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Includes Issues:Batgirl: Year One 1-9
Issue Dates:February – October 2003
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This review is spoiler free! Skip To The Verdict? »

Batgirl will always have red hair.

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.

Batgirl: Year One is one of many origin stories DC Comics has produced under the “Year One” moniker, coined by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli‘s Batman epic of the same name.

Previously we’ve acknowledged the challenge inherent in creating Year One books in our reviews for Teen Titans: Year One and Green Arrow: Year One.

The creative team (authors Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon, along with penciler Marcos Martin, inker Alvaro Lopez, and colors by Heroic Age and ) 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.

Something fun!

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.

But it’s easier to introduce a character who doesn’t have an existing fanbase. And it’s easier to work within continuity when your story doesn’t take place in the past.

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.

I’m amazed that Marcos Martin, a Spanish artist who has worked on the uncollected Breach and Doctor Strange: The Oath, isn’t more proliferous.

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 . 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.

This series was actually my own introduction to Batgirl in the world of comics.

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!

Verdict:
5 out of 5. I was originally going to rate it a 4 in an attempt to keep the 5s for legendary works, but every time I accidentally read half the book again the rating went up.

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.

Essential Continuity:
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.

Read first:
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.

Read next:
The Barbara Gordon Batgirl shows up in Huntress: Year One next on our reading order.

Following are other stories taking place early in her career, the 90s Batman: Batgirl prestige and a Batman Confidential collection, The Cat and The Bat.

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.

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26 Comments Post New »

  1. avatar daemonicragnorak wrote on at December 14, 2010 6:02 pm:

    I have to agree with Ian on this title, it would seem a 4 out of 5 but always is 5 out of 5 when you actually read it. I too love all the subtle references, especially the less subtle one to the scene from The Killing Joke, which is worked well so that it doesn’t come across as forced.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on December 14th, 2010 at 6:05 pm:

    yeah, that was the one I was thinking of specifically when writing about the references. It’s so well done. Obvious to old readers, but probably works perfectly to new readers also.

    [Reply]

  2. avatar pherin wrote on at December 14, 2010 11:18 pm:

    I loved this book, and wish I my copy hadn’t been destroyed as I can’t seem to find it anywhere. But anyway, yes the best Batgirl will always have red hair.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on December 14th, 2010 at 11:37 pm:

    Yeah, it’s a pain. Still, kind of worth dropping 20 on this one, since that’s the cover price of many much less enjoyable comics.

    [Reply]

    avatar pherin replied on December 14th, 2010 at 11:54 pm:

    I would gladly pay the 20 if I could find it. But at least around here its been out of print so far, I only see used copies of 50+. I could probably track down the 9 single issues for less.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on December 15th, 2010 at 12:03 am:

    There’s a couple copies on amazon for 20 right now. Half and ebay seem to be more expensive.

    I think I paid something like 16 for mine, but it’s got library stickers on it.

    [Reply]

    avatar pherin replied on December 15th, 2010 at 12:08 am:

    That could work. I had spent checking a few months ago after not finding anything reasonable. Thanks.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on December 15th, 2010 at 12:16 am:

    I honestly thought it was cheaper when I wrote this review, but it looks like I may have sold a couple copies, haha

    [Reply]

    avatar pherin replied on December 15th, 2010 at 12:23 am:

    I think this book should be like Batman Year One. Pretty much always in print.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on December 15th, 2010 at 12:25 am:

    My sentiments exactly. I don’t understand why it’s not!

    [Reply]

  3. avatar Chris D. wrote on at February 13, 2011 9:23 am:

    Started the book late last night and just finished this morning…couldn’t put it down except to grab a few hours of sleep :)
    VERY enjoyable. I love the fun lighthearted feel of this entire book. It never swayed from the mood of the series the entire time.
    I can’t express how much I love the colors. They’re amazing. I would love to get a print of one of the panels just for the amazing colors. The book says Javier Rodriguez did the coloring, but you also listed Heroic Age. I’m interested in tracking down some books done by this same crew, should I look up Javier, Heroic Age, or both? I never thought I’d read this book because of the price of a used copy, but luckily I got it in my recent lot purchase for $2.50! After reading it though I would have easily paid the asking used price to add it to my collection. Great trade!

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on February 13th, 2011 at 6:39 pm:

    I’m not really that familiar with either, so I couldn’t tell you for sure. Coloring often seems very different by creative direction. In any case, if you find out more I hope you share what you learned!

    [Reply]

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  5. Chris D.
    wrote on at February 14, 2011 8:25 am:

    I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, but when I googled “Javier Rodriguez Artist” on google…I got an incredibly huge number of results that were very much not tied to each other.  It's not the most uncommon name Laughing

     

    I was able to find him however on ComicVine and it looks like he mostly does Marvel Issues with a couple DC thrown in.  I didn't know that he did a few issue from Green Arrow Year One, I'll have to go back to my trade and see if I can recognize a difference in issues within the collection.  I'll definitely keep an eye out for his name though.

    [Reply]

  6. Ian Aleksander Adams
    wrote on at February 14, 2011 5:05 pm:

    I've really got to check out that Dr. Strange trade he worked on with Martin.

    [Reply]

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