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|Batgirl: Year One|
Cover to Batgirl: Year One trade paperback. Art by Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez.
|Publication date||February – October 2003|
|No. of issues||9|
|Main character(s)||Barbara Gordon|
Robin (Dick Grayson)
|Written by||Scott Beatty|
|Editor(s)||Matt Idelson (original series)|
Anton Kawasaki (collected edition)
|Batgirl: Year One||ISBN 1-4012-0080-X|
Batgirl: Year One is a nine-part comic book mini-series published by DC Comics from February to October 2003, and then compiled into trade paperback form. Written by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon, with art by Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez, the mini-series shows how modern Barbara Gordon became the first Batgirl. It served as a sequel to Robin: Year One and the two mini-series were collected as a trade paperback in 2013.
Barbara Gordon is a bright and eager young woman who has already achieved much in her life but struggles to find her true calling. After graduating college in her teens, Barbara hoped to follow in her father's footsteps and serve as a dedicated officer of the law, but her plans are derailed by her father's over-protectiveness and society's prejudices. This leads Barbara to seize a different path towards her goal and adopt the vigilante persona of Batgirl. As she learns the ropes of the vigilante lifestyle, she finds herself thrown into conflict with Batman and the crosshairs of aspiring supervillains.
Barbara Gordon dressed as Batgirl, facing down the villain Killer Moth at a ball. Through narration, Barbara relates the Greek myth of the prophet Cassandra, who wore a mask to hide her shame from those who ridiculed and ignored her prophecies, even after they came true.
The story then flashes back to days earlier, at the home she shares with her father, Gotham City police captain James Gordon. Barbara asks for permission to join the GCPD as a detective, but he adamantly forbids it, saying that one cop in the family is enough. Frustrated, Barbara applies for a job as an FBI field agent, but is similarly dismissed for her youth and stature.
Seeing the traditional avenues of crime-fighting closed to her, Barbara finds inspiration in the exploits of costume vigilantes, particularly the superheroine Black Canary. Using information gleaned from her dad’s office and the assistance of computer hacking friends, Barbara breaks into the headquarters of the Justice League's sister organization, the Justice Society of America, and leaves a note asking to meet with Black Canary so she can become her apprentice, hoping that it will be forwarded to her, since she is not actually part of the organization.
Barbara arrives at the meeting point the next night, only to be confronted by the JSA member Wildcat instead. He tells her that he didn't forward Barbara's letter to Black Canary, but knows she wouldn’t be interested, and advises Barbara to give up her aspirations. After Barbara leaves, Wildcat talks to Doctor Fate, who predicts "triumph and tragedy" in Barbara’s future.
Disheartened, Barbara falls into a slump for several days. Her father attempts to console her by inviting her to a masquerade ball for police officers and Gotham's elite. Barbara decides to use the opportunity to get back at her dad and shows up dressed in a modified Batman costume, poking fun at her dad’s controversial dealing with the vigilante. But before she can make her presence known, the ball is interrupted by Killer Moth who wants to kidnap Bruce Wayne.
Captain Gordon intervenes but is knocked unconscious. Barbara, in full costume, engages Killer Moth and lets Bruce Wayne escape, bringing the story to the point where it originally began. Wayne makes it to his car where he prepares to don the attire of his alter-ego, Batman, and calls his sidekick, Dick Grayson, aka Robin, for assistance.
Barbara chases Killer Moth into a nearby forest, but he escapes via helicopter leaving her to be confronted by Batman and Robin.
Batman demands to know who she is and tells her she has no right to wear his symbol. Defiant, Barbara points out that nobody gave him the right to do what he does either. Their stand-off is cut short as Killer Moth returns in his copter and opens fire with a machine gun, loudly taunting Batman, Robin, and "Batgirl". The three scatter and Killer Moth is chased away by police helicopters.
