BATGIRL VOL. 1: THE DARKEST REFLECTION (2012)
“I'm not Barbara Gordon. I have to keep remembering that. Tonight, I'm not Barbara. Tonight, I'm not the Police Commissioner's daughter. Tonight, I'm the one who pored over the details of the confidential police and reports when her dad wasn't looking. I'm the one who recognized the vintage costumes you wear. Tonight? Tonight, I'm Batgirl.”
I have to admit, when I first heard that Barbara Gordon was out of the wheelchair for The New 52, I was extremely skeptical. But, far from avoiding disability issues, this graphic novel deals specifically with Batgirl becoming accustomed to being able-bodied again. In any case, it is rare that a graphic novel directly addresses disability and able-bodied presumptions.
She accepts her time in the chair, and even says as much throughout the comics: “Does everyone see me as broken?” I was a little upset that they only had her as Oracle (That is, disabled.) in the story, for 3 years. But, no matter, maybe she got Bat-physical therapy. She’s out to prove that she never was broken and is ready to take on cases alone.
A big theme of the comic is self-doubt, and contrasting her new able-bodied life with her old one. She keeps her lift-van. We begin by seeing Batgirl taking down a Halloween-themed gang of youngsters, The Brisby Killers, whose costumes she recognizes. After she takes them down (But, she’s critical of herself for using the wrong intimidation tactics.) we’re introduced to two new characters: Mirror, the graphic novel’s primary villain…a Federal Agent after people who got second chances while others didn’t…and Batgirl’s new radical-feminist roommate Alysia.
Outside the apartment, Alysia makes a comment about her lift-van and being in a wheelchair “Like being in prison.” Batgirl gives us this stunning insight in an aside: “She doesn’t mean anything by it. I know she doesn’t. She doesn’t know what it’s like, what the chair helps you do. And I guess I don’t feel like explaining that to her able-bodied-but-well-intentioned self right now.” How many times I’ve thought this to others myself!
Okay, so Batgirl got me hooked on the disability issues. But what about the villain, and the action? Well, Mirror’s got a list of survivors, and Batgirl’s on it. The first victim should’ve drowned, so we meet him drowning someone with a hose. But, Batgirl meets him in a hospital where he attempts to shoot her in the spine and break her legs even. He knows how to exploit her survivors guilt. Because he was one. He survived a terrorist train-bombing.
So, not only does he “mirror” the accidents the survivors lived through, but also their fear, which makes him kind of bizarre and nightmare inducing. He sets several traps for Batgirl, including in a cemetery, on an exploding train, and finally, in a hall of mirrors where she tells him he can survive, and defeats him by using his fear against him.
Now, there’s a ton of other self-conflicts throughout the comics, especially when she fights Nightwing who wants to prevent her from being put back in the chair (irony?), but Batgirl insists that she must fight Mirror alone…each relationship has sort of an overprotective, presumptive quality that I dare say I’m used to. For example, when Barbara goes on a date with her former physical therapist, he tells her: “Miracles do happen.” Batgirl replies: “I’m a skeptic. I don’t believe in miracles.” (Yes!)
Also, when she goes to tell her father about where she was, two word bubbles appear, one is “What I want to say is” followed by “But, what I really say is” she is exhausted by the over-protectiveness. And I’ve been there too. Sometimes, it feels like others just see nothing but the disability, even in spite of more obvious talents.
Finally, in the last story, we meet a villainess named Gretel who can hypnotize people. Once hypnotized, they chant “338” and become zombie-like. But, it turns out Gretel was actually shot in the head three times by a mobster with a .38; Batgirl uncovers this after their first meeting. Gretel’s hypnotic ability functions as part of her trauma.
Gretel has since declared war on all powerful men, because they like to stay in power while others suffer. Her next target is Bruce Wayne. But, Batgirl realizes he’s faking being a zombie for the sake of his identity; in the end, she avoids getting hurt and Bruce whispers: “You were always meant to be Batgirl…” Finally, some confidence! After turning Gretel in, Batgirl says she’s been where Gretel’s been too, and can’t blame her. So have I!
To conclude, the art is beautiful…but I don’t think…I would’ve overcome my apprehension about this story if it weren’t so masterfully crafted by Gail Simone. I mean, I always knew Batgirl was disabled, but I guess somewhat foolishly I presumed that once she wasn’t Oracle, she’d be done with disability issues. I’m happy to be proven wrong. If you need a glimpse of disability issues in comics, I think this graphic novel would be in my Top 5 recommendations. 5 stars…Go read it!