13 September 2012

"Batgirl" #0 by Gail Simone & Ed Benes

Batgirl #0
"A Fire in the Heavens"
Gail Simone: writer
Ed Benes: pencils and inks
Ulises Arreola: colors
Dave Sharpe: letters
Cover: Benes and Arreola
Brian Smith: editor
Batman created by Bob Kane
Date of Publication: 12 September 2012
$2.99/32 pages

I feel kinda bad that I've slacked off on reviewing my monthlies, especially since I've pretty much moved my movie reviews to Letterboxd. Last month, I made the decision to finally bail on Batwoman, so I think it'll be easier for me to not feel I'm inundating you, Dear Reader, with comic book reviews that may not interest you at all - though, seriously, you should be reading what I read! I have great taste!

Anyway, I stopped by The Great Escape this morning and picked up this issue along with Detective Comics #0 and Detective Comics Annual #1 [which I'll review later]. The former came out last week and the later, two weeks ago. There were plenty of each of 'em. Not so for Batgirl #0. I got there 25 hours after it was stocked and there were only three copies remaining; two after I checked out. Incidentally, just one more reason to love The Great Escape: they discount new issues by 25%, so after buying the two 'Tec comics, my Batgirl #0 was essentially free!

This was one of the most highly anticipated of the #0 issues, as we all wanted to see what part of the story Gail Simone would fill in between Batman: The Killing Joke and Batgirl #1. Early buzz was particularly strong from comic book site reviews. I hope that's a sign that my fellow Louisvillians share my enthusiasm for this book.

Simone gives us an update of the classic origin story, with Barbara and her younger brother, James, Jr., caught up in a jailbreak by a guy best described as "Buffalo Bill" on the Barry Bonds plan. Barbara squares off against the killer, determined to protect her brother and an injured Gotham City cop. The Batman costume is still part of the origin story, and hats off to Simone for working it in more organically and thoughtfully than was done by Gardner Fox in "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!" (Detective Comics #359). I buy Barbara Gordon being capable of becoming Batgirl before she ever makes the decision.

On some level, I confess to feeling a bit cheated that this is ultimately a prequel to The Killing Joke and does nothing to explain Barbara's recovery from the shooting in that infamous story. Of course, I also secretly prefer it this way, with that larger story left to be explored at Simone's leisure. The #0 issue theme was clearly imposed by DC's upper echelon, as these standalone stories have entirely interrupted the ongoing stories being told. Batgirl #12, for instance, left off in the middle of the "Knightfall" story with Babs down for the count! It was wise of Simone to appease DC's "origin story" demand in a way that saved the good stuff for later.

As regards Ed Benes's artwork, for the most part I absolutely loved it. It's certainly a different aesthetic from the work of Ardian Syaf, but I dig both. Check out that panel of Barbara on the bottom of (story) page 9 making up her mind to confront Harry X, or the top panel on (story) page 13 of her first appearance in the Batman costume! In fact, the entire action sequence that plays out on pages 13 & 14 is just terrific. [I also appreciated the double-splash page tribute to Joe Kubert that follows.] The montage on (story) page 17 of Barbara's training, and then the big shot of Batman, Batgirl & Robin together on page 18? Killer.

I just have one qualm, though. It seems Babs is a bit more sexualized in this issue than we've seen to date. For instance, there's the panel on page 2 of her making pancakes. It's odd that she would be such a domestic figure here, cooking for the menfolk, but odder still that she's dressed in such a skimpy outfit - particularly when it's apparently cool enough that James, Jr. feels comfortable in a hoodie. Or, on (story) page 9, just above the aforementioned great shot of Barbara committing to confrontation, there's a panel of her slumped against a wall with her legs drawn up. Her skirt hasn't fallen, leaving us with an eyeful of her thighs and with my glasses off, it doesn't appear she's wearing any panties. These shots didn't ruin the story for me, but they did take me out of it.

DC Direct recently released a 6 1/2" mini-bust of our protagonist, sculpted by James Maddox. It's pure awesomesauce, but its $69.95 price tag is prohibitive for this Batfan!

Aaaaaand...Mattel is going to release a New 52-style Batgirl action figure as part of their Batman Unlimited line! Batgirl is part of the first wave, which also includes a New 52 Batman and a Silver Age Penguin. These are 7" scale figures, but they come with the discouraging MSRP of $21.99 apiece. Batgirl can be pre-ordered from Entertainment Earth right now for $17.99. Their site shows that she'll be out in December, but the Previews order form shows the figures won't be out until 30 January. Regardless, I'm gonna save my milk money 'cause for the first time in several years, there's an action figure I just gotta have!

Seriously, THIS is what I want for Christmas.