Sunday, 8 December 2013

Bstgirl Vol.2: Knightfall Descends (The New 52)


Batgirl Vol 2: Knightfall Descends (The New 52)

Is it just me, or does someone at DC have
a thing for redheads?
Writer: Gail Simone

Artist: Ardian Syaf, Ed Benes and Vicente Cifuentes

Read as hardcover collection

Background Information:

One of the best things about Batman comics is how much DC have extended the Dark Knight’s group of allies. Names like Nightwing, Catwoman, Batwing, Red Hood, Talon and Batwoman have found their ways into their own, self-titled series. And that’s just the New 52; before, Robin and Red Robin have both had their own titles in days long past. Batgirl is one of these. First-time readers probably have heard Batgirl/Barbara Gordon’s name before in the animated series from the last couple of decades, where Batgirl played a fairly minor role, often in the shadow of Batman and Robin. She’s the son of Commissioner Gordon (cop with the moustache in the movies), and is smart, quick-talking and a joy of a character.

Before the New 52, there was a Batman story known as The Killing Joke that saw Barbara get paralysed from the waist down.  After that a different Batgirl took the name while Barbara took to administrative duties as Oracle; giving Batman vital information for his missions. The New 52 decided to bring Barbara back, removing her from the wheelchair that bound her (and apparently doing it in a completely believable way, though I don’t know what that is), prompting this heartbreaker of a cartoon from The Gutters. She is Batgirl once again, and taking on a new series of adventures.

Review:

If there’s one thing that I can praise the New 52 second volumes for, it’s for their inclusion of the zero issues. They’re not always perfect, but including them in the second volumes allows for readers to quickly adapt to the characters. Knightfall Descends is a perfect example of how to make this work. You don’t need to have read the previous volume to get what’s going on here, because the book is very accessible.

As I’ve hinted, that’s partially because the zero issue is included right at the start. While the issue isn’t a fantastic story, it gives new readers just what they need; an introduction to the first female caped crusader. As a result, reading this one feels very much like reading a first volume, which means anyone can pick this up and love it.

Batgirl’s biggest triumph is the way that writer Gail Simone handles a female lead. I know how sexist this is going to sound initially, but hear me out; doing female action characters is hard, especially when you’re trying to do so in a way that is empowering to women. Unless you over sexualise a character like Catwoman, there are often two over-done ways of creating an action hero that is a woman. You can either remove the femininity of the character and make her a man with a different anatomy, or you can make her adamant about the fact that she’s a woman fighter and have her spurt out lines like “you got a problem with that?”

Thankfully, Batgirl does neither. She’s a tough character because she’s feminine, not in spite of it. She feels emotions, and suffers for her traumas, but the real satisfaction comes in the way she overcomes it. Indeed, I became convinced that what was happening in Barbara’s head took more courage than what was happening with the book’s multiple villains. This is made better by the fact that she’s still very much a girl-next-door character, but (and this is important) without the love interest. That’s right; she spends her time talking about something other than her relationship with men. She has a sweet disposition, but this does not make her a pushover, actually, Batgirl is stronger for her ability to show compassion, and it plays out perfectly over the two major story arcs of this volume. I won’t go into the plot of the story arcs, because they’re honestly not the star of the volume- that spot goes to the characterisation of Batgirl; she’s insanely likable- a former victim struggling to regain her courage.

The art here is as good as you can expect it to be in a bat-family book; plenty of dark colours and moments of physical pain. It’s not anything that you can really separate from titles like, say Nightwing, but it does a good job. Batgirl’s emotions are portrayed well, here. And, since her emotions are by far the biggest element of this trade, that’s a very good thing.

My only qualm with Batgirl is the one-issue Night of Owls storyline. It doesn’t fit. The end of the Owls issue sees Gotham getting bombed. The next one, all is well. I know it’s part of a bigger event, and can only assume this crisis gets resolved, but in this volume, it just seems that Batgirl puts the bombing under “things I don’t want to deal with” and moves on.

Knightfall Descends is a great story about personal strength. It gets a 4 and a half out of five items on a list of things I don’t want to deal with.

**** ½

+ Batgirl is written brilliantly.

+ Incredibly accessible for a second volume

- Night of Owls issue doesn’t make sense.

Alternate Option: Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection

You can probably pick this one up really easily too.