There are more than a few fans who would label The New 52 — DC Comics’ attempt to streamline its convoluted continuity into something more modern and more approachable for a new audience — a failed experiment. Many welcomed the new, revamped approach to the DC Universe when it arrived in 2011, while others despised it from the start. And although it started off promisingly enough, seeing sales increased across the board, and an inarguably heightened level of interest from longtime fans as well as DC newcomers, The New 52 ultimately failed to realize its promise as the start of a new, prosperous era of DC Comics history. That said, in a way it did manage to lead to something highly-acclaimed, something that many fans have become enamored with: Rebirth.
Praised for its look back at the past while pointing to the future, DC’s current Rebirth initiative is a return to form for the publisher, as well as a welcome relief for longtime readers who longed for a return to the cherished and colorful past The New 52 had done away with. It’s a way to honor the legacy of what has come before, while acknowledging that some things have to move forward. It’s bringing heart and hope and a bit of brightness back into a world that was noticeably darker and more bleak for the past five years.
In a lot of ways, Rebirth reminds us of the approach another series took to DC continuity, seven years ago — writer Bryan Q. Miller’s Batgirl.
Illustrated by artists including Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott, the series debuted in 2009, amid the “Batman Reborn” relaunch. With Bruce Wayne dead at the time, Dick Grayson stepped into the cape and cowl of Batman alongside Damian Wayne as Robin; Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy became defenders of their city as the Gotham City Sirens; and Stephanie Brown discarded her Spoiler costume to strap on the bat-boots after fan-favorite Cassandra Cain decided to quit being Batgirl. Though Barbara Gordon (still wheelchair-bound at the time) strongly disapproved of Stephanie’s decision, it didn’t take long (Three issues!) for her to come around to the idea and decide to help this new, younger, rougher but ultimately braver Batgirl realize her potential.
The union between the original Batgirl and a character who, while already a part of DC continuity, was new to the mantle is a perfect example of what DC is currently doing under the Rebirth banner. Miller’s series never shied away from Barbara Gordon’s past as Batgirl. Instead, it fully embraced that history, highlighting everything and anything the character had learned in her time as a costumed crimefighter as she passed it on to a more inexperienced hero. Not only was she a wise mentor, she also proved that she was still a fighter, both literally and metaphorically. Despite the loss of use of her legs, Barbara proved that she was still a fearsome fighter, and her skills as the all-powerful, tech-savvy Oracle proved instrumental in numerous DC Comics stories. In that way, this Batgirl title was as much Oracle’s as it was Stephanie’s.
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