Barbara makes it home before her father and a young officer named Jason Bard, swings by to check on her. She pretends to be ill and explains she didn't make the masquerade ball. The next morning, her father asks about last night but she repeats the same lie. Captain Gordon appears to accept it, but leaves behind a newspaper featuring an obscured photograph of Batgirl and a scrap of costume left at the scene, leaving her to wonder if he suspects more. Nonetheless, she builds on the Batgirl persona and begins to foil crimes around Gotham. After investing in new equipment, Barbara decides to test her rappelling rope by swinging off of a skyscraper, unaware that Batman and Robin are watching her scale the building.
Meanwhile, a disgraced Killer Moth tries to convince a gangster named Tony Bressi to hire him for protection, but Bressi dismisses him for getting publicly beaten by a girl. Later it is revealed that Killer Moth's true identity is that of bankrupt ex-millionaire, Cameron Von Cleer, who actually owes money to Bressi.
Barbara leaps off the skyscraper and all goes well until her rope snaps mid-descent. Robin swoops in to catch her, admitting that Batman cut her rope with a batarang since the rope she was using would have either sliced her hands off or dislocated her arms once it went taut. Still incensed, Barbara tries to attack him but he knocks her out with sleeping gas.
Barbara wakes up in the Batcave and is left with Robin, who gives her a tour of their operations. He takes her to a soundstage where she successfully runs through an elaborate combat simulation, complete with live gunfire. Barbara cites this as proof she is as capable as them, but when Batman asks her why she wants to do this, she is unable to give a clear answer- except that she simply can, and she believes Gotham needs all the help it can get. Still unimpressed, Batman has Robin knock her out once more with sleeping gas.
Barbara wakes in front of her house, without her cowl on. She realizes this means that they know who she is, and frets that they might talk to her father. But later in the day, Barbara receives a package from Robin containing spare crime fighting gear, including the correct rope for swinging off buildings, and a note assuring her that Batman will come around.
Moth to a Flame
Rejected by Gotham’s underworld and his own henchmen, Killer Moth finds an opportunity to salvage his reputation when he is approached by a pyromaniac named Garfield Lynns. Looking for an outlet for his sadistic tendencies, Lynns offer to help Killer Moth exact revenge on Batgirl and form a criminal partnership. Lynns adopts the costumed persona of "Firefly", complete with a devastating flamethrower. The duo’s first criminal act is intimidating Tony Bressi into hiring them.
Bird of Prey
Tony Bressi tries to get rid of Firefly and Killer Moth by staging an elaborate frame-up; he orders two of his own henchmen to kidnap Captain Gordon while wearing costumes similar to Killer Moth and Firefly, kill him in a secluded area, call the real Killer Moth and Firefly to the location, while simultaneously informing the police to their whereabouts, and thereby framing them for Gordon’s murder. The doppelgangers succeed in abducting Gordon, while killing one of his friends, wounding Officer Bard, and setting fire to an office building in the process.
Barbara finds out about her father’s abduction and arrives at the scene as Batgirl where Jason tells her he heard the henchmen mention Bressi’s greenhouse outside of Gotham. Barbara prepares to head there but bumps into Black Canary who is also investigating the crime. Canary, believing Batgirl to be an ‘official’ associate of Batman, offers to tag along.
The pair arrive at the greenhouse and Bressi’s henchmen, still in costume, take Gordon and flee. On the way to the greenhouse, the real Killer Moth and Firefly spot Black Canary and Batgirl chasing their doppelgangers. Bressi's henchmen end up leading all four pursuers to Tony Bressi’s home, where the real Killer Moth and Firefly ambush everyone.
Firefly deduces Bressli’s plans and brutally incinerates the doppelgangers, but also ignites a fuel tank which causes an explosion. In the confusion Barbara evacuates her father and the costumed villains escape the premises. Barbara leaves Black Canary to watch over Gordon, Bressi, and deal with the cops, but has to return home on foot as her Batcycle has been destroyed.
