52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Gail Simone was charged with spearheading the Batgirl reboot for the New 52 under DC Comics. Barbara Gordon is a character Simone was already more than familiar with, using her prominently during her Birds Of Prey run several years beforehand. With this reboot, Simone used the opportunity to introduce and tackle important social topics by including a transgender character as part of the primary cast to the book. It wasn’t all fun and games for Gail Simone on Batgirl though as she was temporarily fired from the book after just over a year into working on this new reboot. With outpouring fan support, Gail Simone was quickly reinstated on the book, finishing up her work with the book and character in September 2014.
Batgirl Vol 1: The Darkest Reflection
After being paralyzed from the waist down for the last three years, a miracle occurs that allows Barbara Gordon to take back up the mantle of Batgirl. Following a rare, experimental surgery, Barbara regains her ability to walk after being crippled from a brutal and surprising assault from the Joker in her own home. Barbara finds herself in a constant state of paranoia, having a hard time coming to terms with not only her recently returned mobility but adjusting back into the life of fighting crime as well. But there is no grace period for the newly returned hero as Batgirl must work quickly to stop the new villain, Mirror. Mirror hunts down his prey without prejudice, killing people who survived situations that should have resulted in their death, finishing them off because of how “undeserving” they are to continue living. Things go from bad to worse for Batgirl when she discovers that she appears on the Mirror’s hit list twice, being hunted down as both Barbara Gordon and Batgirl!
Gail Simone kick starts a whole new series of Batgirl stories with her first volume in the New 52. Simone is a writer who already had familiarity with Barbara Gordon and her other “alter ego” in previous years from her work on the series “Birds Of Prey”. Bringing in elements of previous Batgirl stories, Simone establishes a whole new timeline for the character with this relaunch, drawing on some horrific history associated with the character to add a flare of drama and mystery. Barbara Gordon was unexpected shot in the spine by the Joker three years before this story starts, confining her to a wheelchair for those years. Simone uses this to drive the plot forward, referencing the tragedy that allows for an air of mystery to the series. This incident is a driving force behind who Barbara has become over the years and as such, plays a strong, subtle role in developing a lot of her character beats.
Under Simone’s guidance, Barbara Gordon is a lot of things. She’s lacks confidence at times but then turns around to be incredibly confident. She’s stressed, tired, scared, timid and yet she is the polar opposite of all those things when she needs to be. This all establishes a great character dynamic for Barbara, showcasing what taking back up the mantle of Batgirl truly means for her psyche and overall quality of life. Simone strikes up this great balance of intrigue with action, highlighting that Batgirl is still technically supposed to be a detective whilst also being a crime fighter, something that can oft be forgotten about the Bat-family. All these characters like Batgirl are more than just butt whooping vigilantes, they’re also highly intelligent, something that Simone doesn’t forget. It’s a fun thing to see, how Simone tools around with the different aspects of Barbara’s personality in and out of her costume, making both sides of Barbara feel like independent characters from one another. Simone does an excellent job of doing small developments for the character of Barbara, with none greater example of that than how she handles having guns used against her during the story. Barbara still has trauma associated with the Joker shooting which causes her to freeze up when the villain of the first arc, Mirror, pulls a gun on her in the first issue. This results in Batgirl failing to do her job but Simone shows Barbara tackling this fear head on later on in the story, resulting in her becoming more comfortable with being shot at in later issues.
The plot to Gail Simone’s Batgirl story has some hiccups in it, with plenty of high points balanced out with a few low ones. The entire first arc featuring the villain Mirror has plenty of interesting moments for Barbara Gordon but the plot itself feels a bit rushed and paper-thin. Barbara discovers the identity of the Mirror character with relative ease, making you wonder why someone else hasn’t already solved these crimes and brought him to justice already. It’s still a fluid tale that is entertaining but hits a few snags along the way. The same can be said for the second part of this volume, with it having some plot decisions that just don’t make sense. You’re thrown against a one-dimensional villain who can control people’s minds but the character doesn’t really get fleshed out. Batgirl begins to talk about the character like we should know her by her name almost immediately even though when you learn this villain’s name it’s easily forgotten because of how forgettable the character is. Add that with the odd decision to have the character wear different coloured wigs plus the fact that they are a pushover and you get a second arc that has a dull villain who is really only there to fill page space between the exciting developments in Barbara’s personal life.
