August 14, 2012

Judging the New 52 #12: Batgirl

When DC made their big line-wide reboot, the one title I was quite upset to be losing was Batgirl. In the two years leading up to the New 52, DC had introduced an all-new Batgirl in the form of Stephanie Brown, and it was a marvellous superhero comic. Funny, dramatic, well written and engagingly drawn, it found a new direction for the Batgirl persona in that way DC used to be so good at.

The core appeal for the DC Universe used to be its sense of legacy. The same character wouldn't stay as a superhero forever. Jay Garrick was the Flash, sure, but he eventually gave way to Barry Allen, and subsequently Barry gave way to Wally West. There had been five in-continuity Robins (including Stephanie). There have been three Batmen. Multiple Blue Beetles, Supergirls and Green Lanterns.

Through this process of character evolution and legacy-building, the Silver Age Batgirl Barbara Gordon found herself shot through the spine by the Joker and rendered a paraplegic. While the initial storyline ("The Killing Joke") was a classic case of "women in refrigerators" (look it up), she was subsequently transformed into the awesome Oracle, a computer hacker working as an intelligence source for the world's superheroes. She wasn't the comic book industry's most famous disabled character (for some reason people keep overlooking Daredevil), but she was easily a solid second.

So the revised 2009 Batgirl was great because it featured a fresh, energetic and still relatively inexperienced Batgirl (Stephanie) being mentored and supported by Oracle (Barbara). It included everything I loved about the DC Universe and it looked great and was brilliantly written by Bryan Q. Miller. When DC announced that the New 52 reboot would included jumping back to a fully-able Barbara Gordon as Batgirl with Steph nowhere in sight, I was deeply disappointed, and approached Gail Simone's relaunch with some trepidation.

DC keep doing this at the moment. They've restored Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, and this follows restoring Barry Allen as the Flash and Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. It's all part of Dan Didio and Geoff Johns' Silver Age fetish. These aren't the DC heroes I grew up with, and to be honest they're not altogether interesting characters. On top of that, taking one of the few visible disabled characters in comics and magically curing their disability is a horrible thing to do.

I'm still unhappy that Barbara was cured, and I'm still unhappy that Stephanie Brown was magically erased from the DCU to make it happen, but Batgirl has benefitted in one significant aspect: Gail Simone has written the bejesus out of this relaunch. It's one of the most consistently well-written comics of the New 52, and one of the few for which I've already rushed out and replaced my individual issues with the collected hardcover edition. It's great stuff, and Barbara's recovery has been very sensitively played.

So what we have here is a brilliant comic made out of a bad situation. I had my reservations, and if a lesser writer was onboard I think I'd be screaming from the rooftops just now, but Simone is doing a bang-up job and has saved DC's ass on this one.

But these posts are mostly about how the New 52 has been selling. In the case of Batgirl, the answer is "pretty damned well". Let's take a look.

The last volume of Batgirl launched on its own with sales just north of 50,000. It rapidly settled at the 30,000 mark and then slowly suffered the usual readership attrition until its cancellation in August 2011. The last issue sold about 22,600 copies - significantly better than a lot of the New 52 sells right now. I have no doubt that if they had retained the status quo and simply relaunch with a new #1 (as DC did with Batman, Green Lantern and a few other titles) the sales would have rocketed up.

The actual New 52 relaunch has done very well, selling over 80,000 copies with its first issue before settling down to around 40,000 readers. There was a big bump in issue #9, thanks to a Night of the Owls crossover among all the Batman titles. Batgirl is crossing over with Batman again towards the end of the year as part of the Joker-centric Death of the Family story arc, and I suspect we'll see another jump - probably a much bigger one - around issue #14 or so.

Do I still wish DC had kept Batgirl the way it was? Absolutely. Am I enjoying the Gail Simone reboot? Absolutely. And so should you. The first collected edition is out now, and all the back issues are reasonably priced at Comixology.


  1. I'm coming from a very different perspective in that this is the first time I've ever read a Batgirl comic, so the only sense of its history I have is what Simone's given us.

    I'm finding it enjoyable, and it's one of my regular buys. That said, the book hasn't excited me as much as, say, Batwoman or Wonder Woman, so I'm still waiting to really get a hook. I think the problem for me is that they haven't really found any great characters for Batgirl to interact with. So there's a lot of internal narrative which isn't my favourite form of writing.

    But it's one of the better books.

    1. I agree, and hadn't really thought about it too much until you brought it up. Batgirl is in desperate need of a supporting cast beyond her flatmate.


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