Review: Batgirl #1 By Gail Simone & Ardian Syaf

Batgirl #1 “Shattered”
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes, and Ulises Arreola

Buried in between the Wildstorm merger, Superman’s triumphant debut, and the sheer presence of the JLA, another change is taking place. One perhaps not as powerful or showboating, but it’s an important one for the New 52, and among the circles I travel in, it’s almost more important than anything else DC has brought to the table with the upcoming titles. Barbara Gordon has stepped into the Batgirl boots again.

You have to understand, Barbara Gordon is iconic to DC readers. She was Batgirl, the cheeky, independent redhead who dares stand up to the grim Batman, and kept pace with the rambunctious Dick Grayson. She defied her own father, Commissioner Gordon. She was a necessary female in a very exclusive boys’ club. And if you don’t allow her that, well, there’s no denying The Killing Joke. A definitive Batman tale given to us by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, this graphic novel sent a ripple through the DC universe with one shot – when the Joker shot Barbara Gordon clear through the spine, he was trying to send the world a message.

Unfortunately for him, Batman, Jim Gordon, and Barbara Gordon didn’t accept it. Even confined to a wheelchair, she persevered.

This is where many DC readers know Barbara, from the pages of Batman and Birds of Prey and JLA. No longer the defiant firebrand assisting Batman on the streets, as Oracle she reached out and became a big sister, a friend, an indispensible resource to the hero community.

During her time as Oracle, the role of Batgirl was passed on, and while Barbara has a fanbase, her successors found their own audience. Cassandra Cain, the deadly martial artist. Stephanie Brown, formerly The Spoiler and, yes, girlfriend of Robin (Tim Drake). And this is where things get difficult, when I overhear discussions in comic shops, conventions, and coffee shops.

If the New 52 have had any obstacles, it’s been people fearing the change that was heading towards the DC Universe. Revamping Superman, making The Authority work, losing cult titles like Xombi…all of them pale to DC having the sheer audacity to replace Stephanie Brown, who by all accounts had a very successful run, with Barbara Gordon. How could it work?

“She’s more valuable as Oracle!” said some of the old guard.
“Stephanie just earned it! They can’t cancel her book!” said some of the readers who grew up with different Batgirls.
“Why can’t Cassie take it back?” a loyal group demanded.
“How can she do it, how will she walk again?” everyone wondered.

Thankfully, with Gail Simone at the helm, Barbara Gordon not only walks the walk, she hits the ground running. Simone is no stranger to Barbara; she practically defined the Oracle persona in Birds of Prey. And Simone loves strong characters. Not strong women. Strong people. And Barbara has been strong from the beginning. It’s a perfect fit. A tough fit, given that Barbara hasn’t worn the cape and cowl in nearly twenty-five years of readership. But Simone makes it work.

How is she back in the suit? That’s tricky. The New 52 has been an exciting place these past few months, watching the creators shuffle things around, reinvent wheels, dispose of wheels and make hovercrafts, trash hovercrafts to make space transit, reshuffling. Oddly, Batman has been nearly immune to this. There are a few twists here and there, but for the most part, Batman and his microverse haven’t been affected. Many readers wondered what happened to the Batfamily. Everyone wondered how they would put Barbara back in the boots.

The short answer is The Killing Joke happened, it’s referred to explicitly, and the memory of that event is even her weakness. I love it, for my fear was that they might have to make compromises the fans wouldn’t be happy with. Instead, Batgirl embraces Barbara Gordon tightly. But let’s forget all of this for a moment.

Isn’t the point of The New 52 to be accessible? I’m a longtime DC reader and even I was excited to see a new, fresh universe. So with all that history and weight, how does Simone and her art team pull it off? They throw you in and ask you to keep up. A fair compromise for readers new and returning.

Barbara Gordon is back as Batgirl, busting up a horrific coterie of serial killers. She’s all too aware it’s been awhile and that she isn’t in full form. It still feels good.

Her father, Commissioner James Gordon, is all too happy to see his daughter walk around again after years in the chair. The simple act of having his daughter wake up late and walk in to the kitchen makes him smile. And ever independent, she wastes no time establishing a new life.

But when you lead a dual life in Gotham, it’s going to be anything but relaxed. Another serial killer stalks Gotham, and Batgirl gets too spooked to take him on.

This is my only problem with the story, and it’s minor, but the villain, while cool in concept and I like his gimmick, if it is what I think it is, yet…the villain is the Final Destination movies. In a way. It’s not terrible, he’s brutal, he gets the best of our heroine, and I’m very intrigued by his gimmick, but I did pause and reread things to make sure I had it right.

And truthfully, for me, the only reason this doesn’t work for me is because the first batch of goons Batgirl bagged in the cold open were far more disturbing. But this issue is, of course, continued, so I’m not going to hold the first part of a story against it without knowing the whole.

Simone planted a very interesting hook, you see. Which gives our count…a lot of interesting hooks. Well played, Gail. Well played.

Of course the best script in the comic industry is worthless without visual execution. The New 52 has been spilling over with insane talent, and Batgirl delivers.

Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes are the dynamic duo this book demands. Syaf’s pencils have always been powerful and dynamic, and even the most mundane panel is packed with detail and attentiveness here. And when it comes to the action, Syaf doesn’t pull any punches, you can see Barbara learned from Batman’s swift and brutal style, with her own twist. Even if there was no dialogue, the body language at play throughout this issue would tell the story. Paired with Cifuentes, it’s almost not fair to other art teams. He keeps the linework focused and clean, highlighting all of Syaf’s strengths. Having seen the inked pages, I would be happy if this book shipped black and white.

I like color, though, and all the prettiness and talent here is made or broken when color is added. Ulises Arreola comes out swinging, with some amazing flesh tones and clothing coloring happening in this very book. A reserved use of glow effects and flare gives key moments even more punch, and every scene has a unique palette to it. It’s overall pleasing to look at and easy to flip through. Worth noting, Batman is usually a dark and grim affair, but Batgirl sticks with brighter colors, even in the Gotham night. It suits our heroine perfectly.

Is it a good issue? Absolutely. One of my most anticipated New 52 titles, but one I wasn’t sure was going to work. Simone makes it work and asks that we just come along and don’t ask too many questions yet, and I trust her. If the team can keep this pace and reverent manner with the material, new or old, then Barbara Gordon deserves to be back in the yellow knee-highs.

Is it worth dropping Stephanie Brown? I’m not sure yet. Of all the progression and change New 52 heralded, slipping Barbara into the cowl again almost feels like regression, especially after Bryan Q. Miller took Stephanie and owned her. And then there’s still going to be a legion of Cassandra Cain fans wronged no matter how you slice it, and Oracle devotees might continue to argue Barbara was more interesting as the premier DC hacker.

This is a risky move. The past six years, DC hasn’t been shy about those. And Gail Simone never was.

I recommend Batgirl #1, but I don’t expect it to convert anyone in a different camp. Like Action Comics, it’s an energetic, fulfilling chapter, and I only wish it was a nice stand alone rather than to be continued. It’s not as new reader friendly as I had hoped, but if you dive in, there’s something here for every flavor of Batgirl or DC fan.

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