The announcement that Barbara Gordon was returning to the role of Batgirl was one of the more controversial events of DC’s New 52 and throughout this comic’s run, writer Gail Simone has kept the focus of the book on Barbara Gordon, not Batgirl. Any reader who approached this book looking for just another Bat-person has been treated to a nuanced and comprehensive look into Gordon’s life.
This issue starts the three issue “Batgirl: Wanted” arc that pits Commissioner Gordon against Batgirl (not knowing she is his own daughter) for the alleged death of James Gordon Jr. (not aware that since this is a comic book, James Jr. isn’t really dead). Commissioner Gordon’s hunt for Batgirl is dogged, terse, focused, and relentless. On the surface it seems like just business but Gordon’s demeanour and refusal to slacken show how single-minded he is in bringing Batgirl to justice.
Of course, Barbara Gordon is perfectly capable of making herself feel guilty about her actions without the additional pressure being put on by the Gotham Police. Simone’s portrayal of Barbara as a guilt-ridden and traumatized woman goes much deeper than cursory moping or simple hand-wringing. One of Simone’s strengths as a writer is crafting fully believable, genuine characters and not cliches who simply reset to their default personality at the start of the next issue. Barbara now refuses to “wear the bat” but she cannot let go and lead a normal life. No matter how she tries to escape, everything draws her back to what she has endured since her recovery from paralysis and her re-entry as Batgirl. Minor things trigger PTSD-style reactions, her burgeoning romantic life goes about as wrong as it could possibly go (she makes Buffy Summers look positively Pollyanna in comparison), and Knightfall gets thrown back into the mix. I’m glad to see Knightfall taking an interest in the current hunt for Batgirl and making conclusions which are logical but also incorrect (and which will only make the dark situations even worse). Knightfall is an excellent foil to Batgirl and she deserves to stir up more trouble.
Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion’s visuals capture the emotional energies of characters on all sides of this drama. Overall, the visual pacing fits the rising tensions and actions of the plot. I found myself reading faster and turning pages at a steadily increasing speed until the final reveal (which you kind of see coming but still don’t want to happen). It does seem like all of the people in this part of Gotham City are tall and lithe, which, while it makes for a great lines and energy in the climax of the issue, starts to make everyone look like underwear models. Alex Garner’s cover is a simple, perfect visual metaphor for Barbara’s situation and the negative space is well used and much needed.
I’ve avoided any spoilers of upcoming issues of this arc but I wouldn’t be surprised if Simone seizes this opportunity for Barbara to reveal of her secret identity to her father. The level of tension and the rate at which awful things compound this already horrid situation have been only increasing over the last few issues, and such a reveal could lead to a much needed catharsis and possibly a more supported, self-confident Batgirl.