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DC Women Kicking Ass

Thoughts, pictures, reviews and other stuff about the women in comics who kick ass. This is a feminist site. Deal with it.
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Apr 21 '11

Book Review: Batgirl: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

For years, I’ve heard claims that Barbara Gordon as Batgirl was a second-tier comic character who had no good stories. Late last year DC published the trade Batgirl:The Greatest Stories Ever Told. Will this trade dispel that claim? 

What is it?
Despite the character retiring her cowl and later being shot and permanently crippled in the Killing Joke, Barbara Gordon remains the mostly widely know version of Batgirl and the one featured on licensed merchandise. These stories give a new reader an opportunity to see her in action in older stories and see and compare how the character is portrayed through modern writers. The book contains 11 stories — 8 of the stories were written contemporary to Batgirl appearing in comics in Detective Comics, where she had a back-up and in Batman Family, where she was teamed up with Robin. The remainder of the stories are modern takes on the character.

This is the fourth volume of “Best of” stories that feature DC’s female characters. Wonder Woman, Black Canary and Catwoman have each had a volume, although the Canary book was focused on the character’s pre-crisis incarnation and was only published in hardcover.

What’s to like about it?
Unlike the Batgirl Showcase DC put out two years ago, all of these stories are in color. The story selection gives the reader her origin in Detective #359 and through other stories shows the character’s growth over a decade in print. Batgirl’s detective skills are displayed in The Orchid Crusher. Her skills as a congresswoman are displayed in a team-up with college student Dick Grayson to defeat Benedict Arnold (it’s the Bronze Age, remember?). That story, from 1976, ends with Batgirl kissing Robin a moment that was considered by some readers at the time to be scandalous. There is also a flashback story from 1997 “Photo Finish” by Devin Grayson where Robin and Batgirl working together to defuse a break-in at a museum.

The contrast between the Batgirl seen in the contemporary stories and flashback stories like “Photo Finish” illustrates how  DC began reshaping and de-aging Barbara Gordon. The older, confident determined Barbara Gordon, already a career woman as seen in the first eight stories, becomes a plucky younger woman still in her teens. Both versions of the character are enjoyable, but I wonder if what drove the change. Was it the influence of how the character was portrayed in “Batman: the Animated Series”?

What’s not to like?
The book’s selection of stories both in both terms of number and variety makes the title a misnomer. These aren’t the greatest Batgirl stories, but a rather thin assortment of some of the greatest and some that just seemed to be picked at random. The book leaves out stories that would have shown off the character better.

And while good to have some of these stories in reprinted in color rather than the black and white they were presented in the Showcase Presents a better choice would have been to include some stories that have not appeared in a collection and, frankly, were better in terms of story and art.

For example, I would have selected ” Flawed Gems” from Secret Origins by Barbara Randall Kesel (who I have an interview coming up with) which recounts the origin of Batgirl. This story would have been a better choice than the story from 'Tec 359 which is widely known (and has been reprinted before) and “Folie a Deux” (at left) from Legends of the Universe which is has very pretty art by Terry Dodson but not as strong a story. It’s also surprising that Batgirl one-shot from 1988, published just before The Killing Joke, isn’t included. I would have also selected Detective #533, which shows Barbara being smart and resourceful out of costume.

I’m not a big fan of Don Heck’s art on the Batgirl back-ups but would have been fine with one or two stories. But the book ignores the later stories pencilled by Jose Delbo and written by Cary Burkett including “The Assassination of Batgirl” from Detective #491.

And why is there no introduction? The Wonder Woman volume had one by Lynda Carter; an essay from Yvonne Craig or a writer like Gail Simone would have helped put some context around the character. It’s puzzling that one isn’t included.

So should I buy it?
If you’re not familiar with the early Batgirl stories, this is a good introduction to the character in a more attractive package then the Showcase. If you are a fan, you’ve probably already bought it. I’d like see a volume 2 with some stronger stories, so I’ll give this a buy.

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