“I’m not going out like this” – Batgirl #11 delivers one of the best issues of 2012

When the New 52 was first announced, Gail Simone writing Batgirl was the title I was more excited about than any other. Her mix of passion for the character, deep and abiding love of Gotham and her balanced, slightly cartoony and so heartfelt take on every character she wrote was something that made for a near irresistible title, particularly for Barbara Gordon. It didn’t even bother me that much to here that Cassandra Cain wouldn’t be returning to the cowl.

What separates Barbara Gordon from the rest of the Bat-Family is her humanistic, relentlessly positive world view. For a character whose history has been relentlessly tied to personal tragedy, she has been able to keep a remarkably able to believe in the capacity for redemption. As she works through the traumas that have defined her life as a hero, she hopes others can do the same to escape their future in villainy.

Simone was able to capture this feeling wonderfully in the first arc of Batgirl but the book seemed to lose its’ way shortly thereafter. A not entirely well thought out villain and a story arc that seemed far too heavy handed definitely stopped the title from really making it unique.

Simone seemed to turn everything around with an exceptional Night of the Owls crossover and followed it up with an issue 10 that introduced the potential of a fantastic new villain. Issue 11 only expanded on what made Knightfall a potentially fantastic arch nemesis for Barbara and the beginning of a great arc for the character.

I mentioned while writing about Star Trek’s “The Best of Both Worlds Part 1” that one of the most satisfying ways in which to develop a satisfying storyline is to have the escalation of tension coincide with the protagonist’s escalation of doubt or dread. So far in the arc, issue 10 begun with Barbara being forced to recognize that at some point, Gotham’s way of fighting crime may have to change. She’s sick of beating lower class punks to a pulp to protect the rich, done with thinking that all the capes might be doing more harm than good and maybe having to deal with thinking that Bruce might not be best for Gotham. That’s, of course, when she looks into the face of the alternative.

Charise Carnes represents the alternative. She’s violent, psychopathic and campaigning to clean up Gotham in the way she views to be right. From the bear trap in the hotel hallway to throwing men off the top of roofs, it Knightfall is willing to transform the city that she feels betrayed her into a forced paradise. Carnes has seen horrors similar to what Barbara has dealt with, she’s just taking something entirely else from it. And it is much, much more dangerous.

Penciller Ardiyan Syaf shows the hard differences between Batgirl and Knightfall in the ways in which the two do battle. The fight between Gordon and Carnes’ battles is punctuated by disconnected and off-sized panels as well as use of lots of whitespace show a disconnect between the way Barbara normally thinks and operates with the way she has to fight. Contrast that with the pages between Alysia and James Jr. is much more focused and overlapping, with darker more heavily lined drawings.

The talk with McKenna is enlightening, revealing some more of what motivates Knightfall but it does a really masterful job at showing the detective’s confusion. Her reveal that there is a mole in the Bat-family and the fact that she thinks Barbara may be involved with Medusa or the DEO is a great way to tie Kate Kane into the story and preview a little bit of next month’s issue.

Its the escalation that makes this issue into one of the highlights of the New 52 and a great way to explore a little more into how Simone is able to get into Barbara’s head. Her ability to explain the mashing of trauma and humor that take place inside of Batgirl is shown wonderfully and it makes for one of the most fascinating issues of the year.

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