Mon
Jul 11 2011 3:05pm

Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe: Batgirl

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.

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12 comments
John R. Ellis
1. John R. Ellis
"Does anyobody, in 2011, care about the old Batgirl coming back, really?"

I should point out, Tim, that to all my friends who don't read the comics but grew up with the cartoons, Babs isn't the "old Batgirl" she's just Batgirl. The only Batgirl they've ever known, and much more likely to provoke an "Oh, yeah, I LOVE her" reaction than any other female DC character who pops up in pop culture discussions at work, school, etc.

And, when a new Bat-film comes out and they flip through the latest comics and ask me why -their- Batgirl is now "Oracle", they are inevitably disgusted and repelled at the whole Killing Joke thing. Especially those who remember the media talking about Bruce Wayne having his spine snapped. Then a year or so later, he's just fine!

Nice review of Gail's work, too. "I can't tell you what makes it bad, it just IS." *grin*

(As a fan of Secret Six and Birds of Prey, plus her Deapool run and her Rose and Thorn revamp, I beg to differ.)
rob mcCathy
2. roblewmac
1. there's no reason she should not be healed
2. I do like having a cool character in a wheelchair though.
3 I can tell you what's wrong with Gail Simone she throws in funny lines that make no sense becuase it's funny damnit! and it hurts her plots.
Tim Callahan
3. TimCallahan
Hey John -- I, of course, never actually wrote that Gail's work is "bad."

But out of curiousity, what do you like about her comics? Because I have tried, and I cannot see the appeal.
Scott Skocy
4. skoce
I can't understand why you don't like Simone's writing. When she is on she writes some of the best superhero comics around. Of course, she tends to miss just as hard as she hits, but she hit more often. Her return to Birds of Prey was disappointing, but Secret Six has been great and her previous sun on Birds was largely great. I'm in on this for at least the first arc.
Dave Thompson
5. DKT
God, I am so conflicted about this one, but will end up checking it out. For me, this is *the* change-up at the DCU. I'm so upset that Barbara Gordon will "kick the wheelchair to the curb"...what happened to her was horrible and disgusting, but where she went on to do after that was far more iconic than putting on a costume similar to one a man wore. She became a hero to the disabled, and it's incredibly sad how we're losing that...at least for now.
Dave Thompson
6. DKT
Also - why did they graph Michele Pfeiffer's Catwoman head onto Batgirl's body? Or is that just me?
rob mcCathy
7. roblewmac
I hate the with a passion. Sure it's FAIR because anybody who was important to dc would been cured by now. But to lose oricle so we can have a "once and future Batgirl"? it's just a bad idea. there's not enough polish for that large a turd.
John R. Ellis
8. justins
I think having written Babs as Oracle, and having the possible future image in mind as smart, dedicated and tenacious, might help bring more depth and originality to her version of the classic Batgirl.
John R. Ellis
9. JDudeman
Take 1 completely unique, well-developed red-haired character, get rid of 1 spunky, fun blonde Batgirl (who's grown into the role nicely) so you can have... 1 spunky, fun red-haired Batgirl. Seems like a loss to me.
What if they just changed the names and made Steph dye her hair? That's all people want that is not being provided, and 2 characters aren't lost to gain a sort of 'new' one. Sure, Barbara's experiences will make her a deeper Batwoman-er, girl (she's what, in her 20s at least?). But that's not why this is happening. Give Steph a wig and name change, busting her back down to Spoiler would be almost as bad as busting Oracle back down to Batgirl...oh.
As Gail Simone had a HUGE hand in defining Barbara Gordon as Oracle, and she knows her voice better than anyone else, she's a no-brainer to try and make this work. I happen to like her, but the only other choice would be Bryan Miller, who made a lot of doubters change their mind about Stephanie being a joke. It needs to be written by either someone who knows Barbara, or someone who knows how to write a fun, credible Batgirl...now that those 2 are being combined.
John R. Ellis
10. FotoCub
Oh, man. This is my number 1 must-have for September, and that says ALOT, as I am a lifetime Justice League and Legion of Super-Heroes fan, as well as a huge Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns follower. Gail Simone is my fourth Beatle (with Greg Rucka) as far as I am concerned. She may even be my Paul.
John R. Ellis
11. jonmwilson1979
I have friends who are dropping DC Comics because of this choice. I, personally, don't have a horse in that race. I know Gail Simone can do some fine work, and I like Batgirl as a concept. I'm looking forward to this, though I can't say I'm super excited for it. I'd love to be pleasantly surprised, though.
John R. Ellis
12. chrislue77
D.C hasn't stopped sucking in the past 15 years do you really think a reboot will save a the DCU? Isn't this reboot just a big finger the fans who invested in the characters the books, figurines cards, time and money? Start playing Abbie Road back word, DC is dead.

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