With the second wave of New 52 trade collections, we get to see if the creative teams can live up to the impression they created in those initial story arcs (in the cases where they got to stay on at all). In Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection, Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf reintroduced us to Barbara Gordon, once again Batgirl, in a solid character study. Can they keep up the same level of skill?
Batgirl: Knightfall Descends is quite a full bag. There’s the zero issue, telling Barbara’s origins as Batgirl with a slightly new twist, an encounter with an old minor foe, lots of family drama, an intense new vigilante villain, a guest appearance from Batwoman, the crossover with the “Night of the Owls” storyline, and even a teaser for more fun yet to come.
“Fun” being the operative word. A few examples aside (more on them later) this might be the most purely enjoyable Bat-book out there right now. Do not mistake me; I don’t mean that it is frivolous. Far from it. The drama and characterisation are done with an appropriately delicate poignancy. Barbara’s struggles with her return to physical health and her mother’s sudden reappearance form the framework that helps support the rest of the story.
There is also the episodic nature of Simone’s storytelling, giving the reader something new every issue without losing the momentum of the title character’s development. This, as well as her talent for creating memorably devilish but nonetheless throwaway villains, are welcome carry-overs from Secret Six.
Unfortunately, the razor-sharp dialogue she displayed on that series seems to have been left behind with it. While in Batgirl it is still very natural it lacks the bite of past stories, and is even bumpy in some places.
Another slight annoyance is that Barbara is so relatable and realistic that it makes it difficult to understand why she is a member of the Bat-Family at all. She’s incredibly smart, sure, and a capable fighter, but her otherwise charming insecurities seem more of a hindrance in this respect. Part of me wants to simply put it down to her recent recovery, but we shall see as the series goes on.
What does shine through, however (inasmuch as anything shines in Gotham), is that “Owls” crossover. I’ve gone on and on at length at how Scott Snyder (the mastermind behind the main storyline) is my new favourite Bat-writer, but should he ever decide to quit one day, I think DC should look to Simone as a replacement. She displays the same chilling grasp on the Court of Owls that Snyder established in Batman, and the same with James Gordon Jr. This is the first such crossover that has been collected, and Simone has set the bar high for the other Bat-Family writers, below only Snyder himself.