Friday, October 4, 2013

Moving In Intriguing Ways Without Charisma, Batgirl: Knightfall Descends Continues Batgirl Strong!

The Good: Good artwork, Interesting plot development, Interesting character development
The Bad: Gaps, Predictablility, “Fixed” artwork, Lack of spark.
The Basics: With Batgirl: Knightfall Descends, Gail Simone tells an engaging story, but one lacking in her originality and zest to make it as impressive as it ought to be.

When it comes to movies and books, I like long arcs. I am a fan of characters that develop and I have a lot of patience for long stories and conflicts that are not simply resolved in an easy fashion. So, as I have been reading various incarnations of Barbara Gordon – Batgirl – from Birds Of Prey and now Batgirl, I have been enjoying some of the longer arcs for the character. With the New 52 reboot, Barbara Gordon took up the mantle of Batgirl again and I generally enjoyed The Darkest Reflection (reviewed here!), so I was pretty eager to pick up Batgirl: Knightfall Descends.

Batgirl: Knightfall Descends is another work by Gail Simone and I have long enjoyed her style. She usually has a snappy wit to her dialogue that is enjoyable and fun. Her runs on Birds Of Prey and Wonder Woman freshened both of those books up with wit and humor that did not diminish the seriousness of the dark conflicts both books were dealing with at the time. With Batgirl: Knightfall Descends, there is the sense that Simone is playing catch-up with the character and much of the book is just a series of events that are tangential to the main Batman story at the time (The Night Of The Owls) and conflicts that seem to be building to a much more significant storyline. On its own, Batgirl: Knightfall Descends is good, but not truly exceptional and its flaws require the reader to invest in the longer arc on the hope that Gail Simone will come through as she frequently has in the past.

In the wake of her meeting her mother for the first time in years and in advance of the Night Of The Owls, where a new vigilante group takes control of the streets of Gotham City, Barbara Gordon is processing the issues from her past. She recalls how abruptly her life changed when the Joker shot and paralyzed her and she discovers to her horror as she goes after a criminal going by the name Grotesque, that one of his henchmen was one of the Joker’s lackeys the night she was shot. As Gordon seeks advice from Dinah Lance, she works to overcome her fears and take out the new Gotham criminal.

Following the attack by Grotesque and the Night Of The Owls, Batgirl encounters Knightfall, a traumatized young woman who is building an army that dispatches of criminals on Gotham City’s streets. In fighting Knightfall, the angel-winged Katharsis, the chemical-burning Bleak Michael, and the super-strong Bonebreaker, Batgirl finds herself in the crosshairs of both the villains. Detective Melody McKenna rescues Batgirl from Knightfall and that puts both women at the mercy of Batwoman. In revealing just how Knightfall, who was a rich heiress Charise Carnes, came to power, Batgirl is manipulated by someone more horrifying than she could imagine and someone even closer to home than she knows.

Batgirl: Knightfall Descends has a few serious issues and more cosmetic ones. Despite all that, the book is remarkably entertaining and well-drawn and colored. The character of Barbara Gordon is smart and well-developed and as she continues her journey from powerless and smart to ass-kicking superheroine. While Gail Simone might strip her of her wit and her vast computer resources, Batgirl: Knightfall Descends continues to have her psychological issues wrestled with and put behind her. She wrestles with the consequences of being shot by the Joker and his henchmen, but not any of the events that occurred during her run as Oracle on Birds Of Prey.

As a result, there are issues in Batgirl: Knightfall Descends that minimize the full trauma she experienced. The attack on Barbara Gordon happened in The Killing Joke (reviewed here!), which was written by Alan Moore, who is a darker writer than Gail Simone. As a result, the conflict with Danny Weaver in Batgirl: Knightfall Descends minimizes details that make the length of Barbara Gordon’s healing process much more realistic. In that book, Gordon was shot, then stripped naked and photographed by the Joker and his henchmen. In Batgirl: Knightfall Descends, she quickly realizes that Danny Weaver was one of the Joker’s henchmen and she recalls he was nice without ever really wrestling with the idea that this is a guy who saw her naked and was part of exploiting her in a truly vulnerable way.

In Batgirl: Knightfall Descends, the allusions to James Gordon open up rather predictably to his appearance late in the book. Gail Simone presents all of the information readers need exceptionally well. As one who does not read other Batman or Gotham City-based graphic novels, it is refreshing that all of the information one needs about James Gordon (Barbara’s younger brother) is included in Batgirl: Knightfall Descends. Despite the way the plot feels very much like the middle act of a story, Batgirl: Knightfall Descends is remarkably readable on its own.

In fact, it is only the broader reader who will find it objectionable that Gail Simone recharacterizes Batwoman in Batgirl: Knightfall Descends as a better fighter than Black Canary?!

Batgirl: Knightfall Descends has great artwork. The book features amazing colors and strong lines. There is low in-panel movement, but in general Batgirl: Knightfall Descends moves along well. Interestingly enough, Barbara’s mother redrawn, which is good in that she no longer looks like Barbara’s sister.

In the end, Batgirl: Knightfall Descends continues Batgirl’s story well while intriguing the reader to read more. I know I’m excited about Volume 3 and if Gail Simone can pull it off, she might well create one of the most impressive characters in comic books today.

For other books by Gail Simone, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Of Like Minds
Between Dark And Dawn
Perfect Pitch
Blood And Circuits
Dead Of Winter
End Run
The Black Ring, Volume 2
Villains United
The Circle
Ends Of The Earth
Rise Of The Olympian


For other graphic novel reviews, please be sure to visit my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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