Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection review

Barbara Gordon is back as Batgirl in these first 6 issues of the New 52 “Batgirl” series. Fans of Cassandra Cain or Stephanie Brown will groan and others who had grown fond of Barbara’s role as Oracle will be equally saddened, but here’s the way I see it:

On one side, it has potential to offer some interesting stories about Barbara regaining her confidence as a crime fighter and it also makes the book far more accessible to new readers–which is what the New 52 reboot was all about. Most folks don’t know about Barbara getting shot through the spine and when they think Batgirl they still think of the old Adam West TV Show or the Animated Series and in both cases the Batgirl was the redheaded daughter of Jim Gordon and she was always able to stand upright.

On the other side though, it removes some more of the tragedy from the Batman mythology and wipes away some of Joker’s most heinous acts. The top 3 most horrible crimes Joker committed that had a long lasting impact on Batman’s history are the murder of Jason Todd, the murder of Sarah Essen, and paralyzing Barbara Gordon. Just a few years before the New 52 began, Jason Todd was revived (still a terrible idea in my opinion, even though The Red Hood book has been a fun read), and now that the comics are getting a reboot Barbara has been cured and Sarah Essen might not have even existed. So when you look at it that way, the mythology has been watered down. Also, by pulling Barbara out of the chair you take away a role model for the handicapped. Sure, she couldn’t walk but she could sure as hell still fight and make a major difference in the war against crime. Overcoming her injury didn’t take the mending of body, but the strength of spirit that no bullet could ever take away.

But anyway, that entire last paragraph is kind of fruitless. The first side of the argument, the pro-walking-Barbara, is what we have and it’s best to be optimistic about these things.

Binding

You may have noticed from my other reviews that these New 52 graphic novels have had way too tight of binding and some of the text and imagery have been getting lost into the spine. Well, this time when I opened my copy of “Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection” this happened…

When you think about it, it’s kind of appropriate that Barbara Gordon’s book has the broken spine. Anyway, so the construction of this hardback seems kinda shoddy to me, but it might just be what my copy was like. After all, none of the other New 52 graphic novels I have split like that.

Content

As I said before, Barbara is back as Batgirl and if you’re thinking of buying this book in the hope of getting answers as to how exactly she got out of the chair…well, you’re going to end up with even more questions. Instead, this is a book about how Barbara overcame her fears and doubts about being a crime fighter again by facing 2 new villains in 2 different stories who shared a similar traumatic experience that somewhat reflects her own…hence the title “The Darkest Reflection”.

Shattered

This is a delightful opening chapter that gets you excited to read the rest of the story. It was a great way to kick off the new series and it’s a fun way to begin a book. If you’ve been reading “Batgirl” for the past couple of months and the past couple of months ONLY, then you’ll quickly notice that Batgirl is wearing a purple cape instead of a yellow one. I like it. I like all of Ulises Arreola’s colors on this book to be honest. The emphasis on bright colors with violet hues throughout the series give “Batgirl” a unique look that sets it apart from all the other bat-titles. In fact, you’ll get very little complaint from me about any of the artwork by this team. It’s a gorgeous book that never falters until the later chapters when action gets heavy or characters look to similar. I gave this issue an 8/10 when it was originally published back in September.

Cut Short, Cut Deep

Remember when I said Syaf’s pencils can get a bit troublesome in the heavier fight scenes? Well, there is a fight scene in a graveyard here that’s a prime example of that and there’s also a guy who looks a bit too much like Dick Grayson. The character design for Mirror, the villain, is a bit silly too but those complaints about some of the visuals aside, this is a fun continuation from “Shattered”  and I gave it an equal score of 8/10 way back in October.

A Breath of Broken Glass

Gail Simone comes up with some good title names, doesn’t she? Anyway, I gave this third issue a 7/10 when it was first published but I’m kinda scratching my head as to how. I guess I doubt it read better as a single issue than it did as a book and I know that the scores are a bit arbitrary anyway and based off of a gut feeling after viewing a work but…Barbara seems emotionally unstable in this issue. Speaking of the unstable, Mirror begins to overstay his welcome in this book and the story starts to feel like it needs to wrap up rather than slow down for some Batgirl & Nightwing time. Mirror’s motives being as absurd as they are wouldn’t be so bad if the characters would acknowledge how insane he must be and it also seems like he’s giving Batgirl (as un-confident as she may be) far too much trouble.

