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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Reflections on Batgirl

Those who listen to my podcast know that for the past few weeks I've been pouring through the graphic novel Batgirl: Year One.  I recently finished it, so I thought I'd just take a minute to share my reflections and reviews on this storyline.

I also noticed that Blogger now has a "behind the jump" feature, so I'll continue this behind the jump.

Welcome behind the jump!  I'll probably be doing this a lot in the future, because we all know some of my entries get long and rambly and this'll be a neat way to keep the main page looking all trim and proper.

But anyway, Batgirl: Year One.  I found out about this particular graphic novel in the most unique way.  As you know, I've been purchasing and watching all of DC Comic's direct-to-DVD animated movies, and enjoying the  hell out of them.  One of the key creative personnel on these films is a talent young animator named Lauren Montgomery.  I found her blog one night, and on her blog, she shared the tale of how Batgirl: Year One is her favourite graphic novel, and that she proposed adapting it into one of these direct-to-DVD films.  Her bosses said no, saying that they wanted to focus on more marketable characters (Batman and Superman.)  However, this was enough to intrigue me, so I decided to go down to my local library and check it out.

I have to admit, the origins of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl always seemed a little weak.  I knew of her real-world origins.  The producers of the Batman TV show of the 1960s were looking to jazz up the third season of the show with a new character, so they sat down with DC Comics to create one.  That way, this new character could be introduced in the comics at the same time.  Corporate suits of the 1990s would start calling this business strategy "synergy," but I digress.  The character they devised:  Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon, who donned a cape and cowl and fought crime as Batgirl.

As for her kind-of-weak comic book origins, it was this simple.  Barbara Gordon wears a Batman costume to Bruce Wayne's charity masquerade ball.  The villain known as Killer Moth shows up, seeking to kidnap Bruce Wayne and ransom him.  Barbara Gordon fights off Killer Moth, and since that Batman costume can't hide her feminine figure, the press dubs her "Batgirl."  She liked the adrenaline rush from fighting crime, and decided to do it full time.

See, the problem with that is everyone else in the Batman family has a personal tragedy in their history, making their prime motivation for crimefighting to be vengeance.  But not Batgirl.  She was all like, "Hey, this is fun!"  So Batgirl: Year One really fleshes that out.  In the story, Barbara Gordon, fresh out of college, is eager to follow in her father's footsteps and become a cop.  But, Commissioner Gordon pulls the ol' "I want my kids to have a better life" card, and discourages her from doing it.  And, as Barbara points out, with his power and influence as commissioner, he can make sure she never gets hired.  The FBI turns her down for being too short, and most other agencies just write her off as too...womanly to pursue such a butch career.

So becoming a crimefighter evolves out of her frustration at being constantly told she can't.  And it does make sense.  In a world full of costumed vigilanties, who wouldn't see becoming a costumed vigilante as a viable career in law enforcement?

And again, becoming Batgirl wasn't her first choice.  Her father was also going to be in attendance at that ball, so she chose the costume in order to, well, piss off her father.  She's going to be all like, "Is this what I have to do to be a cop in your city?  Dress up like a bat?"  But, of course, Killer Moth busted up the party before she could do that.  And in a nice little nod to her future as leader of the Birds of Prey, it's learned that Black Canary was the heroine she'd originally hoped to apprentice under, but she never found a way to get in touch.

There's more nice little nods to her future, too, such as how, in her internal monologues, she compares herself with the oracle Cassandra.

And, as has become the 'norm, ever since the Tim Burton film, it's no good to have a stellar heroine unless her rise to fame is darkly mirrored in the rise to fame of her villain.   So, we're also treated to a nice subplot where Killer Moth begins escalating his crimes as he tries to be taken seriously as a supervillain, until he finally teams up with the much more dangerous pyromaniac known as Firefly.  And it all leads to the penultimate battle, where she finally proves her worth to Batman and is welcomed into the Batman family.

Yeah, as I'm sure you can imagine, as we see in the books, Batman is originally wary of this outsider ripping off his schtick.  He begins equipping her so, in Batman's words, "She'll stay alive long enough to change her mind and quit."  Robin, however, points out that by doing what they're doing, they're "giving her direction."  Robin's attitude...well, it's lust at first sight.

All in all, I found it to be a highly entertaining book that finally filled in some gaps on a vital member of the Batman family.  I highly recommend you go down to your public library and check it out.

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