Brace yourself for the retconning!
Following the fun but unsubtle Mirror saga we have a Batgirl who has regained her confidence. She’s prepared to face the scum of Gotham and a new villain head-on but isn’t quite ready to sit down for a chat with her aloof mother.
The new villain is an attractive woman wearing skin-tight outfits who has a unique power to control the men of Gotham—sound familiar? Well, it’s not Poison Ivy. This villain’s name is Gretel. She apparently cannot feel pain, she dies her hair as frequently as Katy Perry, and she has a big problem with Bruce Wayne revitalizing Gotham’s slums. She’s a definite improvement (so far) over Mirror so this new arc is already shaping up to be more interesting.
The art, for the most part, looks great– particularly the action which had a knack for looking somewhat muddled and confusing in the Mirror arc. The colors are still as vibrant and purple as ever, making it the 2nd brightest Bat-related title right behind Justice League (but with WAY more purple). We even get a few more answers about Barbara’s miracle! Not that that pays a big part in the story. Instead, Batgirl casually drops the phrase “neural implant” in her inner monologue while swooping around a bridge. And just like the last arc, inner monologue captions abound. Gail’s characterization for Batgirl has been annoying for some who describe it as being too silly or immature, but the revamped Barbara is a bit younger and the book does fill a necessary niche of being accessible to all ages which you definitely can’t say for most comics produced today. I love Gail’s characterization of Batgirl. Now that she has her confidence back she’s actually having fun being a superhero. How often do we get to see that? Seems like anymore all we get is heroes who mope about how great the responsibility is and how overwhelmed they are by tragedy—that’s great for some, like Batman himself, but we need characters like Batgirl who make the job look like a joy at times as well.
So you’re getting a better villain, a little more light on Barbara’s miracle, and an upbeat batgirl fighting thugs in a world of violet hues. Great. But now let’s get to the other thing I mentioned from the start: The retconning.
The Gordon family tree has always been a bit confusing to me. Unnecessarily confusing. A lot of people don’t know this but apparently Jim Gordon slept around a lot. Barbara was his niece, but not really because he slept with his sister in law. Jim’s real wife was named…Barbara as well. But he cheated on her in Batman: Year One with Sarah Essen, they got a divorce and Jim remarried, this time to Sarah, thus making an honest woman out of her. Eventually Jim adopted Barbara (the niece) and she learned that Jim was really her father or something and so she started calling him dad…I have no idea what became of her cuckolded father/Jim’s brother. Anyway, I’m confusing myself—this all is getting retconned. And it starts here.
Batgirl #5 is an important issue because of one. Single. Line. “The kid in me wants to defend Dad—doesn’t want her to know how hurt he was, how he never remarried.”
First of all, let’s talk about this scene in general. Barbara’s mom shows up to chat but we never even learn her mom’s name! She’s just referred to as “mom”—we don’t know if this is Thelma or Barbara or maybe a different name entirely.
Secondly, Ardian Syaf does a crap job of drawing the mother and daughter here. Sorry. I love his art otherwise, but if it wasn’t for the coats these two women wear in this scene it would be impossible to distinguish one from the other.
Third, If it wasn’t for the retconning line this is scene would be pretty pointless. It came across pretty clearly at the doorway that Barbara did NOT want to talk to her mother and it would have been more powerful for her to just close the door in her face. Instead we get a one page scene at a muffin shop. Barbara orders 2 muffins (but doesn’t eat them) they sit down and then Barbara leaves a tip on the table and leaves, saying “call before you come over next time, okay.” All that changed in this scene is that her mom said she was coming back to Gotham, but that could’ve been handled at the doorway. Instead, we’ll have to have a scene like this again in another issue, but it will be given the attention it deserves rather than being shoehorned in like it was here.
Lastly, we’re back at the line about Gordon never remarrying. What does this mean? Well, it’s hard to tell since we don’t know which former Mrs. Gordon we’re looking at here. Even harder to tell when we haven’t heard Sarah Essen’s name mentioned in any other comic so far in the New 52. But here are a few things to debate about:
- Does Sarah Essen even exist?!
- If Sarah exists, has she been to Gotham, yet?
- If she hasn’t, does that mean that Batman: Year One is no longer canon?
- Without Sarah Essen as Gordon’s wife, that means she couldn’t have been in the No Man’s Land Saga and been murdered by Joker, right?
- Is No Man’s Land no longer canon? Has an earthquake never hit Gotham?
- Am I the only one annoyed in movies and books when characters order food and then don’t eat it? It really bugged me in “Million Dollar Baby” where both Swank and Freeman cut a cupcake in half, splitting it, and then don’t eat it. Just take a bite out of it as you leave. Jeez!
It’s moments like this that make me wish DC had just rebooted Batman entirely. What a mess. Batgirl #5 was a solid read, especially if you enjoyed the first arc. If you were on the fence about the first one, I’d recommend giving this story a chance as it does have a better villain at the very least.