 And End of Dreams

The thought boxes start to grow a little repetative and when Batgirl finally throws down against Mirror I wasn’t so much on the edge of my seat as I was tapping my foot impatiently for it to all be over with. This opening tale started strong with 2 solid issues, but it ends on a rather mediocre note. I feel that if it would’ve been consolidated to 3 issues and featured a better villain–or simply kept it simple with common street crime along–then I think I would have enjoyed it more. I mean, the guy has a ginormous cape lined with mirrors–how tough can he be? I gave it a 7/10 when it was out in floppy format.

A Candy Full of Spiders

The second story featured here has a lot of the same beats as the one before it only this time it’s not about coming to terms with whether or not she deserves another chance as Batgirl or whether she has the sand to do it but if she can overcome the pain of being wronged. Someone who couldn’t overcome trauma at the hands of an evil man is Gretel, the new villain for this 2-part story and she, as you can imagine, is a…dark reflection of Barbara.

She’s also a complete rip-off of another recent Batman villain, named Absence, who shares a remarkably similar origin story and was just as lame. Barbara Gordon is a likable girl, sure her inner monologue can get a bit annoying at times, but I like her, I feel for her, and I want her to succeed but the villains she’s going up against in this book are laughable. This is also the issue in which Sarah Essen’s existence was retconned and I went into a rant about that in my 7.5/10 review. Barbara’s mother showing up in this tale adds some interesting conflict though, far more interesting than the super villain to be honest. But, the problem is that Syaf’s pencils of Barbara and mom (who is also called Barbara) are almost indistinguishable making their scenes together a bit confusing.

A House Made of Spun Glass

Even though I hate the Gretel character, I think that this two-parter was a better executed story than the one with Mirror. It’s short and to the point and the scenes between Barbara and her mother and the flashbacks of Barbara and Bruce have far more weight to them than just about anything in the Mirror saga. It’s just a shame that those moments get watered down by Gretel showing up to deliver awful lines like “Oh, great men of Gotham. Every bad thing that’s happened in this city lies at your feet. It feeds you like the diseased soil that bears poison fruit. Come into my house of candy and delight and burn forever!” which makes absolutely zero sense with the whole Gretel motif. Gretel was the little girl, not the witch.  I tried my hardest to overlook Gretel’s detriment to an otherwise enjoyable read, but I still gave this issue a 6/10 when it came out.

Supplemental Material

It might not look like much at a glance; it’s just a few early character designs and rough ideas for covers. But it’s the only rough sketches I’ve seen from any of these New 52 books that actually look different from the finished product. Mirror, for example was originally designed as something that looked more like KG Beast and  a Klu Klux Klan member had a baby. And YES I’m certain that that’s the first time anyone in the history of man has ever said that sentence before.  The original cover ideas are all quite fascinating as well. In my opinion, many of these doodles would have made far better covers than the ones that went to print! For example, the “Batgirl” #1 cover closely resembles its early sketches only in those drawings she wasn’t leaping out of a teal background filled with bats, she was leaping and leaving her wheelchair behind! But the coolest of the cover ideas, I thought, was another one by Adam Hughes that’s a close-up of the base of a wheelchair and Batgirl’s boot as she walks away from it. The bonuses are scarce here and it would have been infinitely better if it was all annotated (why were these designs thrown out?!) but it is more interesting “what if?” material than the things I’ve seen in other New 52 graphic novels. Still, I would very much like to see more supplemental material from these books in the future. Get SOMEONE to write an essay or SOMETHING.

Value

$22.99 at full price for 6 issues of a $2.99 book. Had you bought them as monthly issues instead it would’ve set you back $17.94. That doesn’t seem fair, does it? Of course, Amazon will save you some cash seeing as how they offer the book for $14.57 brand new but still it kinda feels like you’re getting hosed here when you consider how much more content you’re getting from Batman & Robin Vol.1 or Batman Vol.1 for essentially the same price. It might be best to wait for a softcover edition.

Overall

“Batgirl Vol.1: The Darkest Reflection” is a vibrantly colored and stylishly drawn book with lots of charm but its two stories are a somewhat disappointing and the villains are laughable. The price tag and shortage of supplemental material aren’t helping this hardback’s cause either and I almost feel like fans would be better off picking up the monthly floppies instead. It’s not a bad book (if you average out the scores of my individual reviews of all 6 issues you’ll see that) but it’s not presented as well as the other graphic novels I’ve seen so far. Fans of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl will love this book regardless, everyone else can probably wait for a cheaper trade paperback edition.

SCORE: 5.5/10

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