In the second volume of Batgirl's new ongoing series,Knightfall Descends! Fortunately, the quality of Batgirl's adventures continues to rise instead!
Barbara Gordon has been through a lot in her lifetime. Her mother abandoned her, her brother was revealed to be a psychopathic killer, and she spent three years in a wheelchair due to a spinal injury. Yet she has risen to any challenge thrown at her and has always managed to achieve victory by refusing to accept defeat. Now things are looking bad once again. A chance encounter with a new criminal forces Barbara to relive her darkest hour. An army of unstoppable assassins have launched a massive attack on her city. And a new vigilante has descended upon the Gotham underworld and is willing to kill any superheroes who get in her way. When she's forced to face all these challenges, will Batgirl be able to rise once again?Since this 2nd collection from Gail Simone's "Batgirl" series features four different storylines, I'm going to change my regular format and review each storyline separately:Batgirl - Year Zero - (4 stars) 1 issue
- This prequel issue explores the set of circumstances that led to Barbara Gordon becoming Batgirl for the very first time. Since people often go into them knowing how it's going to end, prequels can be really tough to successfully pull off..."That still doesn't let you off the hook for the Star Wars prequels, Mr. Lucas!!!"
However, despite the pitfalls that come with attempting a prequel, Gail Simone pulls it off with aplomb. Opening with a truly sweet introspection of Barbara as she declares her father to be her hero, the spunky heroine is all charm as she finds herself (with her younger brother James Jr. in tow) getting a tour of the police station where her father works. However, when a recently-captured criminal attempts a break-out, Barbara is forced to rescue everyone she can. I loved the parallels between Batgirl's previous origin and the New 52's version. In both instances, Barbara pretty much became Batgirl by accident. But whereas the Batgirl origin from the 60's portrayed her in a weaker light (due to the rampant sexism that was permeating throughout the comic book industry at that time), Simone's Batgirl makes a much more impressive debut. An added bonus was the rather chilling foreshadowing when a criminal looks into 10-year-old James Jr.'s eyes and declares, "I know what he is!" It was also rather ironic to see Barbara trying so hard to "protect" her innocent brother, when the reader already knows about the monster he'll become. I would have loved to give this one the full 5 stars, but I found the main villain to be little more than a brutish thug with painfully insipid dialogue. But even if the villain disappoints, Batgirl certainly doesn't!Grotesque - (3 stars) 2 issues
- For me, this was easily the weakest of the four storylines, as I felt this suffered from the same problems that plagued the first volume of Simone's Batgirl series. Grotesque, a thief and self-proclaimed "snob", makes bizare speeches about how he only steals "the best". But much like "The Mirror" from the last book, Simone doesn't succeed in giving us a creepy villain, rather, she gives us a villain who just tries way too hard to be creepy! Also, a rather uninspired beat-em-up between Batgirl and Black Canary just comes off as simplistic. Still, Simone does offer an interesting twist when Barbara learns that one of Grotesque's henchmen was working with the Joker the night he shot and paralyzed her. I was initially rolling my eyes at the thought of yet another "Killing Joke"
reference...KJ was released in 1988 and DC Comics STILL insists it's one of the greatest things ever written...spoiler alert
(it's not...it's really, really not
). However, Simone managed to come up with a previously unexplored angle of what happened that night, and it leads to one of the more moving moments in Batgirl's history. Another example of Batgirl shining but being saddled by dull villains.Night of the Owls - (5 stars) 1 issue
- Ahhh...now HERE is the Gail Simone who floored me when she first took over the "Birds of Prey"
series! Batgirl's tie-in with Scott Snyder's "Night of the Owls" crossover event is only 22 pages long, but what an exciting 22 pages it is! Featuring terrifying and intimidating villains who harken back to some of Simone's creepier villains (Junior and the 12 Brothers in Silk spring immediately to mind), a reference to the fire balloon attacks of World War II that is almost never mentioned in the history books, thrilling action, effective character development, and a shocking climax, Gail Simone's contribution rivals even Scott Snyder's!Knightfall Descends - (5 stars) 4 issues
- At first I was afraid the "Owl" issue may have been a fluke, but with this brilliant story, Simone proves she definitely has her groove back. For any longtime Batman-fan, the name "Knightfall" already conjures up a horrific image..."If you can look at the awfulness above without sobbing, you're far stronger than I am..."
But in this story, Knightfall is the name of a vigilante who is forming an army to combat the criminals of Gotham City. However, the fanatical Knightfall believes that criminals can never truly be reformed, so her solution is to simply murder them instead (as well as anyone who tries to prevent her from doling out her brutal form of justice). Much like the "Owls" tie-in, the villains of this piece are both compelling and frightening in a way that only Simone can execute. The reasons behind Knightfall's obsession is tragic enough to make her a sympathetic villain, while also disturbing enough to remind us exactly how sick she truly is. In addition to the great villains, we also witness Barbara's inner turmoil as to the excessiveness of her own methods, as well as a more tender side of her when she shows true concern for a criminal who was trying to hurt her just moments before. While such an enthralling "hero vs. villain" piece would have been enough to make this story a winner, Simone also ties a couple more threads together. The last volume introduced a subplot involving the return of Barbara's estranged mother. While it seemed like this plotline was going nowhere previously, here the story picks up momentum and leads to an emotional and satisfying pay-off. Add to that an unsettling appearance by Barbara's deranged brother, and you have an adventure truly worthy of five stars!
I feel a little awkward encouraging people to check out a graphic novel series when I myself had to admit the first few issues weren't very good, but if Simone can keep up the quality of storytelling that is featured in most of this edition, I can promise you that it's worth trudging through the weaker issues when the better ones are THIS good!