Drew: “Closure” is a word we hear with increasing frequency in modern narratives. Characters reunite with long lost lovers or otherwise return to their pasts in order to move on to the future. This can be a compelling motivation, but it often reduces those characters down to some defining moment or relationship, keeping them rather one-dimensional. Real life problems are much more complicated, forcing us to settle for smaller comforts over the kind of profound sense of closure promised in movies. Batgirl 8 illustrates that point beautifully, providing a return to The Killing Joke that only addresses some of Barbara’s baggage.
Issue 8 opens with Babs reeling from the last issue’s reveal that one of Grotesque’s henchman was henching for Joker when Babs was shot. Danny “The Weasel” Weaver is apparently out on parole. Babs is so distracted by this, one of grotesque’s other henchmen almost gets the drop on her. She Batmans him but good (Batmanning being the act of hitting a criminal sneaking up behind you without looking), taking care that he doesn’t get brained on the edge of the gutter. Danny is surprised at Batgirl’s interest in and knowledge of him — and even more surprised that she lets him go.
Babs returns to an empty apartment, wanting desperately to talk to someone, but only finding the Christmas gift from her mother she’s refused to open. It turns out it’s her grandmother’s old necklace. Remembering Black Canary’s tough-love talk about having a chance at something lots of people don’t, Babs calls up her mother. Their meeting is as awkward as ever, and when Barbara (Jr) presses mom for more details on why she left, mom explains that James Jr. had threatened to kill Barbara (Jr) if mom didn’t leave, and he had the mutilated remains of Barbara’s cat to prove he meant business. Yikes. Barbara (Sr) had a breakdown, and in her compromised mental state, decided it was best for her family if she left, so went without a word. Babs (Jr) doesn’t believe that this is the whole story, but is furious that her mother left her and Jim with a ticking serial-killer time-bomb.
Not finding the comfort she was looking for, Babs heads back on the trail for Grotesque, using Danny’s parole record to find a most recent address. Of course, it’s a trap, and Grotesque gets a few electrical blasts in before Danny fires a warning shot, telling Grotesque to leave Batgirl alone. Grotesque zaps him for his insubordination, but it distracts him just long enough for Babs to turn the tables. After beating Grotesque down, Babs rushes to Danny’s aid, but he’s mortally wounded. With his last breaths, he relives his proudest moment — calling the cops after the joker shot the Commissioner’s daughter in cold blood. Meanwhile, Babs roommate, Alysia is heading home from a long night tending bar where she’s approached and uncharacteristically charmed by a red-headded stranger — none other than our very own James Gordon Jr.
For some reason, this title keeps bringing my mind to continuity — an issue I otherwise couldn’t care less about — specifically as it pertains to The Killing Joke. Writer Gail Simone changes a few details of that story to suit her needs here; most notably, that the police found Barbara (with the help of an anonymous call), and not Barbara’s neighbor and yoga classmate, Colleen Reece. I’m not such a continuity-nut that this change in and of itself bothers me — I understand why Simone would want to make Danny the hero — but I think the suggestion that Barbara was supposed to die doesn’t really jibe with the Joker’s plan in The Killing Joke. Babs says the plan was for Jim to find Barbara that night, which is actually a much more significant departure from what we know happened in the Killing Joke.
Simone does keep the detail of the Joker’s camera, suggesting that his plan still incorporated photographing Babs — which I had assumed he showed to Jim in an attempt to drive him insane. This plan makes less sense if Jim was supposed to find her body (why would the photographs be necessary if he was going to find the body? Why would the body be necessary if he was going to see the photographs — especially if those photographs were meant to drive him insane?). Ultimately, I’m not bothered by any changes, but without the details on what those changes are, I can’t be there with Babs in knowing what happened. More importantly, because my memory of what happened differs from hers, I don’t know what she’s talking about when she starts piecing together that Danny may have saved her life.
That image reminds me of just how good the acting is on this title. We often sing Adrian Syaf’s praises for visual flourish and attention to detail, but he (along with fellow pencillers [and inkers] Alitha Martinez and Vicente Cifuentes) nails some expressive faces in this issue. The action is as excellent as always — I’m particularly fond of the sequence where Babs catches a baddie’s head, just so he doesn’t smash it on some concrete.
As always, Simone nails Barbara’s voice. Babs is strong and smart and more than a little sarcastic, and her voiceovers make her come alive. Danny also emerges with a distinct voice that’s charming in its own way. We haven’t always commented on the quality of writing for the non-Babs characters (mostly because she’s so consistently great), but I was particularly impressed with his closing monologue. In the face of death, Danny is able to let his guard down, which compels Babs to follow suit, fully admitting to being that girl he saw get shot all those years ago. It’s a strikingly tender moment; one that is again enhanced by the stellar artwork.
I enjoyed this issue a great deal, but I think it suffered a bit from just the sheer volume of stuff crammed into it. Danny’s story is interesting, but I barely had a chance to understand what he had done for Babs before he was gone. Barbara Sr’s story is also interesting, but it isn’t given quite enough room to be believable (though that may be intentional). I know we’ll be revisiting some of this, but the wrap-up on Danny’s story feels like it may be the victim of making way for Owls. I’m looking forward to that payoff as well, but with writing and art this good, it’s always a little lamentable when things end.
Patrick: Owls, owls, owls. As we prepare for the cross-over, I start to see everything in terms of the prevalent themes in the run-up to the Night of Owls. Principally, the Owl’s saga seems concerned with identity and how your past, your family and your city shape that identity. The Court is able to unsettle Bruce by making him question his relationship with his beloved city, Nightwing is forced to confront his family history. Poor Barbara Gordon doesn’t need an 11th hour revelation to explore how her personal and family hardships have carved out the person she is today. The personal history, in particular, has been front and center through all of this. And while I agree that revisiting the Killing Joke continues to play that game very well, I am more intrigued by the increasing emphasis on the Gordon family.
Babs is in a unique position, family-wise as far as Bat-heroes are concerned: both of her parents are alive and she has a brother. Her father is the police commissioner (almost a superhero in his own right), her brother is a supervillain and there’s definitely something her mother isn’t telling us. Superheroes with families (real, literal families) are not all that common, and I think that’