Waiting for the Trade
by Bill Miller
Batgirl New 52 Vol. 1 – The Darkest Reflection
by Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes
collects Batgirl 1 - 6
Why I Bought This: I always liked Batgirl best of the core Batman characters dating back to the Adam West series. Since I mostly enjoyed the first three New 52 books I sampled, and with Barbara Gordon finally returned to that role, this my next pick-up from that line.
The Plot: Barbara Gordon has regained the use of her legs and decides to resume her career as Batgirl only to come across a new costumed serial killer known as Mirror.
Chapter 1 – A mystery man drowns an old guy with a garden hose then scratches his victim’s name off a list that also includes the name of “Barbara Gordon.” We see Batgirl on patrol and she comes across a home invasion that she subsequently breaks up in a short but intense fight. We see Barbara having nightmares of Joker shooting her and putting her in a wheelchair in The Killing Joke. When she wakes we get a flashback of her recovery and moving out of her father’s house. This leads to her getting an apartment with a new female roommate, who is something of a political activist. At the hospital police are interrogating the gang leader Batgirl took down the night before when the mysterious costumed man from the opening arrives. He guns down some cops causing Barbara to head over there when she hears about it through her police connections. Batgirl arrives just as our killer storms the gang leader’s room but when he pulls a gun on her she again flashes back to Killing Joke and freezes. This allows the killer to dispose of the gang leader much to the horror of the one surviving police officer in the room.
Chapter 2 – The killer makes his escape and Barbara pursues him in a rooftop battle that she ultimately loses (and barely survives from falling to her death). At the hospital surviving cop Detective McKenna tells Comm. Gordon her belief that Batgirl is partly responsible for the gang leader’s death. Batgirl tracks the killer to a cemetery where he reveals his name as Mirror. He kicks her ass again but she is able to steal his list off him during the fight before he retreats because the entire Gotham PD are on the way. That night Barbara goes home and her roommate sees her covered in bruises and assumes Barbara has domestic violence victim problems, although Barbara is able to talk her out of it. The next day Barabara goes on a date with her physical therapist. Then we get a montage of Barbara doing detective work until she is able to piece together who Mirror is and find his hideout. His story is he was a federal agent/war hero whose family burned to death in a car accident while he watched. This has made him conclude that “miracles are simply God laughing at us” and so he kills anyone who has received a miracle, particularly surviving a near death experience by killing them in the way they should have died the first time. He reveals to Barbara he has planted a bomb on a train to get to his next victim who survived falling on train tracks once.
Chapter 3 – Batgirl boards the train and tries to outthink Mirror since by changing the circumstances of how his victim would die but he still detonates the bomb. Later she liberates her bat-cycle from the police impound (she had to leave it outside the hospital when she chased Mirror on the rooftops) and encounters Nightwing. They flirt by fighting as she convinces him she needs to prove herself that she can solve this case on her own.
Chapter 4 – Barbara is having nightmares about being back in the wheelchair. Barbara and her roommate decorate for Christmas leading Barbara to reveal her best and worst Christmas. The former is one year ago when her father got an experimental clinic in South Africa to accept her which is what got her out of the wheelchair, whereas the latter is when her mother walked on her and Comm. Gordon when she was 12. On patrol Batgirl breaks up a mugging. She then laves a noet for Mirror on the grave of his family. Needless to say he is not pleased to receive it and accepts Batgirl’s invitation to go fight in an abandoned hall of mirrors. There fight is pretty physical and it looks like Mirror is going to win and until Barbara forces him to confront the loss of his family giving her an opening to KO him and send him to Arkham. That night Barbara’s mother shows up at her apartment.
