20 September 2011

"Batgirl" #1 (Nov 2011)

Cover art by Adam Hughes
Batgirl #1
Gail Simone - writer
Ardian Syaf - penciller
Vicente Cifuentes - inker
Ulises Arreola - color
Dave Sharpe - letterer
Adam Hughes - cover art
Katie Kubert - assistant editor
Bobbie Chase - editor
Batman created by Bob Kane
Date of publication: 7 September 2011
$2.99, 32 pages

Believe it or not, this is the first time Barbara Gordon has had a solo book in the character's history.  Batgirl is also one of two titles I was adamant about trying out among DC Comics's "New 52" relaunch (the other being All-Star Western).  I can't help it; I dig Batgirl.  Because of the nature of the relaunch there are couple of elements to this review out of the ordinary.  Bear with me.

Finding a Copy
To begin, I almost didn't get Batgirl.  Reports complete with photos have circulated online of comic shops dramatically jacking up the sale price of many of the new DC titles; one store had marked up Batgirl to $30.00!  That instantly soured me on this entire relaunch, though in fairness to my local shop I haven't made it there yet and I have no reason to believe they're partaking in this self-destructive practice of gouging.  I bring this up because, even as Batgirl #1 has gone into a third printing, I had already more or less accepted that I wasn't going to get or read this issue.  I'm a reader, not a collector, and I have a hard enough time with the $2.99 cover price; I'm not paying over cover for anything.

Sunday, however, while out and about after picking up my pills, we popped in on Barnes and Noble.  We had actually been there the weekend after Batgirl #1 was released to comics shops, but B&N had nary a title on their shelves.  I was therefore surprised when I looked up and saw Batgirl among several New 52 titles for sale.  After weeks of having given up on finding a copy, I had one in hand and was only being asked to pay the cover price.  Win!  Hopefully, this battle of excitement, followed by discouraged abandonment, is not going to be common to any further comic reviews--even if it had a happy ending this time.

Establishing "The New 52"
As the first issue of the relaunch, of course, I was curious to see how writer Gail Simone established the new continuity--with regards to reconciling with previous continuity, most specifically The Killing Joke, the 1987 graphic novel in which The Joker shot and paralyzed Barbara Gordon.  It's acknowledged with an entire page dedicated to flashing back to the incident, but glossed over.  For now, readers are asked to simply accept that Barbara was injured and is now recovered.

Fair enough, actually.  Barbara, now able to not only stand and walk, but return to action as Batgirl, moves into an apartment with a roommate.  The roommate makes a flippant remark about how upsetting it would be to be confined to a wheelchair.  Barbara keeps her reaction to herself, contented that the able-bodied woman intended no offense and spoke only out of ignorance.  This exchange was really more for the benefit of apprehensive readers, many of whom had accepted wheelchair-bound Barbara as a figure representing their own plight.  I've not been paralyzed, but with Crohn's and depression, I can tell you that Barbara's reaction rang quite true for me.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard people who have been spared serious health concerns say things that made me want to choke them, or break down and cry (or both) and I kept quiet instead.  I know that irritation, and the way it feels in your shoulders when you make the mental decision to silently forgive them by not engaging them.

The Book
So, after the "will I or won't I" phase of coming to own a copy and the initial, if ambiguous, acknowledgement of the continuity elephant in the room, we're left with the issue itself.  You know what?  It was pretty fun.  It's a fairly straightforward plot: Barbara, as Batgirl, rescues a family from the Brisby Killers, a group of violent gang with a dark sense of humor.  Through thought boxes, Barbara's insecurities are shared with us.  I was afraid to find Simone plagiarizing from a text on trauma, but instead her text reads as believable.  Concurrently, a new villain calling himself (or herself) The Mirror is going around killing people on a list.  It seems The Mirror's victims "shouldn't" be alive and he (or she) is rectifying this.  (Think: Final Destination as a costumed villain.)

I have a couple of minor nits to pick, but on the whole I liked Batgirl #1 quite a lot.  The pace is even, but brisk, and it took me a solid 20+ minutes to read this issue, which is about my comfort zone.  If it takes me less than 30 seconds to read each page, then it better be a "silent" issue, because that's way too thin for my liking.

I also haven't said a word about the art, I realize.  It's a gorgeous book, and it was nice to see layouts that didn't make a splash page out of every action moment.  Penciler Ardian Syaf, colorist Vicente Cifuentes and colorist Ulises Arreola have turned in a gorgeous book.  We only see Barbara's father, Police Commissioner James Gordon, in one page...but the second panel of that page was perhaps the best in the issue.  Jim is sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of coffee, just smiling at seeing Barbara up and walking.  A picture really is worth a thousand words, and that one panel would have taken two pages of prose to describe.  I found it clean and easy to follow, but detailed enough to know I have no business trying to emulate it.  In short: professional work, from edge to edge.

Those Nits
Twice in this issue we see the term, "home invasion."  It's a peculiar term, conjuring Nancy Grace.  In its first appearance, it's paired with "murder."  Had Simone consulted me, I would have advised her to change "murder" to "homicide" for the sake of alliteration.  Also, in one panel, Barbara prepares to throw a Batarang and the thought box reads, "Gotham, bless my aim."  It's a reminder that atheists really don't have a substitute for God.  Something like, "Don't screw this up" would have been less awkward.  Lastly, Barbara's new roommate describes herself as, "kinda an activist."  There really ought to be a consonant in the middle of all that, methinks.  Again, though, no one asked me and in any event, these are trivial things that I suspect most readers overlook.

Will I buy issue #2?  Yup.  Looking forward to it, actually, and it's been quite some time since I could say that about a monthly book (about a decade).