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Friday, May 15, 2015

'Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection' by Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf, and Vincente Cifuentes

From the BLURB:

As a part of the acclaimed DC Comics—The New 52 event of September 2011, Barbara Gordon is finally back as Batgirl!

The nightmare-inducing brute known as Mirror is destroying the lives of Gotham City citizens seemingly at random. Will Barbara be able to survive her explosive confrontation with this new villain, as well as facing dark secrets from her past? A new chapter in the riveting adventures of Batgirl continue in stunning fashion, with script by fan-favourite Gail Simone and stellar art by superstar Ardian Syaf! This volume collets issues 1-6 of Batgirl, part of the DC Comics—The New 52 event.

‘Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection’ was released in 2012 – written by Gail Simone, with art and illustrations by Ardian Syaf, and Vincente Cifuentes.

May 2nd was Free Comic Book Day – a glorious event, the purpose of which is in the title! And regardless of that word “free”, I always end up spending a fair amount of cold, hard cash whenever I get a lazy day to just browse at my favourite Melbourne comic book store – All Star Comics. It was while browsing that I came across the rebooted ‘Batgirl’ Volume 1, and was intrigued – particularly by a written proclamation from the New York Times calling it a must-buy series.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know that I’m still feeling my way into the wonderful world of comics. I live for ‘Saga’, love ‘Rat Queens’ and have become most recently obsessed with ‘Lumberjanes’. But I’ve been with these series pretty much from their inception, and as such I know the genesis of these series’ and universes. The only “traditional” series I read regularly is Ms Marvel, but only since Kamala Khan has taken over the mantel – so even in that series, I felt like I was starting from day dot a bit, with this revolutionary new superhero.

‘Batgirl’ I am far less familiar with the entire canon, and as such was wary to start reading. The Batgirl I know is Alicia Silverstone’s Barbara Wilson/Batgirl from the 1997 film ‘Batman & Robin’ which I understand is kind of widely despised by the fandom … but I would have been 10-years-old when that film came out, and I remember really enjoying it, particularly for the younger characters of Silverstone’s Batgirl and Chris O'Donnell’s Robin.

But taking a quick look at this Volume 1, I really liked how fierce Batgirl looked – that she wasn’t wearing a skimpy suit, and that the series had a female writer. I also remembered reading some recent articles about the rebooted ‘Batgirl’ when it was first announced, that DC were actually working to make her appealing to young, female fans … of course there’s been more recent controversy over one of the ‘Batgirl’ variant covers, depicting ‘The Killing Joke’. I’m not even going to pretend to be knowledgeable about the seriousness of the controversy, or how the variant cover depicts a particularly troubling moment in the Batgirl canon. All I know is that DC and the cover artist – Rafael Albuquerque – were receptive to the criticism, and pulled the variant. This response to what sounds like a legitimate complaint from female fans, impressed me enough to give Batgirl a try.

Going into Gail Simone’s ‘The Darkest Reflection’, I did some quick research and found that this was the beginning of a rebooted ‘Batgirl’ Barbara Gordon (that’s Police Chief Gordon’s daughter, yes).  I turned to Bitch Media for a brief history of Batgirl (I swear, another reason why I avoid the DC/Marvel comic book series – the canon does my head in) this Gail Simone series was rebooted in 2011 and then seems to have been poorly neglected, until recently when it was announced that DC were rebooting it yet again to appeal to an even younger female audience.

Anyway. ‘The Darkest Reflection’ reboot of this Barbara as Batgirl has a beginning in ‘The Killing Joke’ (the same 1988 storyline that the controversial variant cover was based on, yes) in which Ms Gordon is shot by The Joker, and consequently paralysed when the bullet hits her spine. In ‘The Darkest Reflection’ Barbara is not wheelchair-bound, seemingly thanks to a mysterious miracle, and that’s where this new series kicks off – with Barbara back in the bat-suit and feeling her way back as a crime-fighter for Gotham City.

In Volume 1 she faces-off against two villains – Mirror and Gretel – both of whom force Barbara to confront the new sense of fear instilled in her by The Joker’s bullet. I found this series to be quite dark and gritty, and no wonder when this version of Barbara is borne out of home invasion and partial paralysis. Ardian Syaf and Vincente Cifuentes’s artwork is full of flying blood and terrified screams, shattered glass and brutal fists – it’s visually visceral, and Batgirl’s fight scenes are particularly balletic (since that’s her hinted background) and while they sometimes stray too close to sexualisation, there’s unmistakable power there nonetheless.

In Volume 1, you really get the sense that Barbara has something to prove – to herself, and her vigilante alter-ego. She’s also trying to forge a new normal with her father, Chief Gordon who is still walking on eggshells and fears for his little girl, especially since he’s had a taste of the worst that can befall her. But really it’s Barbara’s struggles as Batgirl in the aftermath of The Joker’s attack that makes this new series so fascinating – we see Barbara questioning her strength, and having to accept that in some fights she just can’t win with brute strength and quick fists, instead having to rely on her wits.

Barbara’s relationships also bring an interesting dimension to this series. There’s Alysia – her bubbly new roommate (who, I’m sorry, is destined to die or be attacked at some point, I can just feel it – my hope though is that it won’t be a sexualised in any way, since Gail Simone is the one who coined the term "Women in Refrigerators" to describe those repeated attacks). 

Dick Grayson (Nightwing) and Bruce Wayne (Batman) also have appearances in this rebooted Batgirl. Barbara alludes to her complicated history with these two men – one as her first crush, the other as her mentor – and how complicated it has become since the attack and her recovery. I really hope that Nightwing becomes a prominent character in the story, not so Batgirl can play side-kick to him (because she doesn’t need to, she’s got the bad-guys under control) but the hints about their past and her romantic feelings for him are intriguing.

All in all I really enjoyed Volume 1 of ‘The Darkest Reflection’. I can’t say that I’m bursting to go out and pick up every volume I can get my hands on (not like with ‘Lumberjanes’, which I dropped $60 on – picking up issues #6 to #13 because I couldn’t wait for Volume 2 to come out!) but I’ll pick up Volume 2 ‘Knightfall Descends’ if I happen to see it on shelves and am in the mood.

I must say, now having read Gail Simone’s Batgirl and done some research into the canon … I think Barbara Gordon as The Oracle, when she’s wheel-chair bound, appeals to me more – particularly because there’s emphasis on her relationship with Dick Grayson/Nightwing.

All in all, I think what I most took away from reading ‘The Darkest Reflection’ is that I want to find more of Gail Simone’s stuff to read, and maybe I’ll pick up the new-rebooted Batgirl if I see it.


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