Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why Batgirl#1 Didn't Sit Well With Me


Life can balance out in weird ways sometimes.

In my most recent Friday Night Fights entry, I sung the praises of a new comic heroine in the person of Morning Glories' Casey Blevins, who impressed me with her intelligence and tactical skills last week. But then the next week comes along and I read about a veteran comic heroine, one who's been around for 44 years, who severely disappoints me.

Sadly, I'm talking about Barbara Gordon, formerly Batgirl, formerly Oracle, now Batgirl again.

From the moment that DC's reboot announcements began, one of the first announced changes was Barbara's return to the Batgirl identity. This seemed a questionable move from the start for several reasons:

1. It sacrificed of a powerful and inspiring wheelchair-bound role model in the form of Oracle, a most profound loss for those living under similar conditions.

2. It sacrificed Oracle to shoehorn Barbara into a role that already had two perfectly good characters (Steph Brown and Cass Cain) available to fill it.

3. Whereas Steph and Cass fit a unique niche (teen Bat-heroine) during their tenures, Barbara's reclamation of the mantle creates a new redundancy: Now, we have two mature twenty-something Bat-heroines, both with red hair, no less, swinging around Gotham.

4. It seemed yet another example of a DC Comics' recent unfortunate trend toward regressive storytelling: Writers, editors, and publishers so nostalgic over the versions of the (usually white and male) legacy heroes that THEY read when they were young that they demote, exile to comics limbo, or even kill off the NEWER (and often more racially diverse - see Cass, John Stewart, or Ryan Choi) versions of those same legacy characters in order to bring THEIR ONE TRUE versions of the legacy heroes back.

5. It didn't seem like a logical progression for Barbara. Barbara with her legs fixed wouldn't go back to being Batgirl; she'd just become Oracle with working legs. At this point reverting to Batgirl would be a step backward, especially with Steph available.

Still, for all those hurdles, the book still had one major thing in its favor: Gail Simone. Even better, Gail Simone writing Babs, a combination which had worked beautifully for years on Birds Of Prey.

For those of you who might not have guessed, I am a huge fan of Gail Simone, going all the way back when she wrote "You'll All Be Sorry" for Comic Book Resources back in the day. Since that time she's written The Simpsons, Deadpool (pre-overexposure), and two great runs of Birds of Prey. She's also written the solo books of two little-known characters named Superman and Wonder Woman, producing some of the best stories for each of them this century. Best of all, she wrote Secret Six, closing out that book last month with perhaps the greatest single comic issue of 2011.

With that in mind, you can see how, despite my reservations over Babs' reboot, I'd still be inclined to buy this book anyway. In terms of comics reading, I'd follow Gail Simone into hell.

Which brings us to Batgirl#1. And the conclusion that I should choose my words more carefully.

Batgirl#1 wasn't as bad as a trip to "the fire down below". But reading it presents me with a pretty daunting test of faith.

To be fair to Gail, not all the book's flaws were her fault.

Let's start with that outfit.

And here I thought Steph Brown's first Batgirl outfit was too busy!

If this costume and the other ones I've seen in the DCnU are any indication, someone at DC, namely Jim Lee, has a MAJOR "ridge" fetish. Barbara's new costume has more ridges than a family-sized bag of Ruffles!

This outfit is in flagrant violation of the Ron Frenz Rule Of Costume Design:

The Ron Frenz Rule of Costume Design is a simple one. Don't design a comic book costume too ornately. With every costume you design, always do so so that, if Ron Frenz were ever to draw it, it would look cool.

This is NOT meant to be a knock on Ron Frenz at ALL. His style is just geared towards simple designs, not ornate ones.

Therefore, if he can make your costume look basically the way you designed it, then you passed the test.

I also mention Ron Frenz here because some of the art made me wish Frenz had drawn the book. Or at least made me wish that actual artist Ardian Syaf had tried to emulate Frenz' style. As opposed to trying to reproduce panels from Spawn....

Wait a minute! Eye slits? Batgirl doesn't have eye slits!!

A lot of readers are taking Gail to task in their reviews for not providing any explanation of how Babs regained the use of her legs in the first issue.

I'm not one of them.

Why? Perhaps it's my familiarity with Simone's work in particular and with serialized comics in general. It's intended as a mystery, folks. You'll learn more as the story progresses. Simone does raise some interesting questions, such as why Babs is keeping her wheelchair in her new digs and why she says "what the wheelchair does for you" instead of "what the wheelchair did for me".

