Batgirl reads more like a novel than a humble comic book. The plot engrosses. Artists Adrian Syaf, Vincent Cifuentes and Ulises Arreola replace thousands of words for a rich, textured background, evocative atmosphere and vivid description that doesn't belabor the point. The characters exhibit complexity and layers of depth heretofore unseen since the pre-Crisis era. Even then, it took scores of issues to evolve that substance in the characters. Gail Simone does it in one. Call it punctuated equilibrium for comic books.
Straighten up, and Fly Right
In an exciting opening scenario, Batgirl infiltrates Gotham rail. Simone and the illustrators once again emphasize Batgirl's leg power and how important it is for Barbara to be fully mobile in order to fight crime in a complete way. The display as well exemplifies Batgirl as DC's most action-oriented titles. After all, it wouldn't make sense if Babs regained the use of her legs and simply sat around like an armchair detective.
Batgirl races against time to stop the serial killer known as the Mirror from exterminating another victim. The Mirror preys upon those that appear to have received a miracle save. The Mirror sees himself as a balancer of chance. When first we met Mirror, he drowned a shipwreck survivor. Batgirl correctly deduces that Mirror won't kill his intended target if she might fall for his same fate. He can't kill Batgirl, also on his list, in an arbitrary fashion. She must die in a specific way. Therefore, the target will be safe so long as she's in the vicinity.
Simone demonstrates Batgirl's dynamism without backpedaling her intellect. Batgirl's eidetic memory and razor sharp intelligence could lead to Mary Sue type moments where Babs cannot in theory be beaten. However, Simone reminds readers that the Mirror is cracked. Despite doping out the Mirror's method, Babs hasn't yet profiled his entire psyche. Batgirl makes a brilliant countermove against the Mirror, but the Mirror cheats within the parameters of his signature. This results in tragedy.
Heroes tend to express two different emotions when tragedy strikes: guilt and/or anger. Simone surprisingly eschews both in Batgirl's characterization. While Barbara feels dejected when being outmaneuvered by the nutcase, she doesn't feel guilt over Mirror's cheat. She's not dealing with a rational human being. In addition, she doesn't allow rage to blind her. In fact, Barbara feels anger in a much more nuanced way when she encounters Nightwing. It's this encounter that raises Batgirl from being damn good to awesomely great.
Simone sagaciously decides to change the entire relationship between Batgirl and the first, arguably the best, Robin. Simone looks neither to the pre-Crisis or post-Crisis for her inspiration. Instead, she insightfully chooses the only way this encounter can work.
In the pre-Crisis, Babs was older than Robin. Simone reverses the age gap. Robin (Nightwing) is now older than Batgirl. They're closer in range, but Robin is definitely the elder. This choice also gives greater credence to the idea of Batgirl and why she didn't elect to be called Batwoman. Not that Simone's decision makes Batwoman's existence any more palatable; that character is still a worthless cipher in my opinion, an unnecessary duplication of Batgirl with lesbian undertones that could have been transplanted to Babs. Of course, Batgirl only has one true love, and it ain't Robin or Supergirl.
Batgirl's One True Love
Simone now gives readers a longer look into Batgirl's timeline. While it's unlikely her classic origin holds true, the gist of her classic history remains. Batman, Batgirl and Robin. From Dynamic Duo to Thrilling Trio. Batgirl met Robin "a few years ago." Within that span of time, she deduced his and Batman's secret identities. Batgirl refers to herself as Batman's "prize student." So, possibly when Robin left for college, Batman took a greater interest in Batgirl's future. Possibly, they became crimefighting partners up to the point of The Killing Joke, which unexpectedly corroborates Batgirl's history from the Birds of Prey television series.
With this shorthand history firmly and elegantly established, Simone sets out to draw a character study in which the playfulness of sidekick adolescence turns to a child-at-heart game of tag that changes into something darker.
Babs feels humiliated when being so easily surprised by Robin (Nightwing). She snaps, but her break is understandable, and Simone relates her anger and frustration in her dialogue. All well and good, but Simone distinguishes and deepens this duel with the simple fact that Babs is wrong.
We discover that the real reason why Nightwing, representing Batman as well, stands on the rooftop with Batgirl is that Batman and Robin love Batgirl. Damn. There's the heart. Batman, Robin and Batgirl. The Thrilling Trio reunited in spirit if not physically. Simone keeps Batgirl defiant but doesn't sacrifice the feelings of the men in her life, or Batgirl's feelings for them. She reestablishes one of the two vital things missing from the post-Crisis. The Batman Family.
Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups, where he reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.