Chapter 5 – Batgirl is on patrol when she stumbles across a carjacking. What is weird is the carjackers are upper level mobsters who never get their hands dirty in public. It gets even weirder when Barbara stops three of them only for the head mobster to kill his three sons and the jump off a bridge in a suicide attempt. Batgirl catches him on her bat-cable only for a girl with green hair to show up and attack her. The villain seems to have low grade invulnerability as none of Batgirl’s blows phase her. Eventually the villain just wanders off claiming to be “out of time” and Batgirl has to let her go so she can finish saving the mob boss who is now mumbling the numbers “338” uncontrollably. We then get a flashback to last issue’s cliffhanger with Barbara’s mom. They go for a walk with mom announcing her intention to move back to
Gotham and hoping to start anew but Barbara
isn’t very receptive to the idea. At Gotham PD Detective McKenna is reinstated
(she was on mandatory psychological bereavement leave due to the death of her
partner by Mirror) and is assigned the bridge case which opened this chapter;
she’s happy for the assignment since she’s been investigating Batgril on her
own time anyway. Batgirl is pondering the meaning of 338, and comes across a
news story on protests of a historical building that the Wayne Foundation plans
to demolish at that address number. As Bruce is on his way to the site his
chauffer gets possessed and deliberately crashes their car and our mystery
villainess again shows up. She now has pink hair and using the name Gretel.
Batgirl takes down the chauffer so Gretel possess Bruce instead.
Chapter 6 – Batgirl is forced to fight Bruce and this causes her flashback to some her early days training with him and then him visiting her in the hospital after Killing Joke as she worries this fight might be a bit too much too soon after her recovery considering who Bruce really is. The fight ends up in Crime Alley (the sight of the murder of Bruce’s parents) and that enables Barbara talk him free of the mind control. He gives her his approval as Batgirl and plans to hold a press conference tomorrow. We get Gretel’s origin: she was an investigative journalist who went digging into a connection between the mob and the wealthy elite and got shot and left for dead for her troubles. The bullet she took to the head both cut off her pain centers and gave telepathic powers that enable her to get men to do what she suggests. Barbara is able to investigate based on something Gretel said during the last fight and discovers her identity. Gretel finishes off the mobster from chapter 5 (who is the same one that shot her way back when) off panel, while Barbara and Bruce set a trap with Bruce to be a decoy at the press conference so that Batgirl can take down Gretel. At the press conference Gretel possesses all of the male cops and has them open fire on Bruce. Batgirl takes down the cops long enough for Bruce to escape and change clothes. Detective McKenna attempts to arrest Batgirl but Batman arrives and is like ‘uh, no.’ The two heroes confront Gretel and Batgirl tries to talk her into surrendering out of sympathy for her tragic origin. Gretel forces a fight and when she loses wishes for suicide rather than being powerless at the hands of men again but Batgirl saves her anyway then turns her over to McKenna while pondering if she could have turned out the same as Gretel if not for the love of her father and Batman.
Critical Thoughts: Good stuff all around. Both new villains have great origins and make good foils for Barbara. They are both victims of terrible events so that you have empathy for them but yet the story never shies away from showing they are mass murders and why the need to be stopped. Mirror in particular makes a great first foe as he is physically superior to Barbara and his schtick gives her intellectual openings to try to overcome that, while also playing against her own fears that getting back into the costume is tempting fate after being in the wheelchair for so long. Even the minor villains are well-written. That home invasion scene has a terrifying subtext where they tell their victims what they plan to do to them but the reader doesn’t hear it, we only see the victims’ horrified reaction to their plan.
This book also introduces a good, well-written supporting cast. It’s a good mix of new characters like the roommate, Barbara’s mother and Detective McKenna with established characters like her father and sticking the other Bat-heroes on the periphery. There isn’t a civilian character here that I wouldn’t mind seeing again in future volumes and how their stories intertwine with Barbara’s character arc.
Grade A. Overall this is a real solid book with good writing that extends to the hero, her supporting cast and the villains. This is a series I will definitely continue to buy in trade.
I'm so torn on Barbara as Batgirl again. On the one hand, awesome, since Barbara Gordon is such a great character. On the other hand, Oracle was also a great character and the 'Oracle' concept is so interesting as it related to both the Bat-family and the larger DC Universe.ReplyDelete
If nothing else, DC should really introduce a new Oracle at some point now that Barbara isn't filling that role.