52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Gail Simone was charged with spearheading the Batgirl reboot for the New 52 under DC Comics. Barbara Gordon is a character Simone was already more than familiar with, using her prominently during her Birds Of Prey run several years beforehand. With this reboot, Simone used the opportunity to introduce and tackle important social topics by including a transgender character as part of the primary cast to the book. It wasn’t all fun and games for Gail Simone on Batgirl though as she was temporarily fired from the book after just over a year into working on this new reboot. With outpouring fan support, Gail Simone was quickly reinstated on the book, finishing up her work with the book and character in September 2014.
Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection
After being paralyzed from the waist down for the last three years, a miracle occurs that allows Barbara Gordon to take back up the mantle of Batgirl. Following a rare, experimental surgery, Barbara regains her ability to walk after being crippled from a brutal and surprising assault from the Joker in her own home. Barbara finds herself in a constant state of paranoia, having a hard time coming to terms with not only her recently returned mobility but adjusting back into the life of fighting crime as well. But there is no grace period for the newly returned hero as Batgirl must work quickly to stop the new villain, Mirror. Mirror hunts down his prey without prejudice, killing people who survived situations that should have resulted in their death, finishing them off because of how “undeserving” they are to continue living. Things go from bad to worse for Batgirl when she discovers that she appears on the Mirror’s hit list twice, being hunted down as both Barbara Gordon and Batgirl!
Gail Simone kick starts a whole new series of Batgirl stories with her first volume in the New 52. Simone is a writer who already had familiarity with Barbara Gordon and her other “alter ego” in previous years from her work on the series “Birds Of Prey”. Bringing in elements of previous Batgirl stories, Simone establishes a whole new timeline for the character with this relaunch, drawing on some horrific history associated with the character to add a flare of drama and mystery. Barbara Gordon was unexpected shot in the spine by the Joker three years before this story starts, confining her to a wheelchair for those years. Simone uses this to drive the plot forward, referencing the tragedy that allows for an air of mystery to the series. This incident is a driving force behind who Barbara has become over the years and as such, plays a strong, subtle role in developing a lot of her character beats.
Under Simone’s guidance, Barbara Gordon is a lot of things. She’s lacks confidence at times but then turns around to be incredibly confident. She’s stressed, tired, scared, timid and yet she is the polar opposite of all those things when she needs to be. This all establishes a great character dynamic for Barbara, showcasing what taking back up the mantle of Batgirl truly means for her psyche and overall quality of life. Simone strikes up this great balance of intrigue with action, highlighting that Batgirl is still technically supposed to be a detective whilst also being a crime fighter, something that can oft be forgotten about the Bat-family. All these characters like Batgirl are more than just butt whooping vigilantes, they’re also highly intelligent, something that Simone doesn’t forget. It’s a fun thing to see, how Simone tools around with the different aspects of Barbara’s personality in and out of her costume, making both sides of Barbara feel like independent characters from one another. Simone does an excellent job of doing small developments for the character of Barbara, with none greater example of that than how she handles having guns used against her during the story. Barbara still has trauma associated with the Joker shooting which causes her to freeze up when the villain of the first arc, Mirror, pulls a gun on her in the first issue. This results in Batgirl failing to do her job but Simone shows Barbara tackling this fear head on later on in the story, resulting in her becoming more comfortable with being shot at in later issues.
The plot to Gail Simone’s Batgirl story has some hiccups in it, with plenty of high points balanced out with a few low ones. The entire first arc featuring the villain Mirror has plenty of interesting moments for Barbara Gordon but the plot itself feels a bit rushed and paper-thin. Barbara discovers the identity of the Mirror character with relative ease, making you wonder why someone else hasn’t already solved these crimes and brought him to justice already. It’s still a fluid tale that is entertaining but hits a few snags along the way. The same can be said for the second part of this volume, with it having some plot decisions that just don’t make sense. You’re thrown against a one-dimensional villain who can control people’s minds but the character doesn’t really get fleshed out. Batgirl begins to talk about the character like we should know her by her name almost immediately even though when you learn this villain’s name it’s easily forgotten because of how forgettable the character is. Add that with the odd decision to have the character wear different coloured wigs plus the fact that they are a pushover and you get a second arc that has a dull villain who is really only there to fill page space between the exciting developments in Barbara’s personal life.
Even though your “B” plot for much of the first volume is nothing to write home about, the character interactions that Gail encourages throughout are definitely worth paying attention to. The primary cast of Batgirl is Barbara Gordon, her father Jim Gordon (who every Batman fan should already know and love), and Barbara’s new roommate, Alysia. Obviously, it’s the relationship between Jim and Barbara that readers should invest the most into, as it features a worried father trying to take care of a daughter who experienced extreme trauma. As a father, Jim is hesitant to let Barbara go out into the world and live life on her own, fearful of another tragedy befalling her. Simone showcases the high level of respect and love the two characters share for each other through their unbreakable bond, something that transcends the illustrated page. Alysia is a fun addition to the primary cast, being the quirky roommate who appears to always be in Barbara’s corner. Simone teases out the possibility of Alysia discovering Barbara’s superhero alter ego but only sets that into the simmer stages with this volume. Going forward, you know that Alysia will have an impact in how much Barbara opens up to her on a personal level, having already broken down a few barriers with this first volume. In addition to the primary cast, Simone also adds in some cameos by characters like Nightwing and Batman. The Nightwing cameo eats up nearly an entire issue and plays up the fantastic and romantic element to the relationship shared between Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson.
Collects: Batgirl #1-6
Best Character: Barbara Gordon
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “You were always meant to be Batgirl, Barbara.” – Bruce Wayne
Best Scene/Moment: Batgirl versus Bruce Wayne – Issue 6
Best Issue: Issue 4. Issue 4 is the pick of this litter because of how it concludes the first arc of Gail Simone’s Batgirl story. Here we get the final showdown between Batgirl and Mirror, aptly staged in a rather fitting setting that allows from some fun visual cues and solid story beats. You really get to watch Barbara come into her own as a superhero in this issue as she struggles against a foe who is stronger than her but not necessarily smarter. Tack all that on with the ending to the issue that unexpectedly shakes up Barbara’s life and you’ve got a compelling conclusion to the opening arc.
Why You Should Read It: Gail Simone is simply one of the best female writers in the comic industry. She consistently knocks down barriers for female writers and to a further point blurs the line between a male dominated industry that is seeing an increase in female talent. Simone knows how to write great female characters but she isn’t just a one-note writer who cries out “girl power” with everything she writes. She’s a professional through and through, with Batgirl being a great example of the talent and work ethic she has. Simone finds the right balance between badass and mysterious with this first series of Batgirl stories, being careful to not reveal too much so that fans will be coming back for more.