Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New Comics Wednesday: Batgirl (DC New 52)

Batgirl #20, on-sale 5/15/2013
Here's another look at a comic that, a year ago, I wouldn't have seen myself reading. It's a case of how strong, intriguing writing can turn a character that many wouldn't normally give a second look at into a compelling saga that makes you crave the next issue. It's not unlike what they did with another character's book I covered a few months ago - Aquaman.

In this case, we're talking about Batgirl, another one of DC's "New 52" books that debuted in September 2011.

DC gets a lot of flak from people for the idea of completely rebooting their universe (again) with the advent of the New 52, in effect cancelling all of their old books and starting everything over with #1 issues, even including long-standing publications like Action Comics and Detective Comics, that were both numbered in the 800s and which dated back to the 1930s.

I initially resisted the changes as well and avoided the New 52 for about the first eight months or so, but I kept reading more and more about some story lines that sounded interesting. Eventually I visited my local shop with the intent of picking up just four titles: Batman, Detective Comics, Justice League, and the Flash. The Flash and Batman are my two favorite characters, and I figured I could pretty much get a sense of the other major things going on in the DC universe by reading Justice League.

That all changed with the "Night of the Owls" storyline that ran throughout Batman and all of its related publications, including Batgirl. I hadn't intended to read all of the tie-in issues, but my friendly local comic shop purveyor had helpfully packaged them all together in a discounted bundle, and it was actually the only way I could get a copy of Batman #9 at that time, since it was sold out at every shop I checked.

I found the Batgirl tie-in issue of the story arc to be really interesting, and I mentioned to the manager of the shop how much I liked it, at which point he directed me to pick up a copy of the Batgirl Annual that had just recently been released. I did, and from that point on, I became a regular Batgirl reader.

As a reminder, I avoid any spoilers of current storylines playing out in the comics, but if you haven't ever read classic "The Killing Joke" story by Alan Moore and you intend to read it at some point, I'd advise you not to read the review below, as it contains a pretty major spoiler from that work.

What's It About?
It's obviously about Batgirl. However, this is the "classic" depiction of Batgirl as Barbara Gordon, daughter of police lieutenant James Gordon.

Here come the spoilers from older issues of comics: In recent pre-New 52 continuity, Barbara Gordon had stopped being Batgirl after being paralyzed from having been shot by the Joker in "The Killing Joke." When she couldn't continue her role as Batgirl, she instead turned into the "information broker" known as Oracle, with access to all sorts of computerized information that she shared with the various DC heroes so they could go about their normal hero duties. The Batgirl identify was eventually taken over a few different times, by Helena Bertinelli, Cassandra Cain, and most notably by fan favorite Stephanie Brown.

With DC's reboot of their universe with the New 52, Gordon is Batgirl once again, although it is acknowledged that at one point she had been paralyzed and lost the use of her legs due to having been shot by the Joker, so that part of the pre-reboot story stays in place. However, she's trained herself to regain the use of her legs and is once again back patrolling the streets of Gotham, although this is a very new development and the ghost of her very recent paralyzation still haunts her and colors much of her actions.

The broader story in Batgirl also involves her family (specifically her dad, mom, and brother, James Gordon, Jr.) and their relationships with each other. Rest assured, this is Gotham City, so let's just say it's not exactly a happy family dynamic and James Jr. didn't exactly follow in his dad's footsteps to join the family business.

Barbara's apartment roommate, Alysia, also plays a pretty main role, and an interesting one at that. Comic book social media sites and message boards were abuzz last month when a pretty interesting and relatively major character development was unveiled concerning Alysia.

Who Are the Creative Team?
Batgirl has had one of the more consistent creative teams of the DC's New 52.

Fan-favorite writer Gail Simone has handled writing duties since the first issue, with the exception of a couple of issues that were handled by Ray Fawkes. There's an interesting story behind that - Simone was actually fired off the book by DC Comics, and she went to Twitter to announce that she would no longer be writing on the book. The fans reacted with such vitriol against DC for the firing that DC actually relented a few weeks later and re-hired Simone onto the book. The whole incident caused DC to create a new Twitter policy for its creative staff to prevent any similar incidences from occurring in the future.

Simone is best known for her work on DC titles like Birds of Prey, Secret Six, and the pre-New 52 Wonder Woman.

Simone's handling of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl is masterful. It's a tough job, given the amount of fan backlash that occurred in the wake of DC essentially wiping the Stephanie Brown version of Batgirl out of existence with their reboot. Many fans came to like Gordon better as Oracle than as Batgirl, and the Oracle character definitely provided a super-hero role-model for the disabled.

However, Simone navigates this potential mine field with grace and dexterity, crafting a hero who suffers from PTSD from her encounter with the Joker, and survivor's guilt that she was able to get better while so many others who have been paralyzed or disabled have not. She questions herself and her motivations for people the cape and tights back on, and her internal thoughts she has while battling villains or chasing bad guys are priceless. This is comic writing at its finest.

Pencilling duties for the first 13 or so issues were mainly handled by Adrian Syaf, an Indonesian artist who had done a lot of work for DC Comics prior to Batgirl, notably on Blackest Night: Batman, Green Lantern Corps, Brightest Day, and  Superman/Batman. His work on Batgirl is really well done - Syaf has the ability to handle both intense action sequences as well as the more still scenes. His command of character and setting designs also enables him to bring diversity to these elements, which is something that's often lacking with less experienced artists.

