Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: BATGIRL!
The Concept and Characters: Barbara Gordon reclaims the cape and cowl. That might not seem like a big deal to anyone outside comic book fandom, even though they may be aware of Barbara Gordon and Batgirl via the Adam West television show from the 1960s. You know: Yvonne Craig.
But in comic book circles, Barbara Gordon returning as Batgirl is an enormous deal. First of all, she hasn’t been Batgirl for practically the entire Modern era of comics. Not since the Joker shot her in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke, back in 1988. And in the intervening years, she’s been known as Oracle, the wheelchair-bound computer whiz who has been the angel on Batman’s shoulder and the sturdy center of the Birds of Prey team for decades.
She has also, as Oracle, been an inspirational figure to some.
Now, she’s kicking the wheelchair to the curb, and finds herself back in the familiar tights with longtime Birds of Prey writer Gail Simone scripting her adventures.
To complicate the fan reaction even more, the current Batgirl, who will be replaced and sent packing to who-knows-where, is Stephanie Brown, a character who has had a history of fervent fan support.
So, as far as the comic shop market is concerned, this new Batgirl series is a crazy wildcard. Will fans of Oracle protest the series because it turns a unique and inspirational character back into a mere imitation of a more popular male superhero? Will fans of Stephanie Brown protest the series because it throws their favorite character out with the stagnant DCU bathwater? Does anyone, in 2011, care about the old Batgirl coming back, really?
Ironically, the best Barbara Gordon Batgirl comic was produced during her time as Oracle, in the 2003 Batgirl: Year One miniseries by Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon, Alvaro Lopez, and Marcos Martin. That series, which was overlooked by many readers as part of a glut of “Year One” comics in the past ten years, retold Batgirl’s origin in dynamic fashion, with stellar art and enough wit and charm to make every other Barbara Gordon Batgirl story more entertaining in retrospect.
So, yes, some readers might like to see that character back in action. And maybe Yvonne Craig fans might want to check in and see what her alter ego looks like in the four-color comic book version of today. New readers probably don’t care either way, as long as it’s good.
The Creative Team: Gail Simone, with such strong ties to the character of Barbara Gordon, is a smart choice, on paper, to write this series, but I’ve never found myself able to stick with any of her comics for more than a few issues. She started working in the industry because of her humor column for Comic Book Resources, and her early work showed a disposition toward absurd hilarity, but her more serious comic book work over the past decade has storytelling rhythms that I find off-putting. There’s nothing technically wrong with her overall plotting or dialogue, but her comics often feel lumpy and misshapen, as if she tries to fit too much into some scenes and not enough into others, with an occasional inelegant transition in between.
Artist Ardian Syaf is a capable superhero artist not of the dynamic whimsy of the artists who worked on Batgirl: Year One, but rather of a more traditional type. He’s a junior-league Ivan Reis, still improving, but already strong in the fundamentals of musclebound supermen and curvaceous superwomen. He’s not likely to detract from the story, but I can’t imagine anyone buying this comic because he’s drawing it.
Recommendation: Wait for the trade, if you have Batgirl nostalgia. If not, this is likely a skippable series. While it might be interesting to see what Simone does with a Barbara Gordon who can once again swing around Gotham City kicking bad guys in the face, all signs point to this settling into a mold of a conventional superhero romp with a creative team that’s firmly middle-of-the-road. Better to go back and reread Batgirl: Year One, or, if you haven’t read it yet, track down a used copy of the currently-out-of-print collected edition.
Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.