This issue is one that a lot of people have definitely been waiting for. Who was Barbara before she became Batgirl? What was she like before the fateful moment when she opened her front door to see the Joker? Simone addresses who Barbara was before then and how she became Batgirl in this issue and she presents her character and her origin in a very well organized and well written way. You get a sense of her character's thoughts and emotions through her internal dialogue, which I felt was (for the most part) well written.
Ed Benes does a great job making this issue really pretty. Barbara is gorgeous in every panel and I thought each panel was very fluid and organized. This book is very easy to read. It's a great jumping on point for readers who haven't been keeping up with BATGIRL, or who are interesting in learning more about who she is. Simone presents a fun character who seems a little bit naive and still confident in herself and her abilities and it's sort of fun watching her realize her full potential. The way she is presented here is definitely consistent with the character we saw and we've been seeing from the very beginning of this series.
I have some pretty strong feelings about this story and that mostly has to do with the fact that this issue changes a lot of things about Batgirl's journey to becoming Batgirl. One of the very first trades I ever purchased was BATGIRL: YEAR ONE. It, for me, is the definitive Batgirl origin story. It dealt with everything from Barbara's desire to make a difference, to creating the costume herself, to being confronted (and reprimanded) by Batman, her unwillingness to give up and at last it alluded to her father's discovery of her secret identity. In only a few issues, it told a great story about a young girl coming into her own; which is why it's so difficult to read this issue without thinking back to one of my favorite comics of all time. In and of itself this issue wasn't really bad. It presented Barbara as a relatively naive and very pretty young college student who just wants to get an A+. I guess my problem is that this story deals with Barbara becoming Batgirl, and it deviates a lot from the story I grew up with. It's like saying, "hey, you know Batman's origin? Yeah, it's different now." You probably wouldn't be able to read one story without comparing it to the other. As a stand-alone, I think it felt kind of rushed a bit. I think Simone could have spent more time fleshing out this tale, explaining how Barbara is so "exceptional." Was I supposed to believe she wouldn't get a boyfriend and she was this awkward teen, because I didn't get that. It felt like the creative team wanted the reader to believe she was young and inexperienced but very smart, although I don't know if I believed that too much.
Overall it was a well organized issue that basically covered all the bases. At the start of the comic we see Barbara practicing ballet, and practicing martial arts -- so when she appears to kick some butt later in the issue, it's not entirely outside the realm of possibility. I don't think that was ever an issue in this book. I think there's something about the way Barbara reads in this book, though, that doesn't feel real to me. Like there's something missing. For example, during the entire fight scene, Barbara is saying things like "I can't believe I did that," and you don't get a real feel for the choreography of the actual fight. It would have been great to see her break down the fight in her mind through her internal dialogue; identifying what she has to do in order to beat him since she is at such a big disadvantage physically.