Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection
by Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf (DC Comics, 2013)

DC Comics lost me when it threw away so much of its history for the companywide revamp known as "The New 52." It seemed a needless stunt, a disservice to decades of comic-book history and character development. I wasn't eager to meet the "new" characters when the ones whose names and basic appearances they shared had been so callously discarded.

Recently, however, I decided to give some of the new books -- in their collected form -- a try. The first was the inaugural volume of Batgirl, written by Gail Simone.

The core concept of the book itself is troublesome. Barbara Gordon was the original Batgirl, but she was crippled by a bullet to the spine when the Joker and his minions invaded her home in the classic Batman story by Alan Moore, The Killing Joke.

Since then, there have been a couple of people in the Batgirl costume, most notably Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown. Each character had her strengths and weaknesses, but each brought something new to the role. Stephanie Brown in particular made a strong showing, in a series that kicked off with Batgirl Rising. Barbara Gordon, meanwhile, was confined to a wheelchair, but she kept herself fit and, more importantly, used her tech skills to become Oracle, an information broker and indispensable resource to the superhero community. Moreso, she was a pretty kick-ass inspiration to people who, in real life, were also confined to a wheelchair or faced other disabilities; she was a hero despite her handicap.

With the advent of the New 52, she was suddenly and abruptly healed. And according to the new canon, apparently, no one else had ever worn the costume in her three-year absence. Strong stories forgotten, well-liked characters tossed on the trash heap.

That all said ... Gail Simone knows how to write Batgirl, and her leadership on the title -- coupled with Ardian Syaf on pencils, Vicente Cifuentes on inks and Ulises Arreola on colors -- makes for a strong reboot.

Barbara Gordon is putting the costume on for the first time since her injury. She's uncertain of her abilities and, she quickly learns, gripped with paralyzing terror when faced with a gun. But she's got spirit, and she doesn't back down. Soon, she's running into old friends -- most notably, Batman and Nightwing, the former Robin, whom she encounters separately. She also meets new foes -- in this book, the Mirror, who kills people he doesn't believe should have survived past experiences, and Gretel, who has some limited mind-control abilities and a grudge -- and her mother, who abandoned the Gordon family when Barbara was a child, suddenly returns.

Batgirl's circumstances also have changed. Previously bankrolled by Bruce Wayne and living in secure, high-tech digs that served as a secret hideout, Barbara now is low on funds and sharing an apartment with someone who has no idea what she does at night.

Overall, I am content to let the New 52 pass me by. My interest in the DC Universe has waned, swept aside by what I see as poor editorial decisions and lack of care for the company's product. Still, I may pick up a few titles here and there, just to keep my hand in, and Batgirl may be on the short list I'm willing to consider. Given the circumstances, that's fairly high praise.

review by
Tom Knapp

9 January 2016

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