Catching up with Batgirl


Review by C.J. Bunce

If one word sums up Barbara Gordon and her new Batgirl persona, it is feisty.  She gets knocked down.  She gets right back up.  She makes mistakes.  She tries to recover from her mistakes—both the long-term lesson learning variety and the instant kind–a bad kick or punch here or there.  And she will keep after the bad guy, here a grim reaper type baddie called the Mirror, who carries a list of the soon-to-be-dead around as a checklist.  With a quick moving story line her decisions are split-second choices.  She has no choice, she must be focused.  Having the use of her legs return only in the past several months, all indications are that this heroine is engaging in the secret crime fighting gig too soon.  And that is the current theme of her character’s growth.

Issue #2 of the DC Comics New 52 Batgirl is peppered with seemingly irrelevant details that actually help build our understanding of Batgirl’s Gotham City, like the fact there is only one cemetery left in town that hasn’t been demolished and replaced with parking lots and malls.  We see real-life reflected here, or at least the over-development, economic strife and questionable priorities that make Gotham the worst of what is real in any society.  We also see a microcosm of the individual, living the single life, trying to get through the mundane tasks of daily life.  Barbara Gordon is a poster girl for the individual in the big world.  Like all of us, she is forging ahead.

Writer Gail Simone continues to deliver the satisfying and snappy, Buffy-esque dialogue, that reminds us we’re talking about Bat-girl here, like the serious but silly “But I am done being afraid.  And I can’t die tonight.  I’ve got a lunch date!”

What I can’t get over, and Batgirl is today’s pick for best written series, is the first person narrative we get here, in the same style as Batman from Jeph Loeb in Batman: Hush.  In this way, we’re in her head as she smartly comes off as the almost-Batman, which is sort of what a junior Bat-hero should be striving for, right?

Batgirl’s positive outlook is counter-balanced with a well-constructed bad guy.  Unlike some other villains in the New 52, the character called the Mirror is smartly crafted with an engaging back story.  Family lost in a car wreck, he snaps and becomes this Final Destination inspired, twisted rationalizer of who lives and who dies.

Batgirl Issue #2 delivered on its potential.

But that’s not quite so with Issue #3, which had a lot to live up to considering the work on Issues #1 and #2.  For part one, Barbara Gordon becomes Sandra Bullock in Speed, in a psycho-orchestrated opportunity to save a train from a bomb.  Good stuff?  Check. For part two, she has some awkward catching up to do with dad, Commissioner Gordon.  Good stuff?  Check.  For part three, she goes to pick up her Batcycle, which had been impounded in Issue #1.  There she runs into Dick Grayson-formerly-known-as-Robin-who-then-became-Nightwing-then-Batman-and-now-he’s-Nightwing-again.  And an old, teen romance is rekindled, veiled as an effort by the Bat-team to get Barbara to dial back on the dangerous derring-do.  Gordon gives in a bit, but ultimately recoils into that comic book cliché of the superhero—“I just want to be alone.”

It’s not a bad follow-up to Issues #1 and 2, but the obligatory romance issue just seems a bit too soon for this new series.  Maybe it is intended to reflect the chaos of real life, where the individual is burdened with too much to do in too little time.  In that vein, Batgirl is very modern.  The writers must have intended this guest appearance of Nightwing to conjure up the most successful of the original Birds of Prey series issue, when Grayson returned to take Barbara on a date.  Definitely a bit nostalgic so no harm there.  But we’re eager to get back to the smart character building we saw in Issues #1 and #2, next month.

Another thing worthy of mention is Ardian Syaf’s illustrations in Issues #2 and #3.  Batgirl is both agile and tough balanced with naivete and some real street smarts, and we know this from how she is drawn on every panel.  I am also becoming a believer in the Adam Hughes school of cover art.  Issue 3 is one of the best of all the New 52 covers so far.

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