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Hello, S_D. It's been a while. Sorry about that.

Recently, I picked up a TPB entitled "Batgirl: The Greatest Stories Ever Told." It's entirely devoted to Barbara Gordon's time as Batgirl. It contains a mix of stories from 1967-1977 as well as a couple from '97 and '98. (The latter being flashbacks to her post-Crisis early career.) I'd be happy to share any other stories from the book if people are interested, but for now I'll just cover the first one, "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl".

I've uploaded high-res scans to flickr. Here's the full batch. For those not familiar with the exact workings of flickr, you can click any thumbnail to see a larger version (duh), but once you've done that, you can right-click that image and choose "original" to see the full-size scan.

Actually, before I get to the story, I wanted to talk about the cover:

You can tell it's Alex Ross, and, as always, he does beautiful work. What struck me, though, was her face. That cleft chin seemed an odd choice. So I thought about it. If I was going to paint a nearly photo-realistic image of Batgirl, what would I do? The body has been well-defined by the comics. (As well as the general expectation of a superheroine's figure.) The face has, too, but with more room to play around with the details. If I was going to draw her face, I'd use the traditional comic book looks as a guide for the general shape of things, but I'd have to include at least a nod to the one actress* who played the character live action before a national audience. In fact, IMO, it wouldn't be right to do anything else.

*If anyone, for any reason, wants to mention Alicia Silverstone, I'll just say that she never played Barbara Gordon and leave it at that.

So I went looking for pictures of Yvonne Craig to refresh my memory. And I found a helpful image gallery which includes some nice headshots. I don't want to hotlink them, and I don't want to clutter up this post too much. I'll let you click around. But there's one in particular that I found to be notable. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that Ross had worked off that one, or something very similar.

With that out of the way, let's get to the story! Starting with a coincidence that left my jaw on the floor.

The first page is a splash page showing us a different angle of a scene from later in the story: Killer Moth throws Batgirl into a cocooned car as Batman rushes to the scene, thinking "Who is this new Batgirl who seems to have taken over my crime-fighting territory?" It's designed to intrigue us... and, from the angle and position of her body (which is bent into something of a backwards arch), to give us a good look at her spandex-covered chest.

The next page, however, gives us our very first look at Barbara Gordon:

Take a look at that first panel. That's the one that made me want to post this. I had a vague memory of having come across these observations before, but I couldn't seem to find the page.

This is the first panel in which we see Barbara Gordon. The very beginning of her very first story. What's she doing? She's sitting in a chair which we can clearly see has wheels, surrounded by reference materials, looking at a big square clock with a pendulum (very much like a scaled-down clocktower), and holding Batgirl's empty cape and cowl (which, from roughly the waist down, hangs limply to the floor).

That is positively eerie. They couldn't have made a more thorough foreshadowing of her becoming Oracle if they'd planned it. (Except for the lack of a computer, but nothing like a personal computer existed at the time.)

Anyway, as you can see, she gets into her surprisingly detailed costume, reflects on how this party will be even better than getting her PHD or even a brown belt in Judo. (Note, BTW, that having her doctorate should put her in her mid-20's, at the least. Much older than Robin. And a little old to be called "Batgirl".) Which makes absolutely no sense, but does "coincidentally" tell us that she has brains and fighting skills. Also, for some reason, she thinks it's perfectly acceptable to take a shortcut by driving across the large open lawn in front of the Gotham City Library.

As she's driving, she happens across a frightening scene! Killer Moth's gang is attacking Bruce Wayne's limo. They've used ray guns that coat whatever they hit in a cocoon. Batgirl easily takes out the henchmen, and Bruce uses the distraction to flee the scene and change into Batman. Moth flings Batgirl chest-first into the cocooned car, Batman gets a punch in, and Moth flees. (Interestingly, it's explained that Moth doesn't actually fly but rather swings from an "almost invisible wire." There is, however, no more explanation of how that wire swings him wherever he wants than there is an explanation of just what the bat-rope holds on to when Batman is at rooftop level.)

Batman frees Batgirl from the cocoon, leaving her dripping with pink goo:

I like the way she deflects his question about her identity. Also of note is that the next panel shows her shelving a "New Art" book (by J.J. Cones - not one of the artists on the book, nor anyone I can find with a quick net search) next to one simply titled "Powers." (Hey, that's not a DC comic! And it's not one that would exist for several decades.)

Anyway, Bruce Wayne gets a letter from Moth the next morning. It's an extortion racket. $100,000 in cash or Moth and his gang will attack again. Bruce realizes he may not be the first victim of this plot, so Batman visits a few other wealthy Gothamites (one of whom looks suspiciously like Mark Twain). And, indeed, they did have the same thing happen, and they did pay out the money, and they were too afraid to tell the cops.

Bruce refuses to pay. After three days of staking the place out, Moth's henchmen (Larva and Pupa) decide to attack. Meanwhile, Barbara Gordon gets a rare book Mr. Wayne ordered and goes to take it over in person:

Note the outfit she's wearing. In particular, take a good look at her hat.

