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

The Story: Babs’ taking a look at herself and making a change.  And she’s starting with the man in the mirror.

The Review: As Oracle, Barbara Gordon enjoyed a faithful following of fans who admired her not only for her special role in the world of professional crime-fighting, but also for the strength of her personality.  Yet somehow, in the wake of her miraculous recovery from the wheelchair, it seems like she has to re-earn all that respect, both as a character and as an active superhero, not only from us readers, but also from herself.

A lot of her internal conflict comes from the unworthiness she feels of being cured when others have not.  This ties in perfectly with Black Mirror’s rage of surviving when others have died, “like being mocked by God,” as Batgirl puts it.  Both have dealt with their respective issues in opposite ways; one lets it gnaw at her from within, and the other unleashes it upon others.

Speaking of Mirror, he hasn’t been a very impressive villain for Batgirl’s first major outing, and his motivations remain as impossible to sympathize with as ever, but when he finally goes down, he succeeds in appealing to your sense of compassion.  Unable to overpower him, our hero dispatches him in a very poetic and rather sad tactic: by forcing him to reflect upon the burden of his own “miracle.”  As a man of mirrors, it’s a reflection he can’t escape.

Ultimately, it’s Barbara who realizes the futility of both their coping strategies, each for the same reason: these things just happen, not because anyone deserves them more or less.  She sums up the message pretty well, attributing it to Gotham City, but applicable to the world at large: “Sometimes extraordinary things happen to the very worst people, and the best people suffer.  And sometimes, people get their miracles whether they deserve them or not.”

The lesson, folks, is to not think too much about the whys and wherefores and just make the best of what life hands out to you.  If Batgirl chooses to make use of her regained mobility to do what’s needed, all the power to her.  This issue proves not only that there’s place in Gotham for Batgirl, but why Gotham needs her.  Who else would stand around awkwardly after saving a hapless couple from gun-toting muggers to make sure they’ll be okay until the cops come and to say, “Merry Christmas…glad you’re both okay”?  Not Batman, nor Batwoman, for that matter.

I’m a sucker for warm-and-fuzzy Christmas moments, and this issue has some pretty good ones.  Distanced from both her father and former flame (see #3 for details), Babs relieves her loneliness by opening up to roomie Alysia.  The artsy gal turns out both observant (“You still keep [your van’s wheelchair ramp] a year later?” she asks pointedly) and sensitive (“If we’re telling big time secrets, I have one.”), so there’s definitely the potential for a beautiful friendship here.

And after a sweet exchange of gifts, Barbara receives another surprise on her doorstep, though perhaps not one she’d consider much of a gift.  As far as cliffhangers go, this one’s pretty good, featuring the return of a character most of you probably won’t expect.  I know I didn’t.

Syaf offers reliable artwork that handles action quite a bit better than drama.  His Batgirl is equal parts rough-and-tumble and grace.  When she does out punches, Syaf makes the force of them so apparent you want to wince.  Her landings and leaps don’t have quite the aerodynamic beauty of Nightwing’s, but she looks athletic and light on her feet all the same.  Arreola sometimes overdoes the glossiness, but otherwise makes a vivid, eye-catching issue.

Conclusion: It hasn’t been an entirely smooth ride, but having Barbara back in costume has been enjoyable nevertheless, and it feels like she’s finally figuring out her stride.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Incidentally, Alysia is quite right to be ecstatic over receiving a ceramic cooking knife as a Christmas present from Babs; those things are awesome.