Friday, January 18, 2013

New 52 Batgirl - Year 1

I'm still a little late to the "New 52" party, and I am still playing catch-up with DC's new set of "rebooted" titles.  As I have explained in earlier articles, I had stopped collecting comic-books for over 13 years, from early 1999, until December of 2012 (see this article and this one for details).  Because it's fairly easy to get "back issues" these days as electronic copies, I started with some of the New 52 #1 issues, and then began building my collection forward.  I am currently on #5 of most titles.

However, early on, I decided to buy the physical issues of two titles.  These are the titles most important to me. One, Supergirl, I collect physically because it chronicles my favorite superhero of all time.  And the second, I decided to collect physical copies because it is just so damn good, I wanted it on paper.  Within a few issues it had vaulted to the top of my list as the pinnacle of DC's new line of comic-books. And that title is Gail Simone and Adrian Syaf's Batgirl.

Indeed, I enjoyed the digital version of Batgirl issues #1-4 so much that I went to the comic-shop and re-purchased them (sort of) as part of the "Darkest Reflections" hardcover (which collects issues #1-6 of the original series).  I then prowled two different comic shops to purchase all the remaining issues up to the current one, #16.

Now, I am taking my time reading these titles. I don't want to get too far ahead of the other New 52s that I am reading, because if there are any crossovers or guest appearances, I know it will confuse me.  So I haven't read every one of the Batgirl issues yet. However, today I finished reading issue #12, meaning that I have now finished the first year's worth of Batgirl. I thought I would take this opportunity to review this series and post my reflections of it.
The Batgirl hardover (issues 1-6) and Batgirl #7-12

I'm not sure I can find enough words to sufficiently praise what the Batgirl creative team has done with this title.  I've liked the Batgirl character (and her secret identity, Barbara Gordon) since watching the old Batman TV show as a kid.  I had a bit of a crush on Yvonne Craig, to tell the truth... but I also thought she was an interesting character.  After Batgirl was shot and crippled, I always admired the way Barbara Gordon persevered as the wheelchair-bound hero known as Oracle.  However, as a superhero, I would never have placed Batgirl on a par with my other all-time favorites, like Supergirl, Captain America, Hawk, and Dove. In fact, if I'd had to list my top 20 or even top 50 favorite heroes, I doubt Batgirl would have made the cut.

Until now.

In a relatively few short issues (a year is not a long time in the world of comic-book series), the Batgirl creative team has catapulted her to near the absolute top of my hero list, along side those favorites I mentioned above.  And although the book's art is excellent, the primary reason why Batgirl has become one of my new favorite heroes is because of the incredible talent of the book's writer: Gail Simone.

Because I had been out of comics for a long time, I had never heard of Gail Simone. I knew nothing about her history (as long-time writer of Birds of Prey). So I started reading Batgirl #1 with no real expectations.  And right from the very first issue, I was blown away.  Simone is probably the best comic-book writer on the market today, and I would already (after only 12 issues) rank her as one of the best all-time, right up there with my other favorites like Walt Simonson and Barbara and Karl Kesel.  She has the uncanny ability, when writing the narration, to become Batgirl.  It really feels like the narrative boxes are coming right from Barbara Gordon's "real" diary.

But the immersive, in-character narration is not where Ms. Simone's talent ends.  She also writes snappy, realistic-sounding dialog, and always works to reveal character as the people in Batgirl converse and interact.  Simone develops a wonderful cast of supporting characters, including not just Barbara's dad (Commissioner Gordon himself), but also her room-mate (Alysia), Detective McKenna, Mrs. Gordon (Barbara's long-lost mother), and others.  Unlike many of the other titles I'm reading these days, Simone really infuses these characters with personality and depth, rather than giving them short cameos in between fight scenes.  Make no mistake about it: Batgirl is not just about super-fights; it is about characters.

However, I don't want to leave the impression that the action sequences are thin on the ground in this title. Quite the opposite. Batgirl gets into martial-arts style brawls over and over again in the pages of her new comic.  The battles are wonderfully choreographed, revealing a clear bond of synergy between writer/plotter Simone, and artist Adrian Syaf (whose illustrations are top-notch).  But even here, Simone and Syaf repeatedly surprise the reader.  The fights are not predictable and often do not end the way you would expect.

Perhaps the most important element to the new Batgirl title, though, is how Simone and Syaf have so skilfully infused Batgirl with humanity.  She's not invincible. She makes mistakes. She screws up. She gets scared.  She gets cocky. She criticizes herself.  She does all the things, in short, that we would do if we had a shot at being superheroes.  This makes Batgirl a character the reader can easily identify with, and also, a character the reader can't help but fall in love with.  I defy anyone with a heart to read "The Darkest Reflection" story arc from Batgirl #1-6 and come away with it not rooting for this wonderful character. She won my heart immediately, thanks to the creative team.

Every once in a while, a comic-book series enjoys a run by a creative team so talented, and so in sync, that every issue is a must-have.  Examples include the Kesels' 33-issue, two-series run on Hawk and Dove, Walt Simonson's 45-issue run on Thor, Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema's 50-issue run on Rom: Spaceknight, Chris Claremont and John Byrne's 33-issue run on X-men, George Perez's 35-issue run on Wonder Woman.  Often, as a reader, you don't realize while these issues are being produced, just how fantastic the run of comics is.  But every once in a while, a creative team is so outstanding, that even while the issues are being produced, you know you are involved in something special.  What Simone and Company are doing on Batgirl falls into this category.  This team's run, which hast lasted 16 issues and will hopefully go on for many, many more, will almost certainly go down as one of the great comic-book runs of all time.  These comics are just that good.

And that is why Batgirl is currently my favorite comic-book series, why Gail Simone is currently my favorite comic-book writer, and why the Batgirl character has leapfrogged a few dozen other superheroes to headline the top of my "favorite characters" list along with Supergirl, Cap, Hawk, and Dove. And since this site is called "Statues and Superheroes," you can bet I will be adding some Batgirl statues to my statue collection some time very soon.

If you're collecting comic-books right now, but haven't given Batgirl a try, you should give it a chance. It is not a title to be missed.  And if you've never read comics, and don't know anything about them, I can highly recommend the hardcover volume, "The Darkest Reflection," that reprints issues #1-6. I promise you won't be lost or confused.  Simone references other events in the DC universe, but unlike most authors, she respects her readers enough to explain them, quickly, concisely, and clearly, so that as a reader, you are never lost, never confused, and always, always, immersed in a deep story about wonderful, human characters.  If you've never tried comic-books, but always wondered what was so "great" about them, Batgirl is the place to start. Just be careful. Because I suspect that, like me, Gail Simone, Adrian Syaf, and the rest of the Batgirl team will get you hooked on her but good.

No comments:

Post a Comment