Batgirl: Year One
by Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon,
Marcos Martin, Alvaro Lopez
(DC Comics, 2003)

The same team that brought us Robin: Year One, including the writer who launched the Birds of Prey series (Chuck Dixon), delivers another solid story in the form of Batgirl: Year One, a deliciously fun read that explores the origins of the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. This volume collects the nine-issue 2002 miniseries.

It's a well done story from start to finish, with perfectly paced action, tight suspense and excellent characterization, all of it glossed over with a wonderful sense of nostalgia that realistically foreshadows the difficulties Barbara will eventually face without ever once dropping the ball on the sweet, easygoing trip down memory lane. It's easy to see why Wizard magazine named B:YO the top miniseries of 2002.

Barbara Gordon, daughter of Lt. James Gordon, is too short to get into the police academy and too small for the FBI. Frustrated at being hemmed in by institutional rules that can't adequately measure the strength of her tremendous spirit, and on uneasy terms with a father who loves her but doesn't always know how to handle being a father, Barbara sets out to make her own way in the world, finding a way where none seemingly exists: in the shadow of the mysterious Batman.

Her father would rather she had nothing to do with Batman's world, a sentiment echoed by Batman himself, who, in spite of the presence of a cheeky and perfectly cast Boy Wonder, is loathe to bring any more innocents into a dangerous life. There are a lot of interesting tensions between the father figures of Batman and James Gordon and their respective charges -- yet another gem the story has to offer -- but the love and admiration they feel for the headstrong young people in their lives is undeniable. The action remains solidly focused on the lead hero, and the romantic tension between the younger Boy Wonder and the older Batgirl determined to learn the ropes is a wonderful tug at the heartstrings, considering what their relationship will one day become. The themes of struggle with authority figures and the undercurrents of their relationship should have great appeal for young readers.

The plot revolves around a scheme hatched by Killer Moth and Firefly, two second-tier villains given frightening new life in the pages of this story. Even the Condiment King, a personal favorite of mine, is given a cameo. I won't give away too much except to say that the villains aren't the low-level losers they appear to be. The opening sequence is one of the most vicious in the history of Bat villaindom, and that's saying something when one has enemies like the Joker.

The book is peppered with appearances by Black Canary, with excellent hints of the dynamics of her future relationship with the future Oracle showing up very early on, as well as guest spots from Jason Bard, Blockbuster, Wildcat and Green Arrow.

Perhaps best of all, there is no trace of the 1960s kitsch that Barbara seemed to be almost permanently meshed in. There is some reworking of the original tale, but frankly it's a much better origin story than what we've been given to work with in the past. It's wonderful to see how interesting Barbara was before she became Oracle.

It's always a joy to see artwork and story in a perfect marriage. No disappointment here, the artwork is simply spectacular, with lean, clear lines and some of the best color work I've seen in a long time.

What makes Barbara Gordon the most intriguing character to come out of, or perhaps into, the Bat family is that she is entirely self-created. No hidden agenda, no specialized training and, most of all, not an angry, withdrawn, wounded child-man of a protagonist. Although the tragedy she will eventually experience will shade and shape her life in much the same way as Batman's tragedy affected his life (it's almost a prerequisite for being a member of his team), this story shows us, more than The Killing Joke ever did, who Barbara Gordon really is: a tough, driven and highly intelligent young woman with a strong left and a quick mind. She became what she is -- first Batgirl, then Oracle -- out of a desire to help. Beatty and Dixon beautifully illuminate the reason why Barbara's mission existed as a purpose and a motivation unto itself, in the process showing us the core of who Batgirl really is: a self-made hero, who would have been a crimefighter with or without tragedy.

This is one of the best Bat family stories in years, one destined to be a classic must-have Bat story, both as a canonical necessity and as an example of how to tell a terrifically entertaining tale.

- Rambles
written by Mary Harvey
published 21 February 2004

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