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Comic Book Review: "Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection"
In 1988’s “Batman: The Killing Joke”, we are given the demise of Barbara Gordon AKA Batgirl. In this epic story, the Joker decides to prove to the Batman that his twisted view of the world is the correct one. He sets out to kidnap Commissioner James Gordon and drive him insane by caging him in a dilapidated funhouse and forcing him to view images of his daughter Barbara writhing around in pain from a gunshot wound to the stomach. In the end, the Joker’s plan is foiled by Batman and Commissioner Gordon is saved, physically and emotionally. The same could be not said about his daughter. Barbara Gordon suffered a damaged spinal cord and was confined to a wheelchair. From then on she took up the moniker “Oracle” and continued to fight crime via technology by supply technical support to Batman and others. So it was for some 23 years until DC Comics NEW 52 timeline. Barbara recovers from her injuries and returns as Batgirl to fight crime on the streets of Gotham City in, “The Darkest Reflection” story arc.
The story begins in issue #1 “Shattered”, with Barbara still living with her father while recovering from the Joker’s gunshot wound three years earlier. She decides to move out into an apartment with another woman her own age, Alysia Yeoh, to feel more independent and return to fighting crime with more freedom (Her father doesn’t know she’s Batgirl). Like much of the NEW 52, some character’s origins have changed. Here Barbara is in her early 20’s as opposed to late 20’s as before (the same goes for Dick Grayson AKA Nightwing, Batgirl’s first crush). As she stops a gang known as the Brisby Killers from murdering a husband and wife, one killers charge her and they both fly out of the window barely surviving with the help of the couple (They mistakenly call her Bat-WOMAN, not Bat-GIRL). Although she is skeptical about her return to fighting crime she is nevertheless determined to prove she is capable to fend for herself. She has secretly hacked her father’s phone to send her text messages of crimes in progress (her version of a bat-signal). At the GC Hosiptal the Brisby gang member she saved is being attacked by a mysterious killer named Mirror. As she reaches the scene Mirror has already killed one cop and about to kill another, Melody McKenna, when he points his gun at Batgirl’s spine and she freezes from PTSD. Mirror kicks the Brisby killer out the window to his death, which he says he deserves. McKenna blames Batgirl for the two deaths, because she didn’t do anything.
In issue #2 “Cut Short, Cut Deep” Batgirl chases after Mirror, leaving her bat-cycle at the hospital and finds him in a cemetery asking her if she brought a flamethrower. After an intense fight that almost makes her blackout, she finds a list of names of intended victims on him. The police show up and he flees. Barbara barely makes it back home. Alysia believes that she has an abusive boyfriend. Barbra talks her out of calling the police and promises that it’s nothing like that. Barbara goes the library and cross references the names, a fire, and the cemetery plots to figure out who Mirror is. She finally comes across a name, “Jonathan Mills” He was a DEA agent and war hero whose entire family was killed in a car fire and he was the only survivor. Batgirl brakes into his apartment which is filled with weapons and security systems. Mirror appears on a monitor telling her that he should have died with his family, and that people who survive fatal accidents are meant to die. Miracles are just cruel tricks. He intends to kill people in the same manner from which they were saved. Her name is on the list. He tells her he will show her that people who are meant to die Will Die: He has place a bomb on a train to kill a man saved from being run over by a train by a Good Samaritan.
In issue #3 “A Breath Of Broken Glass”, Barbara chase after the train using an earpiece Mirror left her to communicate with him, but when she can’t get the train to stop, she finds the intended victim, Rupert Ansell and clears to train car, leaving only her and him. She tells Mirror that he can’t blow up the train because she is in his list (she survived the fall out the window with the Brisby killer) and people should die how they are meant to. He counters by blowing up the train on the opposite tracks with the Good Samaritan who saved Ansell in the first place. Barbara goes to see her father at work. He is on the phone with McKenna telling her that she has to pass a psych evaluation over the death of her partner at the hospital before she can return to the field. Barbara, feeling guilt over the train explosion tells her father that she was sorry for leaving him and making him worry about her moving out. He tells he wants her to be careful. Her spinal recovery seems to be a miracle, and there is fear that she could loss the use of her legs again if she pushes it too much. That night Batgirl goes the GCPD impound to retrieve her motorcycle the police confiscated after the hospital incident and runs into Nightwing (Dick Grayson). He is also concerned that she if pushing it too far. Barbara remembers how they first met when they were both younger at a gala held at Wayne Manor; how they had crushes on each other. Now years later she finds the concern from him and everyone else to be overbearing and annoying. She lashes out at Nightwing and they fight it out. Finally he tells her that everyone’s worried about her because they love her not because they doubt her. She replies by giving him a lock of her hair, almost telling him that she loves him, and asks him to trust her and let her do this alone. He complies and leaves.
