Here’s the DC New 52 origin of Batgirl. Bang goes the daft-but-charming costume party business, in comes a moment of desperate bravery during a tour of Gotham police headquarters. It’s still the same old Barbara Gordon, though: bright, bold, with a few good self-defence moves and the element of surprise – well, what massive thug believes a tiny girl could take them down? The thug here is Harry X, a mass murderer and cult leader whose acolytes try to bust him out of the police station. He sees Barbara as prime hostage material, and if not Barbara, her younger brother James, who’s also on the tour.
Harry, though, soon sees something in James, decides he’s an ‘abomination’. He’ll keep the girl, and kill the boy. But Barbara grabs a Batman costume cobbled together by SWAT officers and turns the tables. She even gets a ‘nice work’ from Batman when he arrives on the scene.
Amazed by how well she’s done, Barbara spends a year on the streets as Batgirl, accepted by Batman and Robin as a member of their crimefighting family. Then she retires from the hero business, concentrates on her criminology studies. But one night, the Joker comes a-calling …
So there you have it, the first coming of Batgirl in an excellent DC zero month issue from writer Gail Simone and artist Ed Benes. They quickly sketch in teen Barbara’s character – intense, eager, exceptional – and make it believable that she should stumble into crimefighting. Of course she’s taken self-defence classes, she’s the police commissioner’s daughter and a target for his enemies; of course she’d jump into a dangerous situation, she’s inspired by her dad. While the details are different from the Sixties origin – for Killer Moth, read Harry X, for example – the feel is the same. The big difference is the presence of budding psychopath brother James Jr, complete with a lot of foreboding.
Simone’s narration for Barbara is first class. She’s confident, but not cocky, never assuming she can be a hero. But when she finds out that maybe, just maybe, she can be, she embraces the role. And while she ‘can’t stay away from the darkness’, she much prefers the light, retaining her essential sunniness. As for James Jr, Simone makes him creepy, but not full-on – not so loony that alarm bells ring for Barbara … of course he’s weird, aren’t all little brothers? But a fellow psycho can see who James is.
Providing both pencils and inks, Benes produces the best stripwork I’ve seen from him, nailing the young Barbara’s character from the moment we meet her – pretty but not vampish, her intelligence etched on her face (click on image to enlarge). When she’s drawn into battle, the future Batgirl has the gawky grace of a natural. And while Harry X is an imposing brute, he’s not so scary that you can’t believe Barbara would take him on.
Benes also gets to draw a Batgirl suit we’ve not seen before – similar to the traditional outfit but sans mask, allowing Barbara’s red ponytail to flow freely. Which seems pretty silly, surely some villain would rip her hair right out of her head in her first week on duty? I wonder what the creative team’s thinking is here.
Colouring Benes, Ulises Arreola uses a naturalistic palette that suits the story, while Dave Sharpe’s lettering looks good against the artwork. Benes and Arreolo also provide the cover figure of today’s Batgirl, which is attractive, if a tad too shiny.
The one problem I have with this issue isn’t the fault of the creative team. It’s DC’s insistence on a five-year timeline for their superhero universe. Batgirl can’t debut the same year as Batman, so we join Barbara ‘four years ago’. It’s already been established that Barbara’s crippling by the Joker lasted three years, meaning Batgirl was only active for one year.
It’s ridiculous. As I say, though. It’s not the fault of Simone, she’s making lemonade from a very dodgy batch of lemons. She gives us a pacy, dramatic, character-building beginning for Barbara, even finding a way to wink at the Killer Moth original. It’s not a million dollar debut, but it’s well worth my $2.99.