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Review: Batgirl #1


Yesterday evening I trotted out to my favorite international comic book store chain, intending to pick up my first three comics of the DCnU, and, because of Labor Day related delays, was only able to get one of them. This seems like something that DC probably should have worked out with Diamond Comics Distributors, but I digress.

I’m not sure if this is a review of Batgirl #1 so much as it is an attempt to give you enough information about it so that you can decided whether you want to buy it. Which… I guess is actually the purpose of a review. Lets get started. I’m keeping it spoiler light.

First, some possibly helpful exposition to explain my mindset while reading: if Gail Simone was not writing Batgirl I would not be reading it. (Okay, if Devin Grayson or Greg Rucka were writing it, I’d be reading it too, but they don’t work for DC anymore, so…)

This is because I think Oracle, the superhero Barbara Gordon was before the relaunch, is a 100% more interesting character than Batgirl. Above all I like variety in my superhero stories. I like settings that showcase all the very different ways in which one can be a superhero, from catching planes, to punching goons, to team management, to political maneuvering, to philanthropy, teaching, or inventing. So, the change from one of DC’s most differently functioning superheroes (who still did as much good work as any other punchy-hero) to another punchy-hero who shares her costume and half her name with another punchy-hero was disappointing.

Which is not to say that I don’t love regular old superheroes. The name of the game is variety.

Wait, There Was A Comic I Wanted To Talk About

The Barbara Gordon/Batgirl of the DCnU is younger than her previous self, it’s been three years since she was shot in the spine by the Joker, and she has only recently recovered from paralysis. In Batgirl #1 we see her returning to her life as Batgirl as well as moving out of her father’s house for the first time.

For most of the issue I was proud of this Barbara who had dealt with her trauma, but is still constantly aware of it; aware of how much hospitals depress her; aware of the offhanded ableist remarks of her new roommate; aware of how nervous she gets around strangers since being shot. Bravery is not the absence of fear, after all. And I was proud that it didn’t affect her ability to be a superhero… until it did. In a very significant way.

Unfortunately, it turned out that this is not the Barbara who pretended to be uncomfortable around clowns to make Nightwing feel guilty about taking her to the circus, and then needled him as soon as he fell for it. This is a Barbara who has not gotten over The Killing Joke.

There are two ways that I feel about this, and I’m not sure I can decide which one is right at this particular moment.

On the one hand, it still bothers me, as a fan, that Barbara’s character arc has been regressed to the point where she is no longer a grown woman and superhero whose hard work half the DC Universe depends on, and who is fully aware and proud that half the DCU depends on her hard work. It seems even more distressing that if we’re going to have to put up with a young Barbara experiencing many of the pangs of beginning her independent adulthood in place of our seasoned hero, that she would also no longer have emotionally conquered what was done to her in The Killing Joke, because that was a part of what made her seem so heroic in the first place.

But here’s the other hand: good characters have emotional arcs. Good characters grow. We can forget about this in superhero comics because so often the purpose of the story is to bring everything around to where things were when it started in a tight little torus. And if Gail Simone wants to tell a story about Barbara becoming the seasoned hero that we’ve seen she can be; that she is for the majority of Batgirl #1… I’m on board for that. Characters, good characters, who love and hate and change and learn are my favorite, favorite thing in comics.

The new villain Simone is sets up in the issue also plays on themes of survival, identity, and self image, which in a way is heartening, because it seems that those themes would tie directly into the personal development that would bring DCnU Barbara up to speed with DCU Barbara.

The question is when Simone that’s is going to happen: one story arc, a couple, or Simone’s whole tenure on the character, or next issue? We’ll see. I hope it happens soon.

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Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.