blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Batgirl: The Bronze Age Omnibus Vol. 1 (1969-70)

Batgirl Omnibus 1

Maybe I shouldn’t have complained so much about Gardner Fox.

After approximately a year off (or just appearing as a guest star in Batman or Detective and not getting an Omnibus reprint), Batgirl’s started getting backups in Detective. Gil Kane came back to do the pencils, but with Murphy Anderson on the inks and—outside the occasional eyes—the art rarely looks like Gil Kane. Anderson seems to have entirely erased and redone the faces, which leads to some strange face placements on heads. So outside the curiosity factor of seeing pencils and inks not going together, Batgirl’s going to need some good writing to get through.

Starting with Mike Friedrich, it’s pretty clear she’s not going to get any good writing. Friedrich takes Fox’s bad flexes—Barbara Gordon’s female vanity and her professional indiscretions as a librarian—and streamlines them into a tale of Barbara stalking a handsome customer. The first part of the story is just her deciding when he doesn’t come into the library at the regular time she needs to go to his home, where she finds another woman, so then we get Batgirl stalking the dude while being jealous of this other woman. It’s fairly obvious how the resolution is going to work but along the way there’s some constrained action—Batgirl fighting random thugs, who always manage to get the upper hand, which really reminds of the old Batman serials where the heroes would get beat up the entire fight scene and then succeed through a cliffhanger reveal. Unfortunately, Batgirl getting beat up because she doesn’t pay attention or just isn’t, you know, as good a fighter as a random college student maintains through the different writers.

One of the few things writers Friedrich, Denny O’Neill, and Frank Robbins are all going to agree on is Batgirl not actually being a competent crime fighter.

Robbins takes over after Friedrich’s first two-parter and has Barbara stumbling into some kind of plot because she wants a cheap apartment. It opens like it’s a Red-Headed League homage–oh, there’s another thing they all agree on: fetishizing Barbara being a red-head. Anyway, it’s not a RHL homage, instead having Barbara at a costume ball as Batgirl fighting with crooks dressed as other superheroes. Arguably the Anderson inks on the Kane pencils never work better than with the pseudo-superheroes. They’re at least effective. The resolve has what should be a gloriously silly resolution but it just doesn’t play; some of it is how Kane breaks out the action, so it’s not all on Robbins or Anderson. A lot of it is on Robbins and Anderson, obviously, but not all of it.

The next story introduces Jason Bard, an amateur detective who can’t be a professional because he’s got a bad knee, which may or may not have happened in Vietnam. He definitely was in Vietnam, but where he hurt the knee is immaterial or so I’m going to keep telling myself because I clearly skimmed that exposition dump. Though Bronze Age so there will be plot-changing details revealed in six words in a tiny thought balloon in the top right of an action-packed panel.

Barbara and a work pal are gossiping about customers—it’s just what librarians do, the pal tells Jason, silly ladies—and they set their sights on him. He’s in the library doing his amateur criminologist research and now he’s going to go out and investigate and prove his methods correct, starting with a mugging turned murder in Central Park. Gotham Park. Whatever. They both have Taverns on the Green. Jason makes quick work of setting a lunch date with Barbara and soon they’re investigating together, except she’s doing it behind his back as Batgirl while telling him how cool it must be to be an amateur criminologist on full disability. Jason Bard’s a weird character.

But his first appearance is nowhere near as cringe as his second, when someone at DC told Robbins to up the Vietnam references so nearly every panel in the second half of Bard’s intro mentions Vietnam or war, including something about Bard’s amateur criminology being “his new war.” It’s a lot. And a fairly blah resolution anyway.

Still better than the next one, which has Batgirl trying to take down a lonely hearts killer. Here’s where we find out Robbins thinks Barbara is homely (whereas Friedrich made sure to establish she was ogle-worthy).

I can’t imagine how these would read as backups, what with the very iffy art and the bland action. This two-parter is just more Batgirl fighting random thugs in alleys. It’s bland stuff. And then Jason’s hanging around because Barbara’s doing the Sea of Love thing, obviously, not Batgirl so Jason’s got to stalk his love interest because romance. Maybe if Robbins had committed and done Jason as a creepy vet stalker but he’s just there to remind Barbara she’s his lady whether there’s a ring on it or not.

I don’t even remember if he unintentionally fumbles through a fight scene to deus ex something. In his first story he falls down some stairs and it saves the day.

Vince Colleta takes over the inks for the O’Neill-written two-parter, which promises to be the first time Robin ever teams up with Batgirl. Clearly O’Neill hadn’t read the second or third story in the Batgirl Bronze Age Omnibus where Batgirl and Robin very definitely team-up… maybe they mean without Batman at all. Or maybe they mean with some flirting. There’s this really weird bit where Batgirl flirts with Robin in the last panel and there’s no time for a reaction from him. And as a late nineties Oracle/Nightwing shipper, it’s fine? But maybe it’s just the art. The Batgirl and Robin adventuring scenes are about as good as you’re going to get, even if it’s just a page.

O’Neill’s writing is… not great. His mystery—an homage to Edgar Allan Poe and some other mystery writers—would probably not make Poe blush. At some point you’re wondering if O’Neill realizes there can’t be any question of the villain’s identity because there are only five characters in the story, two of them are superheroes and two of them are dead. Or something along those lines. I was too busy appreciating decent movement for once in the comic. Oh, but funny thing about the Batgirl and Robin team-up—no Robin in the first part. Total bait and switch. You get a two panel Dick Grayson cameo without Batgirl knowing Dick Grayson is Robin. Then O’Neill switches over to Robin’s perspective for most of the second part.

Robin, it turns out, is just as bad a criminal investigator as Batgirl, so at least there’s consistent incompetence to Gotham’s best funded paramilitary enthusiast organization.

Wait, are the Bat-family just larpers at their core?

Then Robbins does a story about an Andy Warhol analogue getting murdered. Well, combination Andy Warhol (Billy Warlock—wait, isn’t that the guy from “Baywatch”) and underground pornographer. Maybe. I’m not sure what Robbins means when he talks about “x-epics” and it’s not worth trying to figure out. Frank Giacoia’s inks aren’t great. They don’t clash as much as Anderson’s—and initially the art seems like it’s going to be all right, the inks giving Kane a cartoon-y quality—but no. Jason Bard’s also back for this one and there’s—maybe—the first appearance of Commissioner Gordon in the backups. He was too busy in the features to bother making an appearance apparently.

The cliffhanger (since I’m cutting off at a year mark) has Colleta inks again—who knew you could be so happy to see “inks by Vince Colleta”—and involves Batgirl using her knowledge from library to hunt down random citizens again. But this time she’s after protestors and they know their rights so we get a scene where someone’s like, “Get your vigilante ass off my porch,” and we’re supposed to be siding with Batgirl harassing the person. Who she only knew to target from the library. Will Batgirl be able to save the day against the hippies who say they aren’t violent but really are? Hashtag peace is for pansies apparently.

Batgirl 1969 and Batgirl 1970 aren’t a complete waste of time—I’m also curious how Kane’s original pencils look—but given the best thing about a hundred or so pages of comics is a dozen panels with Batgirl and Robin doing acrobat stuff thanks to Vince Colleta inks? I mean, it’s pretty close to a complete waste of time then, isn’t it.

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