After a cliffhanger resolve with Gil Kane pencils (Vince Colletta inks, which shockingly is an improvement over previous Kane inkers on the Batgirl backups), Don Heck takes over the pencils with Dick Giordano on inks. Can Dick Giordano inks save Don Heck pencils? It’s not terrible. Even after Giordano leaves and the Batgirl strips are Heck solo, it’s at least a nice nostalgic seventies middling. Low middling. But solidly middling; though Heck’s got some weird costume choices, like when he dresses Barbara up like she’s in Little Women for bedtime.
Frank Robbins writes all the stories for the year (backups in Detective Comics), which have a single moment of character development—Commissioner Gordon discovering Batgirl’s secret identity–while Batgirl has a variety of misadventures.
The opening cliffhanger resolve has some concept of Batgirl as female role model for the young women of Gotham but it’s the one mention. Otherwise, Robbins’s stories start as globe-trotting—off to Spain for the bullfights—then fashion world related (the killer wigs are better than the gangsters out to find out if a supermodel wants to show her legs or if there will be six more weeks of winter), then random Hollywoodish stuff. Oh, and then the one where Gordon finds out; he’s out for a cop-killer and it’s possibly Robbins’s worst writing, which is a statement to make because there’s some bad writing throughout.
Reading Frank Robbins’s thought balloons seems to definitely prove thought balloons are bad, actually.
There are some big bad themes throughout—like random people being able to kick Batgirl’s ass in a fight, which is really just the norm but it’d have been nice if Robbins and Heck got away from it. They dabble in bondage imagery for a couple stories but apparently it was a bit too far and instead settle on doing those lousy mystery stories where they give you the clues and you should be able to figure out the killer because he was holding the gun in the wrong hand.
There are contemporary movie references–The Godfather becomes The Stepfather (no Terry O’Quinn, sorry), what appears to be Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, and John Wayne analogues—where Robbins either tries too hard or not enough.
The best story, art-wise, is the Spain one, where Barbara finds herself in a Spanish manor fighting a Zorro-type. Throw in the romance novel dresses for her and it’s at least a Gothic thriller with some visual flare. Had they done these backups Marvel-style, at least for that one, and had someone write the story over the art… it probably would’ve been better.
The biggest problem with Robbins’s writing is his inability to get to that first cliffhanger. At least two of the stories resolve in between the first and second half, or could if Batgirl just managed not to always get her ass-kicked in the first scene of the second part. Unless she’s held captive in a James Bond villain trap at cliffhanger.
There’s undoubtedly a way to do these two-parter backups well and Robbins just doesn’t know it. Though it’s not all on him—whoever edited these stories (Julie Schwartz it seems like) didn’t do a good job either. Even if you ignore the seventies sexism, the lack of character development over a hundred pages for Barbara is a glaring defect.
It’s even worse when Jason Bard’s along. He’s a bad romantic interest, which isn’t a surprise, and it’s better Robbins isn’t interested in their relationship.
And it’s not even like Robbins is atrocious. For the time period, he’s bad but he’s not, like, spectacularly bad. He’s a lot less sexist in his characterization of Barbara than previous Batgirl writers. Sure, some of it is because he’s disinterested in her character development and she’s just a pawn to move around the board, but… it’s not like she ever screws anything up because she’s trying to look pretty.
She screws things up. But because the story requires her utter, should-be-fatal incompetence to get to the next page. Not because she’s a girl.
Presumably. The only other action heroes are Commissioner Gordon, who gets hoodwinked so his screw-up is disqualified, and Jason Bard, whose bum leg—which inevitably causes him to trip, fall, let the bad guy get away—disqualifies him too.
Maybe the Giordano-inked Zorro-esque story would have been worth a read in the floppy, but it’s hard to imagine looking forward to the Batgirl backups every month of 1972 in your Detective Comics. Though it was the seventies so who knows.