Spencer: They say disaster brings out people’s true colors; some perfectly normal people turn on their neighbors for petty reasons, while others will risk their own lives to rescue total strangers. For Barbara Gordon—at this point still a few years shy of “Batgirl” status—the disaster of the Zero Year brings out her heroic side for perhaps the first time ever. While some of the other Zero Year tie-ins have felt a tad superfluous, this story feels like a first essential step in the heroic legacy of Barbara Gordon.
Between the Riddler’s city-wide blackout and the oncoming superstorm, Gotham City is in bad shape. Lieutenant Jim Gordon leaves his daughter Barbara in charge of the house (and her little brother James) while he tries to protect the city, but she’s quickly forced to evacuate as the storm worsens. At the evacuation site Babs befriends a man named Henry, but things take a turn for the worse when the site collapses into a sinkhole, forcing Barbara to take action and save as many lives as possible. The group slowly makes its way across the city rooftops, but after discovering that his home’s been destroyed by the storm Henry betrays them, stealing their bags—and with it, everything these people have left. Livid, Barbara decides to be her own hero and takes Henry down, takes full responsibility for the group, and starts leading them to safety.
Before we begin discussing the issue in earnest, I want to address the elephant in the room: regular Batgirl writer Gail Simone did not pen this issue. Considering the ill-conceived firing of Simone from the title last year (and the fan revolt that quickly led to it being reversed) this seems like a perplexing choice, especially since Simone herself isn’t even sure why she wasn’t asked to write the issue. That said, Marguerite Bennett steps ably into Simone’s shoes; in fact, had I not known ahead-of-time of the change in writers, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed. Bennett especially has Barbara’s voice down, presenting the same mature, dedicated, and somewhat conflicted protagonist we’ve grown to love on this title.
The “maturity” part of Barbara’s personality is in the forefront this issue as she takes charge of an entire group of Gotham evacuees. Considering that she’s probably 14-16 years old at this point, it feels strange to see Babs leading these adults around at first. Maybe that’s why she latches onto Henry so quickly; sure, he showed her kindness at a low point, and I’m thinking it’s even possible that Babs may, may have been nursing a minor crush on him, but I ultimately think that Barbara simply expects Henry to be in charge because he looks and, at least initially, acts like the kind of guy who should be in charge. However, once he shows his true colors, Babs doesn’t hesitate to spring into action. Her possessions no longer matter, only these people that she now realizes are a part of her city, a part of her homestead, people she has a responsibility to protect. She has to be her own damn hero:
This is a triumphant moment in this narrative alone, but even moreso when you consider Barbara Gordon as a character. Batgirl has always been a self-made hero, and Barbara has always been a character motivated by a sense of responsibility above all else–a rarity in the angst-ridden Batman family. Babs simply can’t sit back and watch people be hurt without helping; it’s partially what got her into a Batgirl suit in the first place, and in the Pre-New 52 continuity, it why she soldiered on and reinvented herself as Oracle after being paralyzed by the Joker. I’m sure we can chalk up at least some of that sense of responsibility to her being a cop’s daughter, but not all of it; after all, James Jr. is a cop’s child too and look how he turned out.
So this story, and this moment in particular, shines because it shows yet another reason why Barbara is so responsible and heroic. This is why Babs fights. The Zero Issue may be the day Barbara became Batgirl, but this is the moment Barbara became a hero.
Meanwhile, Bennett and artist Fernando Pasarin really set a mood in this issue, accurately portraying the heartbreaking situation the residents of Gotham find themselves in during this Zero Year cataclysm. It’s hard to look through this issue and not feel deep sorrow for the people of Gotham as they watch their possessions and homes destroyed, their neighbors die, or simply as they trudge down the street in a miserable rain fully expecting never to return home again.
It’s hard to see scenes like this and not think of real life tragedies, such as Superstorm Sandy or even the recent typhoons in the Philippines. Sure, the Zero Year natural disaster is exaggerated in the same way all comic books events are, but there are still a lot of people all around the world going through similar situations, and I only hope that there are more Barbara Gordons than Henrys in those situations, selflessly risking their own necks to help people through the disaster. It does make me think, though, about those of us only experiencing these events second-hand. Is there any way we can follow Barbara Gordon’s example and help out our fellow human beings around the world, even if it’s only by sparing a few cents? I think I need a “What Would Batgirl Do?” wristband.
So, Shelby, were you satisfied with Ms. Bennett’s Zero Year fill-in? Were you as touched by Barbara’s heroics as I was? Did this issue make you think of recent disasters as well? And hey, what do you think of Babs’ new haircut? I’m lovin’ it, even though Pasarin’s depiction of teenage-Babs otherwise looks no different from his adult-Babs.
Shelby: I’ve been pretty vocal in the past about my general dislike for Pasarin’s style. While I think Babs can totally rock the pixie cut, and I love the way she just suited up for the trek across town in her dad’s tactical gear, the proportions of people’s faces still really bothers me. And for a second, I thought Henry was Guy Gardner, which just about broke my brain.
I feel torn over this issue, mostly because I find it unnecessary. I didn’t learn anything new about Babs at all in here; she behaved exactly as I believed she would in this sort of situation. There’s no hard and fast Batgirl origin (that I know of, anyway) like there is for Batman, so little glimpses of Babs’ path to Batgirl like we have here are in theory a good way to explore her origin. Like you said, Spencer, Bennett did a great job capturing that voice and telling a great story. I love the way she portrays that moment where Barbara almost had the idea of Batgirl.
This issue wasn’t a bad one at all, it just felt redundant to me. Jim is being the dutiful cop, Babs is selfless and heroic, James is a little creepy and dark; this is all to be expected from these characters. There’s something about this story that I feel I’ve read already. It makes me question again the way DC handles cross-over events. So frequently it just feels like they interrupt tangentially related titles, forcing their creators to shoe-horn someone else’s story into their current narrative. Luckily here, it’s no where near that bad; an origin story flashback can go anywhere with no affect to the current storyline other than making the reader wait an extra month for it. Again, this wasn’t a bad issue: the story was compelling, the action was good, the character’s voice was there. If this weren’t yet another delay to the current Batgirl story arc, I probably would have enjoyed it much more. Good as this individual issue was, it struck me as another unnecessary tie-in that just holds up the story for which I’ve been waiting.For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?