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.