Thursday, September 8, 2011

Batgirl #1

Cover by Adam Hughes

Batgirl #1 (September 7, 2011)
Writer: Gail Simone
Penciller: Ardian Syaf
Inker: Vicente Cifuentes
Colorist: Ulses Arreola
Letterer: Dave Sharpe

Like hundreds of other DC fans yesterday, I rushed out to my local comic book store and stocked up on several of the New 52. Also like hundreds of DC fans, I all but devoured Batgirl #1, written by the illustrious Gail Simone and penciled by Ardian Syaf.

There has been a lot of speculation and controversy surrounding the re-launch of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, mostly because after over 20 years as the wheelchair-bound Oracle, Barbara can now walk, leap and pummel bad guys. There’s been a really mixed and wary reaction from fans to this change, with some actually outraged that DC is abandoning one of the few disabled comic book characters out there. The loss of Oracle is quite a blow to diversity but it’s also a lot more than that.

I also had (and still do have) very mixed feelings about Barbara’s return as Batgirl. I truly love her as a character in general (she is one of the absolute best things about the Batman canon and a very inspirational female character for me) and while I always had a weakness for Barbara-as-Batgirl comics, I also found Batgirl-as-Oracle an extremely engaging and dynamic character. She was in a wheelchair but that wasn’t the sum of her; if anything, she was even more powerful and influential than Batman because as Oracle, she is the eyes and ears of all of Gotham City. She knows what’s happening, where it’s happening, when it’s happening and without her, Batman would essentially be blind. I truly love Oracle and I am very sad to see her go.

But this entry is not supposed to be waxing poetically on the loss of a character. I read Batgirl #1 (very, very quickly) last night and have had some time to think about it. And… I really don’t know how I feel.

Simone did a solid job (as always) in crafting Barbara’s voice and characterization. I have always found Barbara more real than anyone else in the Batman canon (and in most comic books in general) so it was a definite pleasure to just have an entire book focused on her. The plot moved a little quickly in terms of the new villain (the Mirror) and ends in a cliffhanger, the entire purpose of which is further illustrate Barbara’s struggle with returning to the cape and cowl.

This leads me to the most surprising aspect of this comic. The attack on Barbara by the Joker and subsequent shooting that famously occurred in Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke was referenced a couple times in this book. This issue apparently takes place roughly three years after the home invasion and after, by some unnamed miracle, Barbara was able to regain use of her formerly paralyzed legs. I was not expecting Simone to bring The Killing Joke into the re-launch though I suppose it makes sense and adds a certain new depth into Barbara’s characterization. She is not as brazen as she once was as Batgirl and is still struggling with the trauma of her attack.

When I first heard that Barbara was returning as Batgirl, I had assumed that the memory of The Killing Joke was going to be wiped away and we were going to return to a pre-Killing Joke era. I was frankly pretty happy about this idea, as I had always found the attack scene in which the Joker shoots Barbara extremely repugnant. I love Oracle and have no issue with the concept of Barbara being paralyzed; I simply felt that the manner in which Moore handled it was tasteless. I still suspect that he never had any respect for Barbara as a character and simply wrote her off in an extremely crass way, most likely not expecting that she would be transformed into an even stronger and more significant character because of this.

But Simone used this 23-year-old storyline and simply messed around with it. She was shot, yes but guess not, not paralyzed anymore! Of course, Barbara is still psychologically damaged and even her body still needs to be worked on now that she’s back in the vigilante game. I sincerely hope that Simone does not dwell too much on these apparent weaknesses at the cost of Barbara’s inherent strength and personal confidence. One of the things I’ve always loved about Barbara was how self-assured she always was and while I think having comic book heroes have their share of suffering is important, I don’t want Barbara to drown in it.

Overall, the book was a pretty solid beginning to this new series. Simone gave the reader a touchingly familiar Batgirl who is dealing with new problems and a new, extremely creepy villain. The art by Syaf was pretty traditional by comic book standards but was probably at its best during the three action sequences. He did a great job portraying motion without overwhelming the reader. I know I’ll keep reading this series for several reasons, the least of which is to find out more about the Mirror. I mostly will keep reading because of my overwhelming love for Barbara Gordon.

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