Review by C.J. Bunce
Three years ago Barbara Gordon was shot and sustained spinal damage by the Joker. The crime was detailed in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s controversial Batman: The Killing Joke, the first slick prestige-formatted comic book and one of the best looking comic books of all time. Since then Barbara Gordon has been in a wheelchair. During the past three years Barbara had dropped her Batgirl costume for a computer and became the brains behind the Birds of Prey as the character Oracle, along with Dinah Lance/Black Canary, and Helena Bertinelli/Huntress. She’s been living with her father, Commissioner Gordon, all the while. And a miracle happens–she can walk again. Now she wants to “spread her wings” and move out on her own. That is where we meet Batgirl in the new DC Comics “New 52” Batgirl series.
It is only fitting that Gail Simone, who in recent years has spent more time creating Barbara Gordon’s voice than anyone, scripted the first new universe Batgirl story. She understands the character and is my argument for why writers should stick with characters longer than they seem to be allowed at DC and Marvel. Especially when the writer gets it right. If you invest a lot of time in a character, you get in his/her skin and begin to think the character’s thoughts. You get that feeling with Batgirl.
Obviously the “three years” in the wheelchair as Oracle is in DC universe time, since Batman: The Killing Joke was published 23 years ago, back in 1988.
The new Barbara is funny and endearing. She shares her inner voice with us to contrast with her Batgirl exterior. We don’t know what will come of it, but she finds a new roommate and a place she can afford to rent. Her inner voice is determined, and she forces herself to be confident, even though we sense a lot of doubt in her about her abilities. She’s young, but not too young. She is a straight arrow, not gritty and also thankfully not vapid. In the first story we see her crash a home crime, similar to what Gordon faced with the Joker. She hasn’t been in the superhero business physically for years now. She is successful, but she’s nervous. Simone shares that the shooting will never leave this character, although we get the vibe that this series will be about moving on. The art is clean, Batgirl looks good in her costume and the panels and design are creative. Nice work all around by artists Ardian Syaf and Vincente Cifuentes.
Fans have asked numerous questions: Why pull her from the wheelchair? As a model for disabled people, what is DC saying about people with disabilities–to be heroes do you need to be able to walk? All these are fair questions and Simone has attempted to answer them this summer. Ultimately this is a character and maybe DC thought every piece of her story as Oracle had been written. And where else but comic books can a character live a dream that may not be able to be fulfilled with a person in an actual, similar circumstance? It is difficult to say anyone but Simone could have handled this transition with the same level of grace and alacrity. But it shows that no fan is free from the change in this new set of series. The risk with so much change at once is simply human nature–humans don’t like change. So everywhere you look in the new titles, something will be off-putting to everyone at some point. What Issue #1 of Batgirl does successfully is wade right through those questions and deliver a new, fresh story that has promise.
The new Batgirl could be the lead in Veronica Mars. She could be a character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or the writers will create someone who makes her own mark. Not the Batgirl from the TV show, or the Batgirl from the Batman and Robin movie, but someone with the same energy and optimism.
First off she will need to encounter a new villain called the Mirror, who she meets at the end of Issue #1. And her first big encounter is brief–and a failure. Luckily for us readers, Batgirl Issue #1 is not. Looking forward to Issue #2 next month!