You want girl power? Don’t show me a shopaholic whose only troubles are gossip related. Show me a strong, independent young woman who fights crime with her fists and her mind. Batgirl soars back into action in the first New 52 collection of her adventures, Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection.
Written by Gail Simone (Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey), Ardian Syaf as penciller (Dresden Files) and Vicente Cifuentes as inker (Green Lantern Corps), Darkest Reflection does a great job bringing the original Batgirl back into the crimefighting scene. Set some time after her paralysis (having been shot by the Joker in the pages of Batman: The Killing Joke), Barbara Gordon has miraculously regained her ability to walk thanks to neural implant surgery. Now she must face a villain hunting down survivors of miracles, and she’s on the list. The villain, who calls himself Mirror, has oddball ways of exacting justice in the world. He was involved in a car accident with his family, and had to watch them burn to death. Because he alone was pulled from the wreckage alive, he believes that miracles are a lie and that he should have died there, and systematically hunts down people who survived because of them.
Barbara often mentions her fear of not being able to walk again, and how she might have gotten back into the action too soon, but she skirts around mentioning the miracle that allowed her to regain the ability to walk. Due to the serial nature of comics, some things need to be repeated for those who are reading the books as they come to the newsstand. But this “miracle” is intentionally left in the dark, like the writers didn’t want to deal with the repercussions of naming it. It’s only mentioned three-quarters of the way into the volume. It would have made sense if her “miracle” was kept secret for much of the book if it related to the plot or the villain or some surprise down the road, but instead it was mentioned so randomly that all the mystery surrounding it was for nothing.
But Barbara Gordon is a solid character, and I’ll forgive any misdirection with her paralysis story because of that. She has an idea of her limitations, and her essence is summed up in her quote during a battle with Mirror: “I can’t outpunch you…but I can out think you.” Barbara is very smart. And her eidetic (or photographic) memory helps her during a key moment to remember the list of Mirror’s victims. A photographic memory is very useful for a crimefighter who also has to be a detective. She deduces the identity of Mirror in no time. Then, Batgirl has to go to some dirty tactics, like bringing up the death of Mirror’s family, to lure him back for another fight. Barbara Gordon’s normal life out of costume is shown, like dating her therapist (she jokes that she’ll need another therapist), and a few interactions with her new roommate, an activist who jokingly refers to her as “Gordon-Barbara-Gordon” because of the stilted way Barbara introduced herself. She also has an unwelcome visit from her mother that abandoned her, and that leads to more personal tension in her life.
There are brief appearances by Batman and Nightwing, because it seems you can’t have a story set in Gotham without seeing Batman once or twice. Nightwing and Batgirl’s fighting/flirty scene was sweet. It showed how she could hold her own against the boys in the profession, but mostly it was her way of telling him to step back and let her handle the situation. I like that Batgirl doesn’t win all her battles. It provides more of a struggle for her to succeed against this new foe. In addition to the regular villain threats, she also has to work against her fears in connection to her former paralysis. She freezes up around guns for a while, and reprimands herself for being out of practice. Batgirl has a lot of voiceover happening in this book, but it’s necessary and doesn’t really distract from the action happening on the page. It’s partly how we see her process as a detective, working through the facts to get to the cause. Barbara’s thoughts also provide some humorous commentary while she’s fighting. At one point she’s battling some thugs, and one says “Kill you, you dirty–” and she punches him in the face. “I just knew he was going to say something vulgar,” Barbara remarks, and after the punch she finishes with, “I despise vulgarity.”Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes brought a great sense of detail and action to these pages. The panels are quite cinematic, flowing from one to the next so smoothly. And major props must be handed to this team for depicting Batgirl not as a hot chick who happens to kick some bad guy ass, but as a hero. There’s no supermodel posing, no illogical superheroine pose showing boobs and butt at the same time (see the cover of Catwoman #0). The art team was able to incorporate a level of griminess to depict Gotham as a dirty place full of corruption…but at least there are heroes like Batgirl to help clean it up. “I’m not Batman,” Barbara remarks to herself as she faces Mirror in a brutal fight in a Gotham graveyard. “I don’t have the pounds or the reach required to move this mountain by force. But I’m smart. That, I know for a fact.” And then she goes and proves it. Story: 9/10 Art: 10/10Overall: 9/10