[17 November 2009]
There’s no reason to forgive Alan Moore, even 20 years on.
After all it was Moore, in his brilliance for reconstituting archetypal characters, who took the Batman comic in its most brutal direction with his one-shot The Killing Joke. For anyone with affection for Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl, it would come as a shocking, almost visceral blow. In the groundbreaking book, Moore depicted the Joker shooting and paralyzing Gordon in her home. The photos taken of her writhing in agony, bleeding out on her floor, would later be used to torture a captured Commissioner James Gordon, her father.
The 1989 comicbook haunts its initial audience still, its images are uncompromising and utterly disturbing.
The character of Barbara Gordon would later become Oracle, still paralyzed, but a master of the cyber realm and leader of a band of female superheroes, The Birds of Prey. Over the years a second Batgirl would come to prominence, Cassandra Cain, the polar opposite of Gordon; a reformed trained assassin who provided a counter-point to the original iconic Batgirl.
Following Bruce Wayne’s death in Final Crisis, readers were treated to a variety of potential outcomes in the crossover event Battle for the Cowl. One component of the series was Oracle: The Cure which quickly followed the cancellation of Birds of Prey. News was spread that there would be a new Batgirl series, but that the identity of Batgirl would remain a secret until its release. Would Oracle: The Cure prove to be the transition longtime fans had been hoping for, for over two decades? There had been signs, the wiggling of Gordon’s toes and more. Could this be the moment?
In the new series, written by Bryan Miller and illustrated by Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott, the Batgirl character is Stephanie Brown, most famously known for her time as the only female Robin. She takes the up the mantle of her own accord. A concerned and skeptical Oracle appears as a reluctant mentor who, by issue #3, finally takes an oath to guide the young woman and officially passes her own Batgirl costume onto the new caped crusader.
The series itself is inherently problematic if Brown is meant to become a new icon. Beyond the tease that was The Cure and Barbara Gordon not reclaiming the mantle (which is an acceptable choice), DC offers a series lead with virtually no gravitas. How many issues will still chronicle Batgirl coming of age and into her powers? What lessons will readers watch her learn along the way? The very idea is disturbing. With Oracle now acting as Batgirl’s mentor, the new series is, sadly, coming off as Birds of Prey-lite. The question now is: Does this Batgirl warrant her own series? Or would she be better served as a supplemental character in Batman and Robin? Or would readers be better served without Stephanie Brown as Batgirl at all? Or without Batgirl?
With her reinvention as Oracle, Barbara Gordon has arguably transcended the Batgirl character. Despite the sincerest wishes of longtime fans, having Gordon not reclaim her mantle is a defensible decision. But the critical misstep in the construction of this series, was not overlooking Barbara Gordon but in not taking the bold leap of creating a new character to become Batgirl. Instead of choosing a somewhat thinly drawn, if energetic, character from the DCU, the writers had an almost unprecedented opportunity in this series to create an all new character icon from scratch. A character both readers and writers deserve. A character that would connect with the Batverse in a deeper, more mythological way. A new Batgirl did not need to be in the tradition of the original Gordon or the hardcore Cain, but could have come to represent the beginning of an entirely new, fresh era of storytelling.
The Batgirl comic I want to read is about a young, unknown woman filled with darkness and with a desperation to fight crime in order to keep her inner demons at bay; a strong female character with a force of will equal to her physical strength. It is easy, especially after Moore, to want to read about a character who becomes Batgirl, not someone who decides to be Batgirl. In this comic, Oracle still works as the perfect mentor to the troubled and emotionally conflicted young crime fighter who goes on to become a new icon of the DC Universe, one who even may surpass Barbara Gordon.
But, this is not the comic I am reading.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/116146-batgirl/