17 March 2012

"Batgirl" #4-7 (Feb - May 2012)

Batgirl
Gail Simone - writer
Ardian Syaf - penciller; cover art (#7)
Vicente Cifuentes - inker; penciller (#5); cover art (#7)
Ulisses Arreola - colors; cover art (#7)
Dave Sharpe - letterer
Adam Hughes - cover art (#4-6)
Alitha Martinez - penciller (#7, pages 6-13)
Katie Kubert - asst. editor
Bobbie Chase - editor
Batman created by Bob Kane
$2.99/each

I'm way behind on these, so I decided to do a catch-up post. We're now seven issues into The New 52, and I gotta say Batgirl has more than delivered the goods. Each month, I read it last of the three books I've kept up with because I know I can count on it to make me smile. Gail Simone writes a very accessible Barbara Gordon. She recalls old school Spider-Man in a lot of ways; lighthearted, but believably competent and easy to root for at all times. The art team of Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes and Ulisses Arreola have created a very enjoyable aesthetic, vibrant and kinetic that suits the story material nicely. What of the individual issues, you ask?

#4 "An End to Dreams" (Feb 2012)
Date of Publication: 14 December 2011

The conclusion to the opening story arc, issue #4 brings us the final showdown between Batgirl and Mirror right at Christmastime. We open with Barbara having a freak-out over her own miraculous recovery from her paralysis, and this doubt is more than a specific plot point. It's a theme of the entire book so far. I'm sure some readers find it repetitive, but for me it's one of the endearing elements. Barbara continues to work on accepting herself instead of declaring, "All better!" and going about her business as Batgirl as though nothing was the matter. This is deftly offset by the sense of whimsy to Barbara herself, and Simone's snappy dialog, which keeps Batgirl from devolving into self-important, emo moping.

#5 "A Candy Full of Spiders" (Mar 2012)
Date of Publication:  11 January 2012

When new antagonist Gretel exerts a Poison Ivy/Mad Hatter-level of mind control to begin killing mobsters, Barbara has more blood on her hands. It's a level of guilt punctuated by the continued vendetta of Detective McKenna (who blames Batgirl's momentary freezing for the death of her partner in issue #1). Compound that "professional" uncertainty with the personal imbalance of the return of her estranged mother and it's not a particularly good Christmas. It gets even worse when Gretel steps into the middle of an Occupy Gotham protest to seize control of Bruce Wayne.

What I like about this issue is that Barbara's emotional resilience is tested in new ways from the "Mirror" story. I can certainly relate to having a strained relationship with a parent, and I imagine that's a common enough theme for many readers. In my case, my dad hasn't made the grand "I want to set things right" gesture that Barbara's mom has made. I can entirely appreciate why it's so bothersome for Barbara. Sometimes you reach a point in life where you're just more comfortable with a negative status quo than you are with the risks of trying to fix it.

#6 "A House Made of Spun Glass" (Apr 2012)
Date of Publication:  8 February 2012

In the conclusion, Batgirl has to go toe-to-toe with Bruce Wayne before unearthing Gretel's secrets and motivation--which eerily resemble her own. I really enjoyed this issue. Bruce and Barbara share a couple of really touching moments. This issue spoke directly to the part of me that has always wanted to be a sort of mentor. There's a specific kind of approval that only a mentor can give. Its effect is so strong that Barbara remarks, after Bruce offers words of encouragement, "Um. Wow? I feel like I could fight lions." I'd like to think that there are those in my life who've felt about me the way Barbara feels about Bruce. "He's not like Dad...he's never said he loves me. He's never had to."

The dichotomy between Barbara and Gretel also resonated with me on a personal level. You may recall, Dear Reader, my ruminations on Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and why they zigged and shot up Columbine High School and I zagged and haven't become that kind of person. Barbara could easily have become Gretel, and being confronted with that tenuous separation between who you are and who you're afraid to be is disturbing. I know; it gave me an anxiety attack.

#7 "A View from Below" (May 2012)
Date of Publication:  14 March 2012

Batgirl encounters her third new antagonist, the verbose and pretentious Grotesque. This guy wears a tux and a demonic mask, and has a penchant for the finer things in life. He's kind of interesting to me in the way that I always liked Mastermind, The Perfessor and Mr. Nice from The Batman Adventures. (Oh, how I'd love to see that triumvirate appear in this book!) It's a fun issue, balanced with the weight of Barbara's parents finally reuniting after years of her mother being gone. And, oh, yeah...a doozy of a cliffhanger in which Batgirl discovers one of Grotesque's goons was there on the worst night of her life.

My only qualm with issue #7 is that, to clear her head, Babs wakes up Dinah Lance (Black Canary) to spar. It works because of the chemistry between the two characters, but I felt after seeing Barbara and Dick Grayson (Nightwing) chase one another through Gotham, working out her issues in #3 that it was a bit too soon to go back to that particular storytelling well. Story-wise, I suppose one could make the argument that they're different situations since Dick intruded on Barbara, whereas here, she's the one who initiated things with Dinah. It's a fair point to make, but it still leaves me, the reader, with a bit of hero-on-hero action used to deliver exposition.

That aside, though, I completely love this book. I'm ardently against crossovers and I'm wary of guest stars, but so far Simone has handled them well. Nightwing, Batman and now Black Canary have come and gone, and I wasn't expected to really know anything about them beyond what I could glean from these issues. That kind of ephemeral appearance works for me, as it doesn't smack of bait to compel me to buy three other comics just to run down a single plot thread or consult Wikipedia to understand the one at hand. Accessibility is perhaps the greatest element of Batgirl and I give Simone major props for how well she's pulled it off to date.

I know there are plenty of readers who prefer to wait for collected editions. First of all, this book better sell well enough that your patience doesn't screw things up for me. Secondly, though, I think you're missing out. Not only is it that you could be reading this book now, but Batgirl is a perfect monthly. Some series are more structured with the collected editions in mind (Batwoman is obviously that kind of book), but Batgirl instead relies on the charms and conventions of a monthly. Every month now, I find myself eagerly awaiting the next issue, turning each page with a smile and closing it with anticipation for the next issue. That's a sensation that a collected edition just can't recreate.

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