Batgirl #1. Again.

September 10th, 2011 by | Tags: ,

Ah, Batgirl Issue 1.  It’s almost as if I’ve seen you before, recently.

We start with a (presumably) sweet old man being murdered horribly in his front yard by some kind of costumed villain called The Mirror.  The man, Graham Carter (and I kind of hope that this shows up in internet searches so that when a Graham Carter somewhere out there googles himself he gets this result.), was the survivor of a shipwreck years ago.  The Mirror asks why he survived, but instead of letting him answer, shoves a hose in his mouth and drowns him (I suppose.  How do you die when a running hose gets shoved in your mouth?).  We see that the next name on his list is Barbara Gordon.

We then cut to Batgirl expositing about her life as Barbara Gordon.  This is, I guess, for the benefit of anyone picking up the book for the first time.  She talks about how she’s the Police Commissioner’s daughter while she swoops in to catch a group of kids who themselves are expositing, to a terrified family, that they are rich kids from good homes who have been murdering entire families for fun.  She takes them out, but when one tackles her over a railing, she is helped up by the family, thinking to herself how she got lucky and how scared she is.

Next we have exposition about how she was shot by the Joker, has a photographic memory, how she was Oracle for three years (establishing time period), how by some miracle (it doesn’t say what) she can walk again, and how she lives with her dad but is about to move out.

Cut to her moving out.  She goes to a building that, she exposits, is centrally located and that she can afford, as long as she has multiple housemates.  She meets a roommate, who weirdly isn’t named.  Destined for the chop?

Across town, some cops are guarding a nonspecific murderer who is injured and confined to a hospital bed.

Back to Move-In Day.  Barbara’s roommate sees her wheelchair lift and talks about how she would never want to be, “trapped in a chair.”  Unnamed roommate is now the most tactless person in the world.  *Really* destined for the chop?

Back in the hospital, The Mirror is shooting a bunch of cops, on the way to get to the bedridden killer.  One guarding detective, McKenna, draws a gun and prepares to shoot, but doesn’t, even though her partner tells her too.  The Mirror kills the partner, wounds McKenna, steps on her face, and goes after the guy they were guarding, “Theodore Rankin.”  He says he was ‘next on the list’.

Batgirl swoops in, and promptly freezes when she sees The Mirror has a gun.  The Mirror then throws Rankin out the window while McKenna calls Barbara a murderer because she didn’t do anything.


I say this carefully, because it’s the first issue, and I love Gail Simone’s work, but this didn’t work for me at all.

First there’s the violence.  I’m always a little disturbed by how often cops are killed in comic books.  It seems like a way to signify that This Killer is a Big Deal, and I believed that already.  Still, that’s something that happens in every comic book.  Add to that the pleasure-killing family annihilators, the fact that you saw the old man’s eyes popping out slightly from the pressure from the hose, and this feels like Secret Six violence in a Batgirl book.  Not every villain has to be the most horrible killer imaginable.  If it’s a dark book overall, it works, but contrasted with Barbara’s demeanor and storyline, this is jarring.

And then there’s Barbara’s storyline.  When Cass screwed up, it was okay.  She was 17, and didn’t speak any human language at all.  When Stephanie screwed up, it was okay.  She was 16-18, and was kind of known for screwing up.  She’d received no training and had gone through life trying to be a superhero just because she wanted it enough.  When Babs screwed up the first time around – fine.  She was new, too.

But even though the issue number is starting over, and even though this is meant to introduce new readers to the book, Barbara Gordon isn’t new anymore.  She’s not a rookie hero, she’s the freakin’ Oracle.  She wasn’t just a superhero, and she didn’t just lead a superhero team, she led all the superhero teams, everywhere.  She’s was everyone’s go-to source for information and advice.  She trained new heroes.  She trained them in how to fight – by fighting with them.  She fought in virtual reality.  She beat people up, trained fighting people, in actual reality.  She didn’t just face a gun, she faced the Joker.  She faced the Joker with a nuclear bomb.  She also fought the Joker face-to-face.

