|Batgirl never could get the hang of|
that 'Live long and prosper' thing.
I must admit I've always had mixed feelings about Batgirl. On the one hand, I tend to subscribe to the idea of Batman as a loner and I find it difficult to buy into the number of second-tier vigilantes who tend to make up the extended Bat-family infesting the rooftops of Gotham.
Batwoman? A glossy gimmick best left back in the Silver Age. Azrael? There is no way the Bat would tolerate his psychotic activities. Damian? Ugh. A Bat-son? Really? The Spoiler? A joke. Anarky? Just ... why?
On the other hand, having grown up with the original Batman TV series in the 1960s, Batgirl - specifically the Barbara Gordon incarnation of Batgirl - has always been an integral part of the Bat-universe for me. I know I should find her bright and perky disposition completely at odds with the grime and gloom that pervades every other aspect of Gotham but, somehow, the city just isn't the same without her!
So, when I first heard that DC intended to allow Barbara Gordon to strap on her utility belt once more, my mixed feelings became positively scrambled! Whatever you might think about Alan Moore's decision to let the Joker shoot poor Babs through the spine, without that life-altering event, she'd never have reinvented herself as Oracle: computer genius, master hacker and all-round information broker to Batman and, indeed, the entire Justice League. And now she was going to leave all that behind?
|Bang! Luckily for Barbara, the Joker only ever|
uses those guns with the silly flags inside!
For those of us who don't hang on every word in DC's press releases and rely on the comics themselves to tell us what we need to know, Batgirl's history in the New 52 universe is more than a little confusing. The fact that Barbara Gordon was shot and crippled by the Joker is still canon. Whether or not she ever operated as Oracle is not entirely clear but, based purely on the issues collected in The Darkest Reflection (Batgirl issues 1-6), it seems not. Whether or not Stephanie Brown or Cassie Cain ever donned the Batgirl mantle is also a little grey but, again, it's probably safe to assume not.
|It's the car, right? Chicks love|
Similarly, fans of Oracle quickly made it clear that they were unhappy to be losing the only disabled heroine in the DCU and one of DC's few strong female characters who didn't dress in spandex or flash her cleavage. For Barbara to leave her wheelchair behind and successfully resume swinging from Gotham's gargoyles, she wouldn't only need a great surgeon, she was also going to need a damn good writer.
It's not who you are underneath ...
And that's where Gail Simone comes in. Simone, of course, has a huge reputation - firstly as an ardent critic of DC's treatment of female characters, and secondly as an award winning writer on the Birds of Prey title. But, approaching this book for the first time, none of that mattered to me. I'd never read Birds of Prey and the only work of Simone's I had read were a few issues of her frankly unimpressive run on Wonder Woman.
|Everybody wants to be a bat!|
|Sometimes the original really is the best!|
As she pits herself once again against super-powered criminals and costumed psychopaths, we can understand why. Unlike her dark, brooding mentor, she isn't driven by a deep-seated need for justice or revenge. Simone convinces us that Babs is out there because she loves it; she was born to be Batgirl. Her "Barbara Gordon" identity is never just a convenient mask as Bruce Wayne's is so often described, but when she's flinging herself from rooftop to rooftop at the end of a Bat-rope, you just know that's where she belongs.
Whether soaring across the Gotham skyline or patrolling the streets on her trusty Bat-cycle, Barbara's joy and enthusiasm at being back in the cape is genuinely infectious!
... it's what you do that defines you
As for the story itself, there's a lot to like in this first volume. There are superheroic fisticuffs aplenty, and we're introduced to two new villains: a serial killer named Mirror and a super-powered assassin called Gretel. Gretel comes across as a fairly generic super-villain (psychic powers) but, just as the best Bat-villains throw some aspect of Batman's own psyche into relief, Mirror is clearly a vehicle to highlight Barbara's own sense of survivor's guilt. It's not exactly subtle, but it's a nice touch all the same.
Characters from Barabara's past also make a brief appearance. Batman (or rather Bruce Wayne) and her former lover Dick Grayson (as Nightwing) both cross her path in this volume. As is so often the case when superheroes meet, she and Nightwing quickly fall to fighting each other rather than criminals, but again Simone comes up trumps, taking this hackneyed scenario and giving it a new and poignant twist (sorry - no spoilers!).
|In her day job, Barbara is a librarian. Best not to|
let your books get overdue.
|'Knightfall Descends'. Presumably|
the villain will becalled Tautology.
In summary, Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection is a mainstream superhero book of the highest quality. It relaunches Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, successfully weaving together her tragic past with her action-fuelled present, while setting in motion some interesting sub-plots for the future. It strikes a fine balance between keeping us entertained with her costumed crime-fighting activities, and giving us an insight into the thoughts, feelings and motivation of a very human character; a character we can (and do!) actually care about.
The second volume of Simone's relaunch, Knightfall Descends, is released in the UK in paperback on 5 November and I pre-ordered my copy as soon as I'd finished reading Volume 1. Have you ordered yours yet? Or do you still see Barbara's return as a Bat out of Hell?