Barbara naturally arrives just in time to see Bruce Wayne "murdered" by the henchmoths. It's the end of part 1 of the story. Part 2 begins with an interesting costume change:

I love the idea of the mask disguised as a rolled-up beret, and the touch of having the bat-ears be visible as seemingly part of the hat. I also like the idea of having the costume in general disguised as her normal clothing - cape as skirt, etc. They tried something similar in the unaired pilot to the Batgirl spin-off series in the 60s, as you can see in the pictures on this page.

What I don't get is the handbag, which reverses to become her utility belt (with large red bat-logo handbag attached). Doesn't that mean whatever was in the bag - such as the extremely valuable rare book - would get dumped out? And why does she need the large red handbag on her hips? Also, we clearly see that the skirt she was wearing was bright red, so how did that become a dark blue cape? And is she supposed to wear the same skirt every day, just in case she needs to become Batgirl? And where did that bat-logo on her chest come from?

I'm giving this way more thought than it probably deserves, especially considering this is a Silver Age comic book. But if you're going to take the time to show us these clever costume change ideas, shouldn't you at least keep the skirt the same color from one page to the next? (I am, however, totally giving them a pass on Batgirl having a specially designed, fully functional weapons belt ready even though it's only her second time out and she never actually expected to see real action.)

She takes out the goons ("I bet that's not the first time you've fallen for a woman!" *KLONNK*), unwittingly messing up Batman's plan:

Terrible puns? Look who's talking, Dick. (For the record, those are curtains they're hiding behind, but there's an awful lot of room back there. I'd be tempted to say they're in the closet together.)

And so, to rescue their plan, they do the only sensible thing:

Note that this is the first time Dick has ever seen Batgirl.

The boys explain that they'd planned to track the bad guys to their hideout so they could not only capture them but recover the loot. Dick makes up for gagging her on the first date with this rather sweet panel:

And then the Dynamic Duo rushes off:

And yes, even though it was just a costume she made for this one party and she only held on to it "just in case," Barbara prepared a custom bat-logo motorcycle and somehow managed to fit it in the trunk of her car. (Also, the World's Greatest Detective completely fails to notice Barbara Gordon's car parked out front.)

Batman and Robin storm Moth's hideout only to find he's ready for them:

Yes, an anti-gravity chamber, just like they have at NASA!

But where's Batgirl running to? Back outside! Thinking quickly, she grabs the tracking beacon off the back of the Mothmobile and uses its magnet to secure her boot to the metal baseboard in the "gravity-free" room. She manages to run outside, grab the beacon, run back inside, tie it to her boot, and fling Batman and Robin to the other side of the room just in time for them to surprise the henchmoths (who apparently took that long to run down the hall).

"Take this one, Robin!" Batman exclaims as he punches out one of the thugs.

"He's 'tooken', Batman!" Robin replies, punching out the other one. Sure, Robin. Batgirl is the one who makes terrible puns.

With that taken care of, the trio must find the boss! Time for Batgirl to show off her detective skills:

Quite a nose you've got there, Babs. And so we come to the end of Batgirl's first adventure. Batman explains that, actually, when she showed up, he'd been just about to escape the null-G room. Not by throwing the bat-rope and hauling himself over (which apparently didn't occur to him), but by "firing my laser torch, using the principle of action and reaction to reach safety!" Using what amounts to a small rocket to propel himself across the room is a pretty good idea, but I'm not sure a "laser torch" would really provide that much thrust. Ah well.

After that, all that's left is the obligatory ending. The masked trio meets up with Commissioner Gordon at police HQ (to drop off the crooks and the loot), Gordon asks about the new team member, Batman declares that he'll welcome her help when the need arises (and that "from what I've seen, she doesn't have to take a back seat to anybody!"), and then we cut over to that evening at Gordon's home. Jim talks about how great Batgirl is and says it's too bad Barbara isn't a little more like that. (Really, Jim? You want your daughter to risk her life as a costumed vigilante, fighting supervillains in a skintight bodysuit?) And Barbara, her nose in a book, has a little private smile. "If only Dad knew!"

All in all, it's a fun story and a good introduction for the character. But I can't help but laugh at some aspects of the Silver Age writing. Mostly, though, it's interesting to look back on it all in light of the character's history. Not just that first panel, but her interactions with Robin. Interesting, too, to see how they tried to show her level of competence - she's capable enough to operate on her own, she can take down henchmen with no problem, she even has a few deductive tricks up her sleeve... but her main trick is to sniff out traces of her own perfume, she has a giant handbag on her belt, and the one time she goes up against the main villain, she's knocked out. Also, in her first outing, she rescued Batman, in the second she nearly ruined his plans, and in the end she rescued him (with some pretty quick and clever thinking) even though it turns out he didn't actually need rescuing. She can work her own cases, but she's not in Batman's league, and let's not forget that she's a girl. Also, for all that she's never shown actually throwing a punch, she does get some pretty heavy hits in - much more than the dainty kicks Yvonne Craig was allowed. (Actually, her first punch is on page 45 of the book, halfway through the fourth selection, which was published in 1972.)

Thoughts? Reactions? And any requests for more stories from the book?

Date: 2011-01-19 06:23 pm (UTC)
shadowpsykie: Information (Hope Silly)
From: [personal profile] shadowpsykie
teehee i giggle at the giggle induciness :D


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