Even though your “B” plot for much of the first volume is nothing to write home about, the character interactions that Gail encourages throughout are definitely worth paying attention to. The primary cast of Batgirl is Barbara Gordon, her father Jim Gordon (who every Batman fan should already know and love), and Barbara’s new roommate, Alysia. Obviously, it’s the relationship between Jim and Barbara that readers should invest the most into, as it features a worried father trying to take care of a daughter who experienced extreme trauma. As a father, Jim is hesitant to let Barbara go out into the world and live life on her own, fearful of another tragedy befalling her. Simone showcases the high level of respect and love the two characters share for each other through their unbreakable bond, something that transcends the illustrated page. Alysia is a fun addition to the primary cast, being the quirky roommate who appears to always be in Barbara’s corner. Simone teases out the possibility of Alysia discovering Barbara’s superhero alter ego but only sets that into the simmer stages with this volume. Going forward, you know that Alysia will have an impact in how much Barbara opens up to her on a personal level, having already broken down a few barriers with this first volume. In addition to the primary cast, Simone also adds in some cameos by characters like Nightwing and Batman. The Nightwing cameo eats up nearly an entire issue and plays up the fantastic and romantic element to the relationship shared between Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson.
Collects: Batgirl #1-6.
Best Character: Barbara Gordon.
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “You were always meant to be Batgirl, Barbara.” – Bruce Wayne.
Best Scene/Moment: Batgirl versus Bruce Wayne – Issue 6.
Best Issue: Issue 4. Issue 4 is the pick of this litter because of how it concludes the first arc of Gail Simone’s Batgirl story. Here we get the final showdown between Batgirl and Mirror, aptly staged in a rather fitting setting that allows from some fun visual cues and solid story beats. You really get to watch Barbara come into her own as a superhero in this issue as she struggles against a foe who is stronger than her but not necessarily smarter. Tack all that on with the ending to the issue that unexpectedly shakes up Barbara’s life and you’ve got a compelling conclusion to the opening arc.
Why You Should Read It: Gail Simone is simply one of the best female writers in the comic industry. She consistently knocks down barriers for female writers and to a further point blurs the line between a male dominated industry that is seeing an increase in female talent. Simone knows how to write great female characters but she isn’t just a one-note writer who cries out “girl power” with everything she writes. She’s a professional through and through, with Batgirl being a great example of the talent and work ethic she has. Simone finds the right balance between badass and mysterious with this first series of Batgirl stories, being careful to not reveal too much so that fans will be coming back for more.
Secret Six Vol 1: Villains United
Gail Simone was tasked with reviving the Secret Six, a team originally envisioned as a covert ops strike team. When Simone re-imagined the team in light of the DC Comics event “Infinite Crisis”, she completely changed the entire premise of the team, making them a collection of villains with questionable morals who had no real allegiance to anyone other than themselves. It was during Simone’s time with the Secret Six that she also completely changed the way the world saw the villain Catman, elevating him from a pushover into a strong leader. Gail Simone used Secret Six as a platform to introduce new villains whilst also putting over old villains who never really got the love they deserved.
In the wake of an impending Crisis, the Secret Society Of Super Villains begins to assemble against the heroes of the DC Universe. Brought together by Lex Luthor and a few of his compatriots, the Society tries to draw in villains from all walks of life, extending the offer to seemingly every villain on Earth. When a resilient and drastically different Catman steps out from the pack and rejects the “offer”, he becomes an immediate target and enemy of Luthor. Catman is brought together with Ragdoll, Parademon, Chesire, Scandal, and Deadshot by a mysterious benefactor to combat the Society, forming the Secret Six. Together the six unlikely allies form a distinct bond as they go up against Luthor and his lackies, choosing to straddle the line between hero and villain.
Gail Simone puts together an interesting cast of mostly z-list villains to tell an obtuse superhero story. With a character like Deadshot being the most recognizable member of the team, you would never expect such a quality story to come from a group like the Secret Six. Six characters from all different corners of the DC Universe are thrown together with little regard and end up meshing incredibly well. Within only a few short issues Simone manages to develop friendships, relationships, trust and deceit amongst the team, turning this first volume of Secret Six stories into a collection you just can’t put down. It’s the characters and the handling of their relationships with one another that makes Secret Six a true treat to read. From Parademon to Ragdoll, Catman to Deadshot, Catman to Chesire, or even Scandal to Knockout, there are so many compelling bonds shared between each team member that guarantees you’ll fall in love with at least one dynamic pairing. In using such a varied collection of characters who are nobodies, Simone is granted a ridiculous amount of creative freedom, which she takes in full stride and runs with.