Gordon returns to Police Headquarters the same night and calls for a meeting with Batman, only to be met by Robin. Gordon asks if Batman is "expanding the franchise", but Robin assures him that Batgirl has nothing to do with them. Exasperated, Gordon leaves, telling Robin that Batman needs to put a stop to Batgirl or he will do it himself.
The next evening Barbara visits Officer Bard in the hospital. Barbara thanks Jason for trying to save her dad, but he feels that he failed nonetheless and acknowledges that his injury means he will have to leave the force. Barbara reassures him that he will be able to find work in other fields. Before the two can bond any longer, they are interrupted by her father who also came to visit. Embarrassed, Barbara leaves and goes on patrol as Batgirl to clear her head.
While dispatching a mugger, Barbara meets Robin who presents her with a new Batcycle and invites her to join him on an emergency call. The pair ride their bikes into Gotham’s subway network where the emergency is taking place.
Batgirl and Robin arrive at a subway platform where they arrest an aspiring criminal named the Condiment King for harassing passersby. Bemused and unimpressed, Barbara wonders how a harmless nuisance constitutes an emergency, but Robin tells her that he was just a detour — the real emergency is a hostage situation on one of the trains. As they talk, Robin shocks Barbara by planting a kiss on her. Without saying another word, the pair continues down the subway tunnels towards the runaway train.
When they find the train, Robin informs Barbara that Blockbuster, a deformed behemoth of a man is aboard, terrorizing the passengers. Inside, Barbara baits Blockbuster into fighting her while Robin evacuates the passengers to another car. Barbara’s fight with Blockbuster leads onto the roof of the train where Blockbuster attempts to crush her head, but she is spared when a slab of overhanging concrete knocks him out.
Robin and Batgirl truss up Blockbuster and steer the train towards the next station where the police are waiting. Robin tries to kiss Barbara again but she pushes him away. When the train pulls into the station, Captain Gordon finds Blockbuster but not the young crime-fighters. But, he does finds a lock of Barbara’s red hair in Blockbuster’s hands which causes him to rush home.
Barbara changes back into her civilian clothes and bids goodbye to Robin. When she makes it back home, she is confronted by her father who has been searching her room. Before either of them can say anything he receives an emergency call and rushes out of the house. Barbara follows him and finds that GCPD Headquarters has been set ablaze by Firefly and Killer Moth. Barbara decides to suit up as Batgirl once again.
Ashes & Blood
Killer Moth and Firefly survey their handiwork from the roof of the very building they set alight, and begin to make their escape via helicopter. Batgirl lassos a rope and tethers herself to the aircraft. Firefly sees her but orders his pilot to take off anyway and the helicopter flies through Gotham with Batgirl in tow. Batman and Robin arrive with their own aircraft but concede they do not have a way to ground the villains without killing them or Batgirl, so they wait to see what she can do.
While being dragged through the air, Barbara pulls off a risky maneuver which causes the helicopter to crash on a rooftop while she falls into a rooftop pool, narrowly avoiding death. An injured Killer Moth and Firefly are apprehended by Batman and Robin while Barbara watches from a distance, chagrined that while she did all the work they'll be getting all the credit.
The story flash forwards a few days later. Barbara still hasn't spoken to her dad but feels that her Batgirl career is over no matter what. However, she is invited by Batman to the Batcave where she runs through another obstacle course, but against simulations of his most dangerous enemies. Batman warns her that if she doesn’t walk away from being Batgirl right now, this will be her future from here on out. Steadfast, Barbara completes the challenge anyway. Batman leads her outside, to the grave of Thomas and Martha Wayne where he reveals his identity as Bruce Wayne, allowing Barbara to finally understand the reasons behind his mission. Barbara swears an oath of loyalty to Batman and his ideals, but asks a final favor in return.
On the roof of Gotham Headquarters, Batman arrives with Batgirl to meet Captain Gordon. Batman tells Gordon that he wishes to take Batgirl under his wing and asks for approval. Gordon says he won't allow it, since he believes his daughter to be Batgirl. Barbara meets her father on the roof. The ‘Batgirl’ Batman brought along was actually Robin in disguise, sullen because Barbara does not like him back.