She bought buildings.  Not ‘house’ buildings, ‘skyscraper’ buildings.  She bought luxury cars for people who came in to fight on her team’s side.  She bought planes, and then paid to have them completely re-done to fit her team’s needs.

This storyline, the new girl spreading her wings and moving out of her father’s place to a bare-bones apartment in the city, scraping by, and managing to do good at work through spunk and determination – that’s not Barbara Gordon.  Maybe it was before any of this stuff happened to her and before she accomplished all the things she did, but it isn’t anymore.  It can’t be.  Put another way, what would the reaction be if Bruce Wayne ‘froze’ every time he got picked up and had dialog in his head that went, “My spine!  He’s going to snap my spine!  Just like Bane!  I can’t move!  I can’t move!”  Or Dick Grayson thinking, “He’s just like Two-Face!  I’m frozen!  I can’t do anything!”

It’s not that I don’t think she’ll get better, and it’s not that I don’t think that the roommates in the new apartment will lead to some funny banter and good relationships.  It’s just that this woman has been a hero for years, and is one of the most compelling characters of the DCU.  She’s a badass. A rich badass.  A rich, brilliant, multi-talented, and ruthless badass.  Having her play the ingénue doesn’t work anymore.  It just feels condescending.

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14 comments to “Batgirl #1. Again.”

  1. I bought the digital version of this (probably partly due to your influence and partly because that cover is seriously compelling) and felt similarly about the exposition but I didn’t get the impression she used to be Oracle or had ever been a superhero badass before.

    As a reviewer said, if one is wondering about the new continuity and how it differs from the old, this book isn’t particularly helpful.

    When Barbara faced down the Joker it seemed that all she did was face in is direction, as he shot her. Maybe you caught something I didn’t, so I’ll reread it to be sure.

  2. I reread it and she mentions three years being in a wheelchair but I see nothing about Oracle or the BoP. Apologies ifisomehow missed it twice but she seems to be a novice because she is.

  3. I think it’s hilarious how people seem to be shocked a Gail Simone comic is terrible, as if she’s ever written anything worth reading.

  4. The part that sticks with me is the murder by garden hose. How cool would it be to have a supervillain running across town, dragging a garden hose behind him and shouting for all the world to hear, “Savor your last night alive, Graham Carter! Because tonight… THE HOSER STRIKES!”

    Maybe Batgirl should have started off against the Hoser (or perhaps Ambush Bug) and worked her way up to the Mirror.

  5. I was planning on waiting for Gail to introduce some kind of ‘hook’ to get me to check out the new book (much like I didn’t think to read the previous Batgirl series until BQM introduced the ‘hook’ of Johnny C.), but based on what I’m seeing here, I have a feeling said ‘hook’ isn’t going to be coming.

    And, if the rest of this version is anything like how you’ve described issue 1, I have a feeling that sooner or later I’m going to start to get particularly annoyed by how we lost the Steph Brown series only to get what sounds like just another BatSeries. :frown:

  6. Put another way, what would the reaction be if Bruce Wayne ‘froze’ every time he got picked up and had dialog in his head that went, “My spine! He’s going to snap my spine! Just like Bane! I can’t move! I can’t move!”

    This is exactly what happened in Contagion when Batman and Bane faced off again. Oh, the language was more gruff and manly, because superheroes can’t sound as though they ever feel helpless or afraid (if they’re male), but it was essentially the same thing. And like all heroes, he overcame it.

    Now, I’m not saying your take, that it’s hard to swallow a reboot of a character who was so forcefully characterized by the same author, is not valid. This came up in one of my other interests: video games. In the latest Metroid game, Other M, Samus Aran, badass silent bounty hunter extraordinaire, was faced with her arch-nemesis, alien beast Ridley, and froze up, flashing back to the monster killing her parents and razing her home colony. She eventually overcomes her fear to defeat Ridley. Now, that sort of response is understandable, except this is the 10th time she has defeated Ridley in a video game. As you say, it’s a little hard to sell that sort of rookie panic after the character has been defined by seasoned fearlessness for over a decade.

