots fired!" He wouldn't actually need to call for backup since "shots fired" is the near equivalent to "officer down."

The detective's partner accuses Batgirl when our hero freezes at the sight of a gun pointed at her gut, the exit wound would be out the spine: "You let him kill that man. You just watched him die. Murderer."



That's ridiculous. A police officer would never expect a civilian, costumed or not, to place her life in jeopardy even if such a sacrifice would save another. The detective's overreaction was meant to accent the drama, but the scene would have played out better without a word. Then you would have seen the villain with with guns standing by the window, Batgirl still frozen after blaming herself -- a perfectly legitimate response given her nature -- and the detective pulling out a gun presumably to arrest Batgirl.

A pair of badly written third-tier cast members doesn't really mean much when the rest of the book is so well done. In the debut issue of Batgirl, Simone exploits the Billionaire's Boys Club as her model for the home invaders and justifiably throws a perfectly characterized Batgirl at 'em for a strong integrated centerpiece to an equally potent chapter in what looks to be a powerful story arc involving no mean fiend.



Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups. In the POBB, as it was affectionately known, Ray reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.

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