Friday, September 6, 2013

The New 52 Reboot Of Barbara Gordon Begins In Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection!

The Good: Interesting cases, Good character exploration/development, Cool villains, Good artwork
The Bad: Somewhat choppy plotting, Lack of humor to the voice
The Basics: Once more on her own without the Birds Of Prey, Barbara Gordon reclaims the mantle of Batgirl as Gail Simone effectively reboots the franchise with Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection!

I can think of no one who has been as down on the DC Comics conceptual reboot “The New 52” as much as me. So, any of the new titles in the New 52 that get my attention – even for one book – means that there must be something special to it! In the case of Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection, the credit for my giving the book attention goes entirely to writer Gail Simone. Gail Simone wrote the Birds Of Prey book for years and her blend of humor in the dialogue and compelling characters made many of the volumes of that book that she wrote worth reading, if not buying for one’s permanent graphic novel library. It was Gail Simone’s writing that made me go back to pick up Batman: The Killing Joke (reviewed here!) and Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection.

Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection restored Barbara Gordon to the role of Batgirl, which intrigued me instantly because in one of the last Birds Of Prey books I read, she was hunting a new vigilante that had taken up her old alter-ego. The book is an odd one in that it acknowledges The Killing Joke, the paralysis Gordon lived with for three years, but not (oddly enough) her tenure as the Oracle and the computer super-genius who survived the Final Crisis. So, in rebooting the DC Universe, Barbara Gordon’s narrative is one that instantly muddies the waters in that some elements of the prior universe clearly exist, but others either do not or are troublingly missing from Simone’s work. This is odd given how Simone was the one who gave Barbara Gordon her most distinctive voice over the past decade and made her one of the heroines of the DC Universe who was actually quite compelling on her own . . . for something other than kicking ass.

So, without any acknowledgment that she was ever Oracle and no evidence of either her incredible wealth or connections to Black Canary or the internet, Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection finds Barbara Gordon, mobile on her own two legs once again, moving out of her father’s house. At night, she begins the hunt for a new killer in Gotham City, a killer who is hunting off a list . . . a list that Barbara Gordon’s name is on! The villain is The Mirror and he is hunting people who have benefitted from alleged miracles. As Barbara Gordon now has the use of her legs, she might appear to qualify and the Mirror certainly believes that. Unfortunately, on her first outing out as Batgirl, a pistol is leveled at her and she, predictably, freezes up. But soon, Batgirl is hitting her stride, pushing away Nightwing’s aid, and taking down the Mirror on her own.

Unfortunately, even as she successfully defeats The Mirror, Barbara Gordon’s life is complicated by the return of her long-absent mother. Rejecting her mother’s insertion back into her life, Barbara finds herself at the mercy of a new villainess. The villainess is Gretel, a wig-wearing, mind-control using woman who is hunting members of the Whittaker Mob. She is also able to get into the head of Bruce Wayne and in attempting to rescue the billionaire from a very public execution, Batgirl goes toe to toe with a dark reflection of herself.

For a change, a trade anthology of two comic book stories (Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection anthologizes Batgirl 1 – 6) is perfectly titled and includes stories that actually fit well together to present a sense of character growth for the titled character. In this case, Gail Simone takes Barbara Gordon on a journey from the literal into the smartly metaphorical with the two dark reflections of herself. The Mirror is a literal attempt to get her to look at her own life and Gretel’s backstory is remarkably similar to that of Barbara Gordon, which compels Batgirl to take her down without reshaping the villain’s skull!

While the broader strokes of the plot between the two stories in Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection are good – actually having Batgirl go toe to toe with Bruce Wayne is presented downright brilliantly – some of the finer points are a bit choppier. Gordon’s narrative is broken up between the moments of character reflection for the mundane version of herself and the action sequences as Batgirl. Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection is a good example of why I’ve not gotten into Batman in general (and it’s not the endless list of psychopaths that grace the pages, either!); the book is essentially a mystery where everything is handed to the reader. Readers are not given reasonable suspects and a process of actual detective work. There is a psychopath plaguing Gotham City and their backstory is spelled out in pretty straightforward exposition to explain how they ended up the way they are. It’s a style that lacks finesse or real depth; the best one might hope for are interesting characters with a quirk the reader enjoys reading about.

Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection features two villains that more or less satisfy on that front. The Mirror might not have the extensive backstory of a Flash villain, but his first outing into the Batgirl corner of the DC Universe is laced with enough potential that readers hope he might actually show up again. Gretel is a much more intriguing character and the idea that she is the “could have been “ for Barbara Gordon is a clever one. Gail Simone executes the concept of Gretel well on both the straightforward and the subtle levels. Simone never overtly presents the idea that Gretel is the opposite of Gordon in that Gordon gathers information and Gretel asserts control. Gordon is moving on while Gretel is stuck in her pain and loss.

That’s one of the general strengths of Gail Simone’s writing; she makes interesting and well-developed characters. Unfortunately, the other thing that Simone usually has going for her, namely a humor not usually found in a well-presented way in comic books, is largely absent from Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection. While Simone seems to have fun with writing the scenes between Batgirl and Nightwing, they do not pop like the banter between her characters in Birds Of Prey.

The artwork in Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection is very good, save for the panels that have Barbara and her mother together (they are rendered virtually identically and it is only their outfits that really make them distinguishable from one another). Artists Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes create crisp, clear images for almost the entire book and Ulises Arreola colors the panels vividly. Batgirl is clearly a title DC was investing in with the New 52 as they put one of their better art teams on it! While the panels are well-rendered, there is a poor sense of movement between panels, so the fight sequences are choppier than in some other books.

Ultimately, Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection has enough going for it to make it well worth reading, even if it lacks some of the zest of Simone’s other works.

For other New 52 works, please visit my reviews of:
Green Lantern: Sinestro
The Flash: Move Along
Justice League: Origins
Wonder Woman: Blood


For other graphic novel reviews, please check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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