Sunday, 11 September 2011

Batgirl #1

Series: Batgirl
Words: Gail Simone
Images: Adrian Syaf, Vincent Cifuentes
Issue Number: 1
Release Date: In reality September 7th but our cover reads November 2011
Format: Comic

Seconds after finishing the Action Comic post my will power crumbled and I tore through Batgirl in moments. Ever since DC announced that Batgirl would be in the relaunch and they were relaunching Barbra Gordon I have had some huge reservations.

For those of you who have not been cornered by me in person or ranted at online let me give you some context to these reservations. Babs. is by far one of my favourite heroines in either universe for many reasons:

1. She starts out as a side kick and actually grows and develops into a hero in her own right. That is right a female character who starts out as a side kick turns into an actual developed character that goes through hardship and grows beyond her side kick role.  No refrigerator's for that girl!

2. She's disabled. I am rarely a fan of how most of the top two handle disability. It is usually portrayed as a temporary plot device that is quickly overcome either with new powers, magically overcome, end in retirement or just totally forgotten. Babs was the exception to that rule. As Batgirl she's shot in the spine and eventually becomes Oracle. From a wheel chair she kicks some serious ass both physically and mentally. Add to point one and my love of the character may start to make sense.

3. And a part of what Oracle does pre-reboot is she gathers together a group of female hero's who work under her. From side kick to hero to group founder and leader. Rebooting the character seemed like a regression that took away a large portion of her growth and development.

4. I did not want Gail Simone to stop writing Birds of Prey. While I will give the new writer and the new line up a chance I will always have a soft spot for that series under Simone. Oh dear, maybe I do really hate change.

If it had been handed to any other writer I would have been up in arms. But I trust Gail Simone. As a girl I grew up in a house with a comic book collector for a father. When I stumbled upon Women in Refrigerator's all of a sudden I had a way of framing some of my own issues with the comic industry. When I branched back into hero comics I devoured her works. I love her writing style and how she seamlessly manages to blend concepts of oppression and privilege into engaging story lines that I can relate to. It was a very smart move on D.C.'s part.

So going into it with a love of the character, a fangirl crush on the author and a huge pile of reservations / fears of able-ism?

First, the artwork is amazing. Of this entire pull (and I suspect the relaunch) Batgirl has the best cover art. It is something that if I had a print of I would frame and hang in my apartment quite proudly. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the detail on the cover was fairly consistent with the art in the comic. Far too often I see comics that have graphically stunning covers but bland or dull artwork inside with flat colours.

There was brilliant use of partial views of the main villain that taunted and teased and left me wanting to know far more about them.

Also, I was impressed with how well proportioned Babs was considering she was a comic heroine. The character design while still very slender was built. She had muscles and something of a realistic torso with the definition that someone as physically active as the character would require. My hat goes off to the entire team for those details.

Stepping aside from my fangirl self and my reservations it was a good story. It emulated everything D.C. seemed to want from a relaunch. You can pick up this issue with out any familiarity with the character or her previous history and start reading. By the end despite everything I was left wanting to know where the story goes. Anything that reaches back into pre-relaunch territory is covered by the end of the first issue.

It certainly ran smoother then Action Comics #1 and was far less choppy.

I liked that Babs wasn't magically cured. I like that they didn't totally ignore her spinal cord injury and that her van still has a wheel chair lift. I enjoyed a great deal that there were nods to that history of the character. And that there was some talk of able-ism expressed via interactions with other background characters.

I'm still not happy to have lost Oracle. I'm still not happy that boom Babs can walk.

I was very happy to see PTSD being addressed in comics. I was overjoyed to see a hero with nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety. I can see huge potential in this area especially with the stigma around mental illness. When I think of mental illness in the top two I think of a small handful of villains for the most part. Though writing female characters who actually overcome trauma and develop is a strength of Simone's (she did great work pre-relaunch with Black Canary).

It also made the character seem more human. More real. I hope we see more of that as the series goes on.

In the end I am looking forward to reading more. I am excited to read more but I still have a lot of my original reservations in terms of able-ism and retrogression of a developed female character. Hopefully in the hands of this team she will grow and develop again.

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