I know what I said in my last post about feeling bogged down with so many “backstory” collections. I’d like to retract that statement because I love this comic, I love this comic, I love this comic.
Did I mention I love this comic?
Batgirl: Year One chronicles Barbara Gordon’s transformation into Batgirl, and may be quite possibly one of the best superhero origin stories I’ve read so far. Barbara is fiesty, driven, and just a little in over her head as she delves into the world of masked crime-fighting.
Batgirl’s origin story interested me because unlike so many other heroes, she doesn’t get into the business because of some personal vendetta or quest for justice/revenge. There are no skeletons in her closet driving her towards this life. Instead, she’s portrayed as a resourceful girl who is a product of the world she lives in.
Dreaming of a career in law enforcement, her father Jim Gordon steadfastly refuses to support or help her in her dream. Turned down by the police academy and every other avenue she’s pursued, Barbara turns to the last form of heroism she can think of, and the only one that is not currently blocked by miles of red tape: vigilante crimefighting.
Her Batgirl outfit is not initially a direct association with Batman, but rather a sly dig at her father, dressing up to emulate the same man from whom Jim grudgingly accepts help. She doesn’t really choose the Batgirl persona, but rather falls into that role by accident.
Unfortunately, Batman doesn’t share her vision, and isn’t too enthused that some girl is running around getting herself into trouble wearing a mask and his symbol.
Batgirl makes more than one good point in this scene, pointing out that there are no codes or laws regarding vigilantism, and that Batman has no more right to wear a mask and fight crime than she does. It was refreshing to see these concepts addressed in a comic. After all, why can’t an ordinary citizen don a cowl and fight for what’s right? Anyone can be a criminal; why can’t anyone be a hero?
As Batgirl works through her first attempts at fighting crime, the comic accurately portrays her in a very realistic light, as she half-stumbles through each battle. This is never more evident than when she teams up with none other than Black Canary (yes, I geeked out a little when she showed up):
Where Black Canary is cool and in control, Batgirl is more or less flying blind, walking into situations that she’s not quite ready for. While I liked that the writers chose to show Batgirl having difficulty adjusting to her new life, I was even happier to see Black Canary being so badass in this comic. Sure, Barbara’s troubles would be completely normal for a superhero-in-training, but the inclusion of such a detail could have appeared as though the writers were saying, “Well of course she’s having difficulty with this. She’s a girl.” I’m not saying everyone would have interpreted it that way, but by showing Black Canary being so completely awesome and powerful, the writers were going out of their way to say, “Hey no, we’re definitely NOT dissing Batgirl because she’s a girl. It’s just because she’s new. Here, watch this other girl totally kick butt because she definitely can, she’s just had a bit more practice.”
Am I reading way too much into this? Possibly. In all likelihood the writers just included Black Canary as a reference to Birds of Prey (Hell, this issue was even TITLED “Bird of Prey”). Still, the subtextual implications had a positive effect on me, so I’m sticking with my initial opinion.
Batgirl was entertaining not just because the story and action were great, but because Batgirl herself felt completely real. She has a stubborn, reckless streak, and seems almost desperate to prove her worth. Furthermore, her interactions with each and every other character in the series were so unique and fitting to her character that I felt like I had a full understanding of her character.
Her interactions with Robin were perhaps the most entertaining. Two masked crimefighters of a similar age, united in their quest for justice: something was bound to happen there.
The hormones are raging around here.
The flirting between these two felt innocent and realistic enough to propel the story without being distracting to Batgirl’s primary objective. Allowing a “will they won’t they” subplot to overpower Barbara’s own story would have been belittling to such a great character. I’m glad the writers included this without allowing romantic woes to overshadow her real story.
The nine issues collected here felt all-too brief, and left me wanting to read so much more about this character. Batgirl is such a well-developed character; her motives are clear and believable (which in a world of costumed vigilantes, is really saying something). She is not simply an extension of Batman – she is her own unique hero who just happened to fall into the “Bat” family due to her costume choices. She is awesome, plain and simple, and I can’t wait to read more about her character.
Sassy Alfred makes another appearance in this trade:
In which Alfred essentially calls Bruce (pardon the pun) Batshit crazy.
Sassy Alfred needs his own sitcom. Somebody make that happen, please and thank you.