  7. I have faith in Gail Simone. I just don’t see how so many critics have been dumping on Batgirl #1. Is it because it’s the ultimate litmus test for New52? Gail is setting up the table, and unlike “super nintendo chalmers,” I have faith that she’ll pull through.

  8. Thank you for this. It’s kind of what I suspected, but it’s still disappointing. I’m glad I’m not getting this book.

    This storyline, the new girl spreading her wings and moving out of her father’s place to a bare-bones apartment in the city, scraping by, and managing to do good at work through spunk and determination – that’s not Barbara Gordon. Maybe it was before any of this stuff happened to her and before she accomplished all the things she did, but it isn’t anymore.

    The thing is, I don’t think it ever really was when she was Batgirl. She was treated as close to equal with Batman early on in terms of ability. Batgirl: Year One saw her in a younger, screwing-up-and-learning kind of role, but even then she had more of a command and sense of control over her life.

    She’s never let her situation and circumstances dictate the quality of her life. Even in the toughest circumstances, she somehow takes control. In this continuity, if she’d been Oracle, she wouldn’t be moving into a crappy apartment with an unknown quantity of a roommate (more paranoid and obsessed with privacy than scared).

    The thing that bugs me about this new DCU is that if it had been a clean reboot, starting everyone from the freshest of beginnings, I don’t think I’d have minded as much. I would have been interested to see stories of Babs as Batgirl, working backwards from the woman she became as Oracle. Even better, I would have loved to see a flashback series or an out of continuity series with Babs as Batgirl. Maybe a series was whole and made sense by itself, or one that tied into a present-day Oracle.

    But this tears down the power, strength, influence, age, and seniority she gained over all those years. Lately I feel like there’s a little bit too much eagerness in trying to make female heroes “realistic” or “relatable” by having them be young, screwing-up-and-learning heroes, instead of older and uber-competent heroes.

  9. In that Pravda interivew she did with Jill Pantozzi, Gail Simone cautioned that the DC heroes can’t always win all the time, as if she wasn’t part of severn years of DC heroes continually failing and enduring massive hardships because Brad Meltzer read Come in Alone and thought it was his job to fix the Silver age.

  10. Had DC used the Batgirl 3.0 featured Batman Inc. issue as a template for this book, it proably would have been for the best.
    Barbara Gordan, still Oracle, takes to the fight online as the digitized Batgirl.

    If they really wanted to, DC could’ve had 3 “Batgirl” books – Batgirl featuring Steph Brown, BlackBat featuring Cassie Cain in China, and Batgirl 3.0/ Oracle featuring Babs as the Encrypted Crusader online.

    The problems you’ve pointed out having with the issue only help to highlight how DC took the wrong approach this character.

  11. @West: Oh, they *better* not have erased that entire part of her continuity. If Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, Jason Todd, Bruce Wayne, and Damian Wayne are all the same, if they lobotomized Babs I’m going to be so angry.

    I just assumed Gail cut that out because it would be too much continuity for one issue, but seriously, that would make me mad.

    (And in BoP she’s come in contact with the Joker twice, once besting him while he was threatening New York with a nuclear bomb, I think.)

  12. That super nintendo person appears to be trolling, but Gail Simone is not above turning in the occasional lousy book. Her much-anticipated run on Wonder Woman was a complete snoozefest.

  13. The roommate’s name is Alyshia. Bans mentions it only once, when she checks the police report on her cell phone. I had to re-read that part about for times before it registered.

    I got the sense she was Oracle because of the narration about the things the chair allows you to do. Maybe that’s not what Simone meant, but I can’t believe she would get rid of Babs’s time as Oracle.

  14. @W4: I do believe The Hoser would be Canada’s premier super villain.

    I wonder if they’re just nixing a lot of the Oracle storylines. As someone who has never read a Batgirl comic before and whose first introduction to Oracle was in January playing Arkham Asylum, I’m coming to this kind of fresh so I didn’t mind how she was characterized because all I know about her as Oracle comes secondhand