I mentioned in my DC preview for the week that Batgirl was my most-anticipated book. I’m sure it was for a lot of fans familiar with Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, which is a book that brought many readers into comics in the first place.
To give away a long-since known spoiler, Joke culminates partially in Joker shooting Batgirl Barbara Gordon, paralyzing her from the waist down. Rather than becoming a disabled background character, she rose to even greater prominence as Oracle – a master of information, frequently a team leader, and truly beloved by fans.
Batgirl #1 reverses all of that, with Barbara back in the bat costume – presumably for good. How would consistently strong scripter Gail Ann Simone explain this continuity-shattering change? Could the book sustain the weight of expectations to be DC’s premiere new female superhero, especially with the sumptuously illustrated Batwoman on the schedule just a week later?
I saved the issue until I was through reading half this week’s haul, nervous it would be bad – or, even worse, just okay.
Was that the case? And, is there anything to this rumor that Batgirl #1 is selling-out around the country, and might wind up as one of the top-selling comic books of the year?
Written by Gail Ann Simone, art by Ardian Syaf & Vincente Cifuentes
Rating: 5 of 5 – Outstanding
In a Line: “…I’ve got upper arm strength like a mother at this point.”
140char Review: Batgirl #1 was okay on 1st read but on reread I realized there is nary a misstep or snag. An excellent, affecting, genuinely funny comic. A+
Plot & Script
Simone does a knockout job on this debut, juggling the re-introduction of a hero with a glimpse into her personal life as she contends with two villains. We even get a prologue! The structure of the plot tells an engaging single story that is clearly part of a larger arc.
The home invasion villains are distinctly unsettling, with their press clippings and dire threats to the captive couple, but also human with their objection to their press-provided moniker. I found myself surprised at how far Simone pushed the envelope with them given what I assumed would be a relatively cheery vibe in Batgirl.
The book may not be all cheery, but Batgirl is. Clearly still new to being a hero again, her interactions while in costume are priceless (“Sorry! Batgirl emergency!”). Her glib narration of the issue is why I think it’s still cool to use thought bubbles and narration boxes – because it lets us inside the head of a character in a way no other medium can do. She doubts her actions as she takes them, needs to go to the bathroom mid-adventure, and freezes in a moment of post-traumatic stress. These are elements of a character we cannot learn purely from art. It means something to hear it in their own words, and Simone is beautifully effective with the device.
She’s also beautifully effective with dialog from just about anyone, including Commissioner Gordon as a doting dad and a new roommate’s Hitchhiker’s joke. The only line that was a little sour was the final one, but I can forgive histrionics if it’s meant to drum up a bit of a cliffhanger.
Simone introduces an intriguing villain in The Mirror – but if all he does is deliver warranted retribution, is he much of a villain? Clearly, if Barbara is on his list there’s something more to it than that. Why does she deserve to die? Or, is it merely her escape from death that has earned her a spot?
I want to find out.
The artwork here is fantastic – beautiful characters, finely detailed backgrounds, and easy-to-follow action. The art could have come off more grim, but a vivid color palette helps strike a comic book balance throughout. In fact, the coloring job is absolutely exemplary throughout the book, from the metallic gold of Batgirl’s boots to the warm pinks and reds of the Gordon home to Gotham’s oil slick of evening rain.
Syaf uses a few awesome irregular page layouts, in on instance treating panels like shards of broken glass, in another silhouetting Batgirl out of the open side of a panel. Aside from one strange perspective error on a mid-leap thigh, only once or twice does Barbara pull a slightly gawky pose. Given her self-doubt it doesn’t seem all that outlandish to think Syaf did it on purpose. Also? Her hair is utterly transfixing.
I was honestly concerned that the interiors wouldn’t stand up to close examination, as there’s no way they could have the same pulp-pinup quality as the immediately classic cover from the incomparable Adam Hughes.
As with many Bat books, the narration boxes are horrid Bright italic yellow on black with purple borders? All of that is lowering the reading comprehension of those words – and this is not just your reviewer talking, this is valid, scientific study of communications theory. There’s no reason it couldn’t be something more legible.
CK Says: Buy it!
When I first read this issue, I thought it was just “okay.”
Why? Because it is total smooth sailing. Unlike similarly outstanding Action Comics #1, this is not rife with panels you need to read and re-read, squinting for new details or oblique hints in the dialog. It’s easy-going – almost simple – with a dynamic, flawed, and sympathetic hero who is all too human.
Sometimes “easy” and “simple” are hard to identify as “amazing.” It was only on second, third, and fourth read that I realized this is the real deal. It is a pitch-perfect debut that doesn’t rely on any big shocks or gimmicks. Simone, Syaf, and Cifuentes deliver a strong issue that stands well on its own and makes owning the next one a necessity. The plot, script, and artwork are perfection.
Particularly, the narration and dialog are outstanding. When it comes to putting words in heroes mouths, few writers today do it better than Gail Ann Simone.
For readers wondering how the previously wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon is retconned back to her feet, Simone handles it efficiently without completely sacrificing longtime fans’ attachment to Barbara as Oracle. If anything, she leverages the twenty years we’ve spent reading Barbara as disabled to make her more compellingly human.
This issue went far beyond fulfilling my hopes for the most-anticipated comic of the week. If you like the idea of a Batgirl – or, really, any young hero – who is still very much a rookie, a young woman, and a human being then buy this comic. (In fact, buy it as soon as you can – because it’s already going into a second printing, and the word of mouth will only get stronger as more people read and review it.)