Around Issue #14 or so, artist Ed Benes came on board, often sharing pencil duties with Daniel Sampere. There styles are actually quite different, but were helped by consistent inking handled by Vicente Cifuentes, who had also inked the Syaf issues.

Recently, Sampere has pretty much handled the pencil work solo, partnered with Jonathan Glapion on inking duties. Sampere's style has a cinematic quality do it, with a strong sense of energy that pervades most of his scenes. He's a natural for extended action and fight scenes.

Who Will Like It?
This is a great title for someone who left comics for awhile and wants to re-discover the character of Batgirl that they knew from "back-in-the-day." While the book does reference a few events that happened in the pre-New 52 Universe, everything you really need to know is handled in-book. You don't need any prior knowledge.

Barbara Gordon is a strong female character, and would make a great role-model for teen girls who are looking to feel empowered. I personally like to tell Batgirl stories (edited for age appropriateness) to my own little 3 year-old daughter to make sure she understands that not all superheroes are boys.

One of the things I like about this title, beyond the superb writing and characterization, is that it takes place in a setting I really like (Gotham City) and deals tangentially with many of the story arcs that affect Batman, but this is not what I'd call a typical "Bat-book." It's about character, family relationships, friendships, and the ability of personal will to overcome major obstacles in life.

Any Good Fodder in Here for My Role-Playing Games?
As usual with the straight-up super-hero titles I review, there are of course plenty of ideas that you could steal for a supers-type RPG. But, beyond that, there are some really interesting concepts with the various costumed villains and other bad guys in Batgirl that would make for an interesting story arc in any RPG type setting. And, as a Games Master, if you're looking for a way to incorporate any sort of family drama into one of your player's character stories, then you should definitely check out the more recent issues of Batgirl (focusing on #13 - #19).

Is It Good for Kids?
It's rated "T for Teen" and I'd really hesitate to show it to kids younger than that. Just looking at the cover of the issue released this week (Issue #20) illustrates the amount of blood, gory, and scary images that can find their way into a typical issue of Batgirl. There are also some pretty disturbing things revealed about the people in Barbara Gordon's life (no, I'm not talking about her roommate, but I don't want to spoil who it is by saying more) that could be confusing or scary for younger kids.

That said, again, if you have a teenage daughter, niece, or granddaughter, I think that Barbara Gordon makes a great "strong woman" role-model character type. But, as always, I'd suggest reading an issue for yourself before handing this over to any child.

BATGIRL
  • Format: Monthly 32-page full-color series
  • Where to Buy: Try to buy it at your local comics shop. If you don't have one, try a bookstore or convenience store. You can also buy the digital version on Comixology. That link leads to the page on the series; issue #20 came out today. Also, there are two collected editions available: Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection contains issue #1-6, and Batgirl Volume 2: Knightfall Descends contains issues #7-13 and issue #0. Those links lead to the book on Amazon.
  • Price: $2.99 per issue
  • Rated: Teen
  • More Information: The official DC site for Batgirl

Special Note: Posting is a little lighter this week because it's "Television Upfront Week" in the advertising world, and I've been going to all of the simulcast presentations here in Los Angeles so I can see what new programs are coming out and hear all of the networks crow about how they're #1 against this demographic or #1 in total viewers during this time of the day or how they're "redefining" either late night or TV everywhere or online campaign ratings or whatever. They all say they're better than their competitors, as though those of us ad professionals in the audience are going to sit up and say, "Wait! I'm confused. Yesterday ABC said that they were #1 and now today CBS said that they were #1! What am I going to do?"

In any event, one of the cool things of attending these presentations (other than free food and what used to be free alcohol but is now just free non-alcohol), is that we get to see clips of all of the new show and also hear about how they came about, why the network wanted to buy them, and all that.

Yesterday at ABC's presentation, I got to see an extended trailer from their upcoming "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." program, and Joss Whedon came out on stage with the cast to talk about the show and why he was excited about it, and promising the audience that it wasn't solely going to be a gimmick show to include Easter Eggs for the various Marvel movies, but instead a fun and action-packed exploration of what it's like to be a team of agents who don't have super powers operating in a world that's becoming increasingly more complex with the invention of aliens, strange technologies, and time-displacement. The network also told a little story about how the show came about. I'm not sure how true this actually is, but apparently the head of Disney, Bob Iger, sent out copies of the bonus footage on the "Avengers" DVD that talked about S.H.I.E.L.D. with a note that simply asked, "Is there a show here?" The rest, as they say, is history.

The trailer actually looked pretty cool, and I trust Joss Whedon to put together something really interesting and compelling. I believe that trailer that they unveiled as a "special treat" for those of us in the ad industry is pretty much widely available now online, so search for it and let me know what you think. Are you excited for the new show?

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap-water
Listening: "When the Rainbow Comes" by World Party

1 comment:

  1. I worry a little that Agents of SHIELD will be like Mutant X and we'll only see knock-offs of Marvel characters because the real ones are all tied up in film rights. Given that it's being initiated by Disney and that Whedon's involved, my worries are probably unfounded; if anything the TV show might give us glimpses of characters too obscure for the films.

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