Batgirl (a book review)

If they ever publish “Batdog,” I’m done.

It’s that time again, when I admit to reading comic books and I post a review. Probably a glowing review, because I still like comic books.

Confession: Batman is the greatest comic book hero. Ever. There is no argument against this. Just stop it; you can’t argue!

What does this have to do with Batgirl? Well, the Batman universe has swelled over the years, with so many additional Gotham City heroes and crazy super-villains and series crossovers that I feel like the character has been lost in this grand vision from Detective Comics. That led me to a deep-web search for an interesting Batman comic. During my search, I ran into several mentions of a Batgirl series from 2013. Everyone seemed to really like it. So, I went down to a local comic shop and picked up a graphic novel collection (okay, the first 2). Batman or Batgirl, either way, it’s just a regular Jane in a cool outfit, jumping across the rooftops of Gotham and taking out the bad guys. No superpowers, no explanation about where her gadgets come from, the whole nine yards.

This Batgirl series was written by Gail Simone. In rebooting the character, she went back to draw directly from an incident that takes place in a Batman story called “The Killing Joke.” While it’s unfortunate that a reader might need to know that history going in, it ultimately provides an excellent base for the character – not the action, the character. That’s clearly the strong point here. Batgirl is a complex character right from the start.

For those not in the know (and this is not a spoiler), Batgirl is Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon. In “The Killing Joke,” the Joker shot her, resulting in paralysis. In this Batgirl series, a rare procedure has given Barbara back her legs. What better to do than don her old suit and use those legs to kick some arse?

But, that pesky history keeps coming back to haunt her. She freezes when she should move, she makes more conservative choices out of fear of returning to her previous condition, and, of course, she’s not as sharp as she used to be. Batgirl takes a beating more than once.

There are other complications: She feels the need to move into her own place because she’s a vigilante and her dad is a police officer, but she can’t afford it on her own; her new roommate is being stalked by a mysterious figure (that takes place in volume 2); her absent mother suddenly returns; and her old flame Nightwing doesn’t think she’s ready to go back into action. All the while, seemingly random people are being murdered by a man who calls himself “Mirror.” Does Batgirl want to see her own reflection?

Over the course of the two graphic novels I read, there are several complete stories. All of them are intriguing, but there’s one caveat. There is a one-issue story revolving around “The Night of the Owls.” If the reader isn’t familiar with that, then they might be slightly confused about that short story. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of crossovers, and this is why. But it’s a minor hiccup and, oddly enough, a really good short story.

The only other downside is the graphic novel format. Comics are serial by nature, and consumed on roughly a monthly basis. Read all at once, stories sometimes feel too short. I wanted several storylines to last longer because I know they could have and still been fantastic (especially the “Mirror” storyline). But I get it. They weren’t written with a graphic novel format in mind.

Though Batgirl runs into a few more local heroes than I would have liked, the story focuses on her and never meanders in distractions. There is character development on every page, good dialogue, clever inner monologues, and, of course, stellar artwork. The stories may be a few years old at this point, but so what? Gail Simone is a fantastic writer.

Really good stuff.

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