By: Gail Simone (writer), Ardian Syaf (penciller), Vicente Cifuentes (inker), Ulises Arreola (colorist)

The Story: Maybe spending most of her free time reading doesn’t sound so bad after all.

The Review: I essentially stopped watching The Office after Steve Carrell (who played the show’s lead and emotional center, Michael Scott) left.  Without the character I cared most about, the show didn’t have a pull on me anymore.  I’ve seen clips of the show since then, and some of them have been funny, and no doubt some people still have good reason to love the show.  I’m not about to say the show instantly became terrible because my favorite character is gone.

So yes, the departure of Stephanie Brown and, in a way, Oracle, for the sake of bringing back Barbara Gordon as Batgirl may be painful, but it shouldn’t stop you from seeing the pluses of the move.  For one thing, Babs comes into the role with very complicated baggage.  You have to remember she started out as Batgirl pretty young, got cut down in her prime, and now returns to the cowl having grown and matured quite a bit.  And that’s before we get to her trauma issues.

Simone balances all these layers to Batgirl’s personality very well.  As Babs confronts Mirror, her inner narrative fires on all gears, bringing to the forefront her fear of getting shot again, embarrassment at her own rustiness, and her determination to fight on regardless.  In a way, it’s a message to us: she may be starting from square one in the direct crime-fighting biz, and she may be in way over her head, but she has no plan to step back now, nor should we expect her to.

One thing that doesn’t quite compute is Mirror’s motivations.  You can accept that the particular tragedies he experienced made him go nutty—in Gotham, that’s hardly news—but you don’t quite buy Batgirl’s conclusion that, “This guy doesn’t want to kill.  He wants to die.”  His list of people he wants to bump off out of projected bitterness indicates otherwise.  Simone’s attempts to characterize him as a zealot rather than a psycho come off clumsy and have little merit.

While Barbara tries to get back in the vigilante groove (which someone should turn into a viral dance immediately, by the way), she also has a newfound social life to live.  This means keeping secrets around her roommate, which we all know is well-nigh impossible.  It makes perfect sense that Alysia, as a liberal hippie-momma, sees Babs’ injuries as the work of an abusive boyfriend, but her well-intentioned demands for information cause more stress than relief.  If Babs plans to come home battered on a regular basis, she’ll have to improve her excuse-making skills.

But Barbara, for all her smarts, lacks much in the art of misdirection.  She can’t even lie to her date (“I wear stuff like this all the time, honest.”) for long before spilling the beans.  You heard right—she has a date, and it’s not Dick, which turns out to be a pretty neat twist.  Babs hasn’t had a serious love interest outside of the former boy wonder in a long time, so it’s actually pleasant to see her branching out, even if that means dating her (physical) therapist.

The art certainly has an in-your-face style of emotion (by which I mean Syaf likes close-ups on soap opera eyes), but it’s also pretty, detailed (love the public art Syaf designs for the park Babs and her date stroll through), and dynamic.  Every move Batgirl makes looks energetic and convincing, which helps you believe she still has the chops to make this superhero thing work.

Conclusion: It’s obvious Simone has a lot of elements she wants to juggle, and that there’s uncertainty as to which direction to take Ms. Gordon, but the series remains engaging and well-told.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I want that lady cab driver to come back as a recurring character.  “You freakin’ Bat people! All the time with your vampire ways.”