The handling of all the characters present on the team is perhaps the high point of the entire Secret Six series, taking characters you’ve probably never heard of, let alone cared about, and turning them into serious, emotive individuals. Simone’s talent is on full display with these characters all the way throughout but shines its brightest when she is using the character Catman. Catman is a joke of a villain, who is most well-known for being an awful and uninspired knock off of the popular DC hero Batman. A superhero punching bag, Catman was one of many villains who was just a gag for writers to use as comic relief before Simone sunk her fangs into the character during Secret Six. Gone is the pushover character, instead replacing him with a brave and rather charismatic man who seemingly straddles the line between hero and villain, still falling more to the side of the latter instead of the former. Immediately the character becomes one you care about, developing a romantic connection with Chesire and a tight friendship with Deadshot. He is a natural leader, coming off as a less serious Batman instead of the horrendous parody he’s supposed to be.
Catman isn’t where Gail Simone’s character work starts and stops as she does a phenomenal job of characterizing every member of the team as well. With a character like Ragdoll, Simone perfectly encompasses that downright bizarre nature of the twisted contortionist, making the way he acts just as weird as the way he speaks. Chesire is a seductive femme fatal, being as equally dangerous as she is beautiful. The dynamic shared between her and Catman places all the characters in some tough but compelling positions, pushing the story forward in places you wouldn’t expect. With Scandal, a character who initial feels like an Amanda Waller knockoff, Simone does plenty of excellent work as she transitions the character from the realm of boring to interesting across the entire volume. Scandal Savage is the daughter of the DC villain, Vandal Savage, and bares a rather heavy crown as such. As a result, the reader gets a thrilling experience of watching how Scandal copes with the pressures of her family name and shows she has something to fight for beyond being just another set of hips for the roster. Deadshot may be a character who gives Catman a run for his money as one of the most well portrayed characters during Secret Six, being the loveable jerk of the team. For every good thing Deadshot does there is an almost immediate negative consequence, constantly balancing out a man who seems more obsessed about punching his own ticket than he does about completing the mission. Deadshot’s complete lack of regard for his own well-being could be enough to make him interesting but Simone still takes the time to humanize him, providing a personal touch to the character that only makes him even more enjoyable to follow the story along with.
The plot to the entirety of this first volume is interesting, feeling as though it initially kicks off in media res. The Society of Super Villains is already in the midst of establishing itself when the Secret Six are reluctantly brought together, with all of this happening in the wake of the DC crossover event, Infinite Crisis. As a result, some moments of the plot will leave you feeling a little lost if you have no idea who the major players are of that crossover or what that crossover is even about. Even still, Gail Simone uses that crossover as springboard of sorts for the series, never letting it wholly consume the narrative she sets out to tell. The premise and even the plot at times feels like something reminiscent of a plot for books like Suicide Squad or Thunderbolts, bringing together villains from every corner of the DC Universe and making them into a team, even if they don’t appear as such initially. Unsurprisingly, the story only gets better the further you get, as it distances itself from Infinite Crisis and begins to focus in on the characters and their own personal afflictions. Gail Simone manages to pack plenty of solid twists into the series as well, ensuring that you never feel like any one character’s health or safety is guaranteed. In doing such, Simone manages to always leave you on your toes, never knowing where the story is going to sharply veer left and leave you shocked.
Collects: Villains United #1-6.
Best Character: Deadshot.
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “You want to shoot a man before he’s fed, that’s your sideshow.” – Catman.
Best Scene/Moment: Catman discusses his culinary prowess with Deadshot – Villains United #2.
Best Issue: Villains United #6 – At The End Of All Things. This issue is the conclusion to the first storyline in the collection, “Villains United”, and shows you just how ambitious Simone wants to be with the Secret Six series. This issue shows you that no one is safe with this type of story as Gail Simone shakes up the roster heading into the second storyline after this issue. Over-the-top action, betrayal, drama, intrigue and thrilling character moments, this issue is a punctuating mark to Simone’s early work with the Secret Six, showing you just how much she can do in a short time while also serving to show you only a glimpse of what’s to come.
Why You Should Read It: Gail Simone takes a team of nobodies and makes them into characters that you want to be somebodies. Secret Six could have just been an awful Suicide Squad knockoff but instead becomes the ultimate buddy cop team book about a ragtag group of villains who straddle the line between villainy and righteousness at every turn, doing whatever best serves their agenda at all times. It’s a master class in making you care about characters who, before this series, hardly even registered as a blip on the radar. Secret Six is shocking, hilarious, dramatic and engaging in ways that books about big name heroes or villains just can’t ever be. This is a prime example of why lesser known characters are gold mines in the superhero market, allowing the creators to take creative liberties that oft wouldn’t be afforded to them if they were using a character like Batman or Spider-Man. Trust me when I say this is a DC series that is worth everyone’s time, especially if you’re looking for a break from the big name heroes.