Review by Will Morgan
Batgirl was the first of the New 52 titles to be released following DC’s Flashpoint event, in which the venerable publisher reset its status quo to new continuities and new premier issues for 52 of its established properties, shutting the door firmly on the previous versions. Batgirl got off lightly, bearing strong resemblance to her former version. She was still Barbara Gordon, daughter of Commissioner James Gordon of Gotham City PD, and the touchpoints of her history – career as Batgirl, almost-romance with Dick Grayson, becoming a paraplegic after being shot by the Joker – were all still in place, though in a severely compressed timescale. This new take establishes that she was in a wheelchair for three years, after a ‘brief’ career as Batgirl, and that she’s been out of the chair one year as of the story’s opening.
So, this version of Batgirl is more recognisable to ‘classic’ readers than most New 52 reboots; but the great controversy was whether Barbara Gordon actually needed to be Batgirl at all, given that she had spent almost 25 real-time years as Oracle, cybermentor to the DCU at large. As Oracle, a paraplegic who still held a heroic and pivotal function, she was a unique and inspirational character; as Batgirl, many averred, she was just another vigilante chick in a Bat-costume, a commodity of which Gotham, and DC at large, could hardly be said to be in short supply.
Nevertheless, for the relaunch, it was decreed that Babs should slap on the Bat-tights again, and given that ill-judged edict, writer Gail Simone – having a long history with the character in Birds of Prey and elsewhere – does a creditable job. We’re made privy to Barbara’s first outings as Batgirl after regaining the use of her legs, and we sympathise with her hesitation, her panic, her feelings of inadequacy, as she struggles to prove herself to her mentors, Batman and Nightwing, but most importantly to herself. She’s unwittingly helped to regain her confidence by two new additions to her Rogue’s Gallery, Mirror and Gretel, both of which, in the brace of story arcs in this volume, come across as well-developed characters rather than mere gimmick crooks.
Simone proves equally adept at playing out Barbara’s civilian life, with her long-suffering father, pain-in-the-arse detective Melody McKenna, Bab’s new landlady Alysia, and a surprise return of her absentee mother all setting up story strands which would be used to compelling effect later.
Primary artist here is Ardian (no, that isn’t a misspelling) Syaf, with inker Vicente Cifuentes also filling in on pencils intermittently, keeping the whole look of the series polished and appropriately atmospheric.
There’s a scattering of design and sketch pages in the back – Jim Lee’s redesign of the classic Batgirl outfit, cover ideas from Adam Hughes, and character designs and layouts by Syaf.
Many people questioned, justifiably, the wisdom of having Barbara Gordon resume the Batgirl role, but if it had to be done, this was one of the best possible relaunches it could have had. The series continues with Knightfall Descends.