Barbara Gordon got her legs back, and she’s using it to their fullest potential: by beating up trick ‘r’ treaters. Also, she gets a roommate!
Gail Simone has been tasked with perhaps the most difficult job in the DC reboot. While there are a few baffling titles, some that have all the pedigree in the world, and some that have to work a little harder for recognition, no character in the new universe has more eyes focused on her than the beloved Batgirl. Long a point of contention for arguments of feminism and the disabled in comics, when the news broke that Barbara Gordon would be returning to her mantle (stripped from her by a bullet from the Joker’s gun in Batman: The Killing Joke ), the Internet set itself on fire with arguments. Simone, herself a writer who came to prominence through the blogosphere, has always been a vocal proponent of Barbara as both Batgirl and as Oracle. When she was announced as being the creative helm of this story, I was more excited than most, being a huge fucking fan of her work.
While I admire Simone’s inclusion of a menacing serial killer as an attempt to bring some more severity to the title, it strikes me as a bit too much “Batgirl R.I.P,” down to the masked and caped killer who is mostly gloves and a weapon, much like Morrison used Dr. Hurt in “The Black Glove” — when asked “Who the devil,” the villain replies, “Precisely.” By no means am I accusing Simone of ripping off or watering down Morrison (okay, Internet?) — it just feels like an idea that is a touch too similar for two wildly different characters.
Rafael Gaitan was born in 1985, but he belongs to the ’70s. He is a big fan of onomatopoeia, being profane and spelling words right on the first try. Rafael has a hilariously infrequent blog and writes love letters to inanimate objects as well as tweets of whiskey and the mysteries of the heart at @bearsurprise. He ain’t got time to bleed.
There are so many flexible things in the DC universe, death and severe injury being a few of them. Batman had his back broken and managed to come back from it, he’s also died and traveled through — even Jason Todd was blown up and still that guy couldn’t be kept down. Eventually he was killed at the behest of the fans. Characters come and go from the hospital and the grave like it’s their commute to work. Nothing is permanent, one just has to wait it out for a year and all will be back to normal, this is the general rule of things in comic book land.
Now, 22 years later, Barbara Gordon is Batgirl again and I’ve got so many mixed feelings about it. First of all, Barbara will always, always be Batgirl to me and to
so many others and to see that mane of red hair under the cowl again sets my heart aflutter. But after reading this new first issue it seems Barbara has lost her strength of character. All that hard nosed Oracle attitude is now missing because she’s hasn’t had that trauma of life in a wheelchair. She’s still has that good ol’ Batgirl gumption, but it’s the hard fought bitterness that made Barbara Gordon evolve into a grown up.
But shall I get to the actual story now? Gail Simone has stepped up as writer and this just sent Wonder Woman flashbacks running through my mind. Here I am ragging on Batgirl tripping out over being shot and I’m having my own PTSD about a bad run on Wonder Woman. You know I can forgive Gail Simone to some extent on her Wonder Woman, at least it wasn’t absolute crap like Straczynski’s nail-in-the-coffin run.
I guess I should summarize here, since that’s a whole ton a stuff to sift through for any sort of meaning. For those of you who read through my babble, I commended you, and for those of you that made through myself and Ray Tate, you need a medal. You know what, I’m just harsh and cynical and I love tearing into DC, but Batgirl wasn’t horrible. We’ve all seen, read, or heard of worse, let’s face it. I think this was just such a big move, next to the end of Action Comics and Detective Comics and their renumbering. Giving Barbara Gordon her legs back after two decades is a shocking and uneasy thing. It’s that proverbial knife’s edge situation. People loved her as Batgirl and people loved her as Oracle, so no matter what one group or the other isn’t going to be as pleased as the other. I, for one, am happy to have her back in her proper tights and I’d like to see how DC handles her big return — but just don’t cripple her again; the kid’s been through a lot.
Karyn Pinter has been writing for Comics Bulletin since 2008. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and was one of those kids who was raised by TV, babysat by the likes of James Bond, Mary Poppins and Darth Vader. In college she spent her days critically analyzing Dorothy’s need to befriend a lion, scarecrow and man of tin and writing papers on how truth, justice and the American way ultimately lead to Superman’s death.
Karyn gladly accepts bribes in the form of carnitas burritos and/or Catwoman paraphernalia.
Opening with a stylish murder committed by a new Big Bad that’s staged with all the flair of a Sergio Martino giallo, Batgirl segues into a home invasion thwarted by Barbara Gordon not just walking but vaulting, kicking and fighting as the Darknight Damsel, the one true Batgirl. I’ve waited 22 years for this. I wasn’t disappointed.
Simone cleverly observes that The Killing Joke was a home invasion, and it’s fitting that this crime should be Batgirl’s first case after a three-year hiatus. That’s right. According to the new continuity, Barbara was confined to a wheelchair for only three years, presumably she also performed her duties as Oracle within that time. Hope that’s good enough for the Wheelies, the fully mobile fans who wanted to keep Babs crippled. Oh, no, wait. I actually don’t care what the Wheelies think. In fact, the Wheelies can suck it. Boo-ya!
Fetchingly outfitted, the accurately blue-eyed, crimson-haired Batgirl doesn’t just look and fight like Batgirl, Simone characterizes Batgirl as Batgirl. She remembers her eidetic memory and fosters in her an upbeat attitude. She even makes her kind of hip, peppering her dialogue with some sixties grooviness that fits the history of the character.
When referring to her quarry, Babs states, in the narrative, “Found you didn’t I? Oh yes I did, babies. How sad for you.” When pulling her Batcycle out of its hideout in her van, she quips, “Come to momma, sweetheart.” Batgirl has been associated with a motorcycle since the ’60s television series, and it’s fantastic that this aspect returns with the Daredoll Detective. Then we have a blast from the past with this: “Heh. Oh, my.” The home invader protests. What is Batgirl laughing at? “You, little man.” That “little man” comment was commonplace in the ’70s. Batgirl used the phrase when disposing of the General’s Batgirl-assassin, just before she saves Batman’s life in a memorable Bronze Age issue of Detective Comics.
Simone’s dialogue-parceling for the detectives creates an inelegant and inaccurate portrayal: “<em
>Precinct sixty-three, we have an emergency here, repeat, we have…” That’s just wrong. A cop reports to central dispatch. A detective would only call a specific precinct in a non-emergency. Instead, a police officer would identify himself to central, report the situation and request back-up. The dialogue of the two detectives should have been combined to read something like this: “Central, this is Officer John Smith. Shots fired at Sacred Hands! Shots fired!” He wouldn’t actually need to call for backup since “shots fired” is the near equivalent to “officer down.”
The detective’s partner accuses Batgirl when our hero freezes at the sight of a gun pointed at her gut, the exit wound would be out the spine: “You let him kill that man. You just watched him die. Murderer.”
A pair of badly written third-tier cast members doesn’t really mean much when the rest of the book is so well done. In the debut issue of Batgirl, Simone exploits the Billionaire’s Boys Club as her model for the home invaders and justifiably throws a perfectly characterized Batgirl at ’em for a strong integrated centerpiece to an equally potent chapter in what looks to be a powerful story arc involving no mean fiend.
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. In the POBB, as it was affectionately known, Ray 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.