Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Life and Times
For 2003's Batgirl: Year One, the full chorus is in session. Writers Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon deliver a sprightly narrative, weighted here and there by the gravitas born of associating with Gotham's Caped Crusader. Artist Marcos Martin's cleanly busy panels, framed around a slim, determined teen hero, recall Steve Ditko's Amazing Spider-Man from the mid 60s. Candy-coated night, and the occasional neon sky, are the masterful touches of colorist Javier Rodriguez. All told, this team's spotlighting of Batgirl's origin is better than any other imaginable.
Batman, already partnered with the precocious Robin, doesn't want to imagine her at all. Her leap from masquerade attendee to crime-fighter strikes him as dangerously callow. That her father is Detective Jim Gordon doesn't help. The two men, battling social ills on different sides of the law, have only just reached an understanding. But young Barbara, too short for FBI field work and Gotham police training, refuses to be excluded. At sixteen, she's taken computer classes, pre-law and jujitsu.
Her homemade costume is a flamboyant homage. She trounces the flighty Killer Moth and his goons as they rob the GCPD Masquerade Ball. When the Dynamic Duo confront her outside (where Killer Moth escapes), Batman asks, "And what are you supposed to be?"
Later, after Barbara splurges on mace, a taser, and professional hiking equipment, the question becomes, "Why?" Batman and Robin watch her jump from a Gotham highrise. They cut her rope, sparing her two dislocated shoulders. Knock-out gas allows for a trip to the Bat-Cave, where, when pressed, Barbara can't give her looming idol a good reason for joining his cause. "This isn't a game," says Batman, as if she guarded his porch, a la Fight Club. "Time to go home, little girl."
A man named Garfield Lynns helps Batgirl with that problem. As a pyrotechnic expert, he works on films, sometimes using too much fuel and roasting actors alive. That rampant flames dance for him like exotic women ranks him closer in craziness to the villains Batman and Robin routinely face. When Killer Moth ends up drawn to Lynns, he introduces him to the criminal underworld as Firefly. Almost as quickly, he realizes his mistake. Outside a burning nightclub, Killer Moth says, "Too much... just supposed to scare them." Firefly replies, "Trust me. They're scared."
As this charred carnage hits Gotham, emotional back-drafts push Batgirl toward a precipice. First, Robin kisses her during a thrilling, Batman-free evening that takes them through the subway on motorcycles. Then, at home, she enters to find that her father has tossed her room in his suspicion that she's a vigilante. Our girl's mojo isn't long in returning, however. She outsmarts Killer Moth and Firefly as their helicopter drags her (on a zip-line) through the city's glass canyons. One of my favorite panels, in any Bat-comic, shows her running horizontally along the windows of a skyscraper. When she hooks the copter to a tower, it crashes on a roof, and she goes through a skylight into a pool.