My bigger concern is how the reboot affects her time as Oracle. This first issue seems to give the impression that her Oracle tenure never happened. If that's true, that seems an awfully big "screw you" to Oracle fans. However, the operative word is "seems". Maybe her Oracle tenure is still intact in some abbreviated but as-yet-unrevealed form? Only future issues will tell.

I'm also a bit worried as to how the reboot affects Babs' time as Batgirl. Maybe I'm nit-picking, but this line disturbed me:

Wait a minute! "Batman's star pupil"? I thought Babs was self-taught!

Every problem I've mentioned up to now seems perfectly and easily fixable with some refinement. And that's how it was for me with the book.

Until the last two pages.

Here are the final panels from the third last page.

So, Batgirl faces off against this issue's bad guy, named "The Mirror", and she........

......freezes up.

Ok, so Babs recovers from her bout of PTSD in time to save The Mirror's intended victim, right?



So, in other words, Batgirl makes her return with the heroic feat of.....

.....watching an innocent fall to his death, and then letting the killer get away.

Finally, we have the single common thread that seems to be running through the rebooted DC titles.

No, I'm not talking about the mystery woman, whom I hereby call Hoodie Harbinger. I'm talking about how, with the exception of Jim Gordon and the cops in Animal Man#1, all the police in the DCnU......

.....are complete morons!

Pop Quiz: You're a policewoman in a Gotham City hospital room. You just witnessed a hooded killer push a hospital patient out of a hospital window, and the killer is still in the room. You're holding a loaded gun. Also, the killer is still in the room. Do you:

A.) Shoot directly at the killer, who, by the way, is still in the room?


B.) Pull your gun on the costumed heroine who was unable to stop the killer who, in case I forgot to mention it before, is still in the room?

But the handling of Batgirl herself was the bigger misfire here.

Look, I can get what some of Gail may have been going for here. Babs is no stranger to PTSD. In fact, that's a huge part of what originally led her to quit being Batgirl even before her Killing Joke injury. I'm old enough to remember Cormorant back in the 80's. Dealing with PTSD with the added burden of eidatic (photographic) memory can be one hell of a hurdle. I watched a fascinating TV special on people with eidatic memory a few weeks back, so I can see how that could be a rich characterization mine to explore.

The problem is that superhero comics, and this comic issue in particular, may have been the wrong setting to explore it. It's all in the context.

This whole reboot idea is essentially DC's equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. Its objective is to draw in new readers. In the case of the Batgirl book, there's also the added burden of satisfying fans who had to deal with the demise of Oracle, who's been an integral and unique female character in the DCU for several years, and the exile of Stephanie, who was coming into her own in the role.

There's also the context of the relative scarcity of female solo books (I count six, as opposed to 26 male solo books) in the New 52. It's important for those books to sell and appeal to a wide variety of readers of both genders.

In the context of all those factors, having your heroine freeze up and let an innocent man die in your first issue may not be the best way to hook readers into coming back for more.

I guess the big question hanging over this first issue is "Is this relaunched Batgirl series WORTH jettisoning both Oracle and the Steph Brown Batgirl for?"

And honestly? Judging by this first issue? My answer would have to be "No".

However, the answer to my next question, namely "Will I buy the next issue?" has to be "Yes".

Here's why:

All may not be lost here. Simone is likely intending this story arc as what Roger Ebert once called the CLIDVIC, short for "CLImb from Despair to VICtory". In other words, it's the old "tear 'em down to build 'em back up" formula.

But my real reason for coming back to the book boils down to this: This is written by the woman who gave us Secret Six. That buys a HELL of a lot of faith and trust. That's enough to keep me in. For now.

Will that be enough to keep other readers in? That's the biggest question of all.


At 12:23 PM , Blogger SallyP said...

"Hoodie Harbinger!"

Heh heh.

There was some stuff that I liked, and some that I didn't, but that bit with the police woman having a hissy fit because Batgirl let the bad guy escape...when SHE HERSELF had a gun and was just sitting there on the floor...just stunned me. Man, those Gotham cops are lazy!

At 6:40 PM , Anonymous ShadowWing Tronix said...

I wish I was surprised but DC thinks they need to be Marvel lite to play catch-up in sales figures, when really they haven't done what makes DC Comics DC Comics for far too long, even before the Bad Fanfic Brigade took charge.

At 2:23 AM , Blogger Ami Angelwings said...

B/c for some reason lately I feel like doing things, and cuz I have a job again, I was thinking of getting back into comics and reviewing again....but this review is dulling that enthusiasm >_>

Tho reading your thingie above, it seems some are good to read! :D

Or maybe I should switch to Marvel. >_> how awful is it? >_>


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