Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: Batgirl #1 (2011)

So let’s briefly talk about Barbara Gordon.  Like with Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown I have a lot to say about this character and her story, but it really deserves a post of its own so I’ll be as brief as I can.  

Barbara is the second Batgirl but the first serious attempt of giving Batman a competent female ally who wears the symbol of the Bat (The previous Bat-Girl, and her aunt the first Bat-Woman, was little more than bumbling sidekick).  Barbara, on top of being the daughter of Batman’s longtime police contact Jim Gordon, was not a teenage sidekick but rather a full grown woman, with a PhD. in library science (I think.  Feel free to correct me in her degree was in) and a skilled fighter who operated without Batman’s permission or training; she didn’t need either, mainly because she’s goddamned awesome.  She even retired as Batgirl after years of service to use her abilities for other, more practical pursuit (Yes that happened).  However in the 1988 comic The Killing Joke she is shot in the stomach by the Joker and permanently paralyzed from the waist down.  But because, as we established, Miss Gordon is a badass she soon becomes Oracle, an information broker and world class hacker who aides various superheroes in the war on crime (And eventually establishing a network between them) and begins employing agents to fight the forces of evil on a global scale, the most famous of whom were the Birds of Prey (Including her best friends Black Canary, The Huntress, and Lady Blackhawk).  Over the years she has become not only one of the very few disabled superheroes in comics but frankly she was more effective, and invaluable, in this role than she ever was as Batgirl.  Unfortunately, for reasons seemingly due to low sales of Stephanie Brown’s Batgirl title and the idea that they wanted to bring familiarity for casual readers back to the book in the Great DC Reboot the powers that be in DC Comics decided to return Barbara to her classic role as Batgirl, restoring her legs in the process, in Batgirl #1.

The trade-off is that it’s being written by Gail Simone who is one of the best working writers in comic books today, having written Secret Six and being most famous for runs on Birds of Prey.  There is also art by Adrian Syaf (Pencils) and Vicente Cifuentes (Inks).  This issue is titled "Shattered".

Like with my Spider-Man: One More Day review this is a pretty controversial comic but I want to focus on whether this is a good comic on its own merits rather than because of my personal feelings on who is or who isn’t Batgirl.  Still I do want to very quickly state my opinion on the matter before we get into the review: Yes, I agree that Barbara Gordon has no business returning to the role of Batgirl.  While I’m not happy they decided to restore the use of her legs I can live with that aspect but de-aging her (Which they have done) and putting her back in that identity feels like a straight up demotion.  You likely wouldn’t see Dick Grayson return as Robin or Wally West return as (Ugh) Kid Flash (At least freaking I hope not. Has Wally been accounted for yet?).  Barbara graduated from being Batgirl a long time ago and moved on to bigger, better, and more important things as Oracle and I find it a bit ridiculous that I’m being expected to take her seriously here.  She used to wage cyber-warfare on global threats and use her genius to regularly help save whole nations and even the world.  Now she’s gone back to fighting muggers and gangbangers on the streets of one city? Please.

Oracle reacts to Batgirl #1
 Actual review after the jump.



Babs celebrates the use of her legs by kicking ass
It has been three years since Barbara Gordon was shot by the Joker and left paralyzed.  However now she has regained the use of her legs and sets out to reclaim the mantle of Batgirl and resume her war on crime in Gotham City.   As she gets back into the swing of hands-on crime fighting a mysterious masked man calling himself the Mirror is killing people on his list one by one…and the newly unretired Babs in on the hit list.

There’s a good reason a lot of people were somewhat relieved by the fact that Gail Simone was put in charge of this character and one read through this comic make sit obvious: she’s damn good at writing for Barbara Gordon.  And why wouldn’t she be?  She’s been writing her for years.  But the best thing about the book is how Babs comes off, both tough in the sense of being a capable costumed crime fighter and (For the most part) realistic vulnerable.  When we hear her talk and she her thought she feels more like an actual person than anyone else I’ve read in this reboot thus far. Barbara Gordon is supper likable in this comic and you really want to see her adventures as time goes on.

Similarly this is also a spectacular introductory adventure.  The status quo is quickly established, we get to see Barbara show off a lot of her skills, there’s action, a supporting cast starts to take shape, and a cool and mysterious villain shows up.  We don’t know much about the Mirror, which is the point, but I can greatly intrigued by the mystery of it all.  What are his motives?  Why is he targeting Babs?  And why is he so polite?  The artwork is mostly very good and frankly I had to have some of the flaws pointed out to me, so you might miss them as well.  Still there are a few issues with some poses and use of shadows.  They are minor and shouldn’t take anything away from the book.

Batgirl Returns...for, like, the third time
On the downside of the character development I was a bit disappointed with [SPOILER ALERT] Babs freezing up when confronted with a gun at the end of the book, partly because it s weird that nothing like that happened earlier in the issue when she fought a bunch of dudes with guns (Though the difference is likely that at the end of the book the gun was directly drawn on her which likely triggered PTSD) and partly because it’s undeniable evidence that this isn’t the same Barbra Gordon that I’ve read and, truthfully, grew up with.  She’s younger, less experienced and hasn’t conquered her inner demons yet.  Had this been the same character from the old continuity with working legs I’m pretty sure the storyline would have been wrapped up in one issue.  The real problem I have with the book is that, as an established fan of DC Comics I find it hard to wrap my brain around the new continuity and it did in fact hurt my enjoyment of this book.

However that said this is still a fantastic comic book and my hang-ups shouldn’t detract from that . As of this writing I have read 6 out of the 53 new DC books and this is easily the best of the bunch so far. This had everything a first issue of a superhero comic could possibly need and I would actually argue that this is a better written comic the most recent Batgirl #1 starring Stephanie Brown (Though they are very different books).  I’m loathed to admit this but I love this new title and though I’m still greatly upset by the changes to Babs I cannot argue that this is a really awesome book.  The only reason I can’t give it a perfect score is because the story is clearly still unfolding and not yet complete but I give this a high recommendation nonetheless.

That said why couldn't she have starred in this book as "Oracle"?
A different costume, an "O" on her chest and it's the same book
I give Batgirl #1 4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.


Pros

-Strong Female Lead, who is extremely likeable

-Cool set-up for the status quo

-The Mirror is an intriguing new villain

Cons

-There are a few hiccups in the art here and there

-If you are a Barbara Gordon fan or a Batgirl fan you will likely find this comic hard to read without getting angry

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