The next day, Barbara helps Jason Bard move into an office where he plans to work as a private investigator. Jason asks Barbara about her own plans and she reveals an interest in politics, but isn’t really sure. The scene then switches to her dressed as Batgirl, confronting Scarecrow alongside Batman and Robin. Barbara narrates that while she could keep worrying about what her life could become, she rather focus on the now.
Several years after the publication of Crisis on Infinite Earths, which permanently altered the history of the DC Comics Universe, the company steadily began to publish mini-series rebooting the origins of its major characters. Batgirl: Year One makes several changes to Barbara Gordon's origin myth in order to reestablish her characterization in the Modern Age. Notable changes from the character's Silver Age origin include:
- Barbara's age and height are significantly changed. In the Silver Age origin, Barbara was 21 years old and stood at 5' 11". She was generally depicted as an empowered and independent woman. In Batgirl: Year One, Barbara is at 16–18 years old, having graduated from college early, and applied for field duty with the FBI, which rejected her application on the grounds that she was too short (the GCPD rejects her on the same grounds). She is portrayed as a constant victim of sexism, which gives her a motive to become a vigilante: to prove a point.
- Batman is no longer Barbara's superhero idol. While the Silver Age Barbara Gordon fashioned a Batgirl costume out of admiration for the Dark Knight, in Batgirl: Year One she does so as a practical joke to play on her father. The Black Canary serves as her main inspiration for becoming a vigilante.
- This story takes place around the fourth year of modern Batman's career; Robin's role has been established, but James Gordon is still a Captain.
- At the end of the series, Barbara mentioned an interest in politics, as an alternative career choice, as she was rejected from joining assorted law enforcement groups. In the Silver Age, Barbara became a politician as a means to help society in ways that she could not do as Batgirl.
The story also inserts themes and motifs which foreshadow her transformation into the information broker Oracle:
- Barbara's college major was in "computer science and data retrieval", she is shown to have computer hacker friends, displays an interest in gadgets and computers, and has a part-time job as a library researcher (a variation of her pre-Crisis career as a librarian).
- There is a panel in which Robin shows Barbara an image of the Joker on the Batcave's computer, and he warns her that she should run away if she sees him; and in the final chapter, when she fights simulations of Batman's rogues, Barbara is confronted by a mannequin of the Joker who is drawn similar to how he appears when he cripples her in Batman: The Killing Joke.
- Barbara comments through narration that she is fighting for control of her life against a fate she has no say in. This could apply to the struggles with her father, Batman, and society to live the life she wants, or serve as an allusion to her fate in The Killing Joke.
Critical reception and legacy
The mini-series was generally well received. The artwork by Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez was particularly praised. It was described as a "dynamic" retelling of Batgirl's origin story. Dixon and Beatty's writing in Batgirl: Year One was commended for "modernizing without losing touch with the essential core of her character". The series was also praised for its wit and was voted best mini-series of 2003 by Wizard Magazine. It was cited as an inspiration for Faith Erin Hicks's original comic series, The Adventures of Superhero Girl.
In 2009, Warner Premiere converted Batgirl: Year One into a motion comic. Batman: Year One's executive producer Bruce Timm and co-director Lauren Montgomery expressed interest in producing an animated movie based on Batgirl: Year One. But DC cancelled all plans for an adaptation. However, the final episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, as part of Bat-Mite's alternate reality mini-movies, featured a CGI-animated clip of a Batgirl show including elements of Batgirl: Year One.
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After all, Warner Brothers animation director (Wonder Woman, Justice League) Lauren Montgomery had cited interest in doing a Batgirl animated film based on the 'Batgirl: Year One graphic novel in the past.
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When asked about continuing the "Year One" line with Batgirl, Timm was a little more optimistic. "I suppose we could sneak it in there," he said. "I'd love to do it, personally."
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