As Issue #4, “An End To Dreams” opens, it’s Christmas time and Barbara is having nightmares about the guilt she feel because she can walk again. She talks to her new roommate about her mother walking out on her. How she was once crippled and how there was a clinic in South Africa that could help her. It’s all too personal of a conversation for Babs and she leaves. She’s beating up muggers when she realizes that Mirror will return to the cemetery to visit the graves of his family and leaves him a note. She informs him that’s she’s given all the names on his list to the cops and his M.O. She tells him to meet her at the botanic gardens. There she springs a hall of mirrors trick on him and defeats his through her wits instead of pure strength. She tells him that good and bad things happen; Sometime to the best people and sometimes the worst. That’s life whether we like it or not. Later that night Alysia and Barbara exchange gifts when there’s a ring at the door: It’s Barbara’s long-lost mother come to visit.
In Issue #5, “A Candy Full Of Spiders” we learn that a neural implant lets Barbara walk. The surgery was secretly financed by Bruce Wayne. She comes across the Whittaker Mob: Boss Whittaker and three of his sons, shaking people down for $3.38. Batgirl fights them off. Suddenly the father kills his three sons, and then jumps off a bridge. She lassos him and while she’s pulling him up, a woman named Gretel attacks Batgirl, saying she interfered with her work. After a quick fight Gretel leaves abruptly. Hours earlier when her mother suddenly showed up at her front door, Barbara tried hard to be respectful to the mother who left her, but she bitterly leaves her at the coffee shop telling her to call before she comes over again. Commissioner Gordon calls McKenna and asks her to return to work to get Batgirl, who is now involved in an incident with the Whittaker killings. McKenna has been obsessed with Batgirl since her partner was killed by Mirror. On the news Barbara see the number 338 painted on a building that Bruce Wayne is planning to renovate. She guesses that Gretel is involved. On the way to the press conference Bruce Wayne’s driver crashes the limo and repeatedly says “338” begins attacking Wayne with Gretel looking on. Batgirl arrives and puts down the brainwashed driver. Gretel says that she has a backup guy—Bruce Wayne, who now is attacking Batgirl with a crossbar.
In Issue #6 “A House Made of Spun Glass”, Gretel leaves Batgirl to deal with hypnotized Bruce Wayne. Babs hopes he is faking it (Batman should be able to fight the hypnosis). Lucky Bruce “returns” to normal. He tells her that he was faking it to fool Gretel. After some research Barbara learns that Gretel’s real name is Lisly Bonner; an undercover journalist who failed to expose Boss Whittaker. He shot her 3 time with a .38. She awoke in the hospital with the ability to control men’s minds and became a contract killer. Barbara comes home to find her mother baking up a storm (trying to win back favor with Babs) Barbara calls Bruce/Batman. He tells her that Boss Whittaker was killed at the hospital. It seems that Wayne’s attempt to renovate Gotham has people wanting him dead. Bruce returns to the site and while giving a speech, the cops under Gretel’s control, open fire. Batgirl saves Bruce and in the commotion he changes into Batman. McKenna attempts to arrest Batgirl, but Batman interrupts, saying she’ll have to arrest them both, “later”. Both of them chase after Gretel. Barbara has realized that Gretel’s life is a dark reflection of her own life; expect that Babs had people to keep her from going over the edge. She tries to reason with Gretel before she falls off of a crane. Batgirl saves her even though she wants to die. She hands Gretel over to McKenna. McKenna says, since she saved this one, that she won’t arrest her this time, but there will be a next time. Batgirl thinks how revenge never makes anything better as she realizes she’s proven herself. She’s overcome her fears and can handle crime fighting alone.
These first 6 issues of Batgirl, written by Gail Simone with art by Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes, provide a great insight into an equally strong and yet damaged character. In her first story arc she deals with two villains who are dark images of herself: Mirror is her survivor’s guilt for being able to walk again while some many other can’t. Gretel, a woman shot by a man who cares nothing for her life, who turned to murder. Both these personas Barbara realizes could easily have been her if it hadn’t been for the love and support of her father, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson; even if she didn’t release it at the time. Now she overcame the largest hurdle of all: her self-doubt. It is wonderful to see Barbara Gordon return as Batgirl. Having Babs prove herself, both mentally and physically is a great storytelling device. Here’s hoping and looking forward to more stories of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl.