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Sure, there’s been at least four Batgirls, three of which have held their own books under the name. And only one of those is redheaded Barbara Gordon, the daring daughter of long time Bat-ally Jim Gordon.
But while she’s passed the mantel on, Babs will always be Batgirl to those of us raised on Batman: The Animated Series.
And lucky us, we get to see the ample firebrand in cape and cowl from time to time, be it in comics taking place in the animated continuity, or even better – stories like this one, retelling her early career.
The creative team (authors Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon, along with penciler Marcos Martin, inker Alvaro Lopez, and colors by Heroic Age and Javier Rodriguez) must work towards current continuity, introduce new readers to the character, give a modern take that fits in the old timeline, and most importantly, craft a story worth reading.
A lot of that is done with every superhero book, at least the good ones. In a way, it’s a challenge of the medium.
Perhaps luckily, DC has a pretty interesting idea of “the past.”
Batgirl was originally introduced in the 60s, but this retelling is very modern.
Barbara Gordon is an independent lady, zestfully pursuing her own career and goals, not even seeking to mimic that Batman, except as a way to annoy her father.
She wants to be a cop, but he forbids it – not that his role of a father would keep her from entering the force, except that he also happens to be on the way to Commissioner.
So while her Batwoman costume was originally designed to irk Jim Gordon at a Halloween party, this is Gotham City and dastardly deeds are oft afoot.
Before she even realizes it, Babs is foiling crime and even has her own nemesis (the mostly bumbling Killer Moth.)
Of course, she’s caught the attention of the dynamic duo now, and has to prove that she’s an asset to the streets, not a danger to the public and herself.
Beatty and Dixon, both experienced Batfamily writers, take the basic plot and wraps it up in a non-stop tangle of wry jokes, action both slapstick and breathtaking, a few genuinely dark moments, and some very touching character development – both for the Bat family and the Gordon family.
This is all laid lovingly on top of DC continuity, with appearances by appropriate heroes and baddies.
There are a few hiccups, but they mainly have to do with the logistical challenges in placing this book in such a complex world as the DC Universe. And they’re mostly pedantic – a new reader would never notice Green Arrow’s beard and post 70s characterization, obstinately occurring while he was still clean shaven.
On the other hand, the new reader would also miss all the subtle references to latter stories, cleverly placed to evoke emotion at key moments. The authors do this amazingly well, in fact, because what could be foreshadowing seems to work just fine in the direct context, without any existing fan knowledge. It’s an impressive balancing act and I think old and new fans will be quite pleased.
Likewise, it’s hard not to delight in the art.
Considering the grim and gritty nature of Gotham City, Martin’s work here is ambrosial, leaving me giddy after scenes of preposterous the top action and last minute triumph.
It seems that comparisons to Mazzucchelli are unavoidable at this blog (see last review of The Winter Men), but here I believe some similarity is intentional. It’s a Year One title in the Batman family, so Gordon, for example, is drawn familiarly.
But while it feels like the same Gotham, this book is from the perspective of a very different person.
The art reflects Barbara’s more whimsical approach to life, figures with a hint (or giant dollop) of humor and swaths of lovely color filling out the backgrounds. Perhaps from polluted city sunsets.
Martin’s style is vaguely reminiscent of so many things – Eisner’s femme fatales, but less curvy and with more energy; the ladies of art nouveau advertisements, with their keen noses and slight smirks; a healthy serving of Batman: The Animated Series.
Above all, an understanding of comics, really great comics. That required mix of subtle expression with bombastic motion, the rhythm that keeps the story flowing.
A special mention is deserved for the colors by Heroic Age and Javier Rodriguez. The whole team works well together, but the colors top it all off. The aforementioned backgrounds, or even those pink sneakers on the crook above.
Back to Martin’s pencils – the character’s faces are defined with the perfect amount of lines, Batgirl especially. Martin understands the use of minimalism in allowing us to project onto the characters (in such a situation, I can’t resist thinking of myself as Dick Grayson and Beth, my ginger fiance, as quite a bit like Ms. Gordon.)
But he avoids letting them be too simplified.
Every person has expressions uniquely their own, twists of features to go with a villain’s deranged obsession, Robin’s youthful smirks, Gordon’s alternating near understanding and total befuddlement (the perspective of Barbara isn’t particularly kind to our head cop, who I believe to be much smarter than portrayed in the average Bat-book, but it’s fitting for a father-daughter relationship, which can be confusing even without the tights and crime.)
All this and a bewitching array of grins, grimaces, looks of grim determination and the odd agog from our heroine.
She’s fully alive, a far cry from lesser portrayals of female crime-stoppers, where the focus is most often on trying to get the butt and breasts into the same panel – Barbara Gordon is an enticing leading lady, carrying the book in her own right.
Picking it up again for this review was just as enjoyable, perhaps more, than the last time I cracked the book.
In fact, I kept catching myself reading it as I flipped through for reference. It’s a terribly hard book to put down.
It’s amazing, then, that it’s also out of print. It’s not amazingly rare, perhaps, but a copy in good condition is still a bit over the original cover price of 17.95. (Mine is an ex library copy and I don’t really mind.)
With a new Batgirl running strong in her own ongoing and the release of Barbara Gordon’s first trade in some time (The Greatest Batgirl Stories Ever Told), it seems like there’s more need for this book than ever.
Time for a new print run, DC!
I don’t like weird decimals, so lets just call this an extremely enjoyable comic. It’s one of my favorite books to recommend to readers new to superhero comics, especially gals.
It’s sad that I have to make a distinction at all, but it helps to have some really solid titles to point towards among all the cheesecake nonsense out there.
A thousand times yes! Barbara Gordon may not keep the cowl forever, but she is an extremely important DC Universe character, involved in many of the most interesting and entertaining plotlines published in the last few decades.
And this is my favorite telling of how it all started.
I recommend this book as an introduction to Batgirl, and it’s fine to read as your first comic even, but it also works really well to read Batman: Year One and Robin: Year One right in a row before this one.
That’s an enjoyable evening for even the oldest fan.
The Barbara Gordon Batgirl shows up in Huntress: Year One next on our reading order.
Original Silver Age Batgirl stories are collected in Showcase Presents: Batgirl, which I’ve placed a bit after her origin. You could choose to read this first, but I think the Year One book is the most satisfying introduction.
Then there’s the right about to be released Babs-starring Batgirl: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, which looks like it includes a good mix and has me very excited.
After that, there’s a book with the most pivitol event in her life, Batman: The Killing Joke. If you’ve avoided having this spoiled for you thus far, turn off your internet and rush out to read these books.
Finally, if you enjoyed all this you should head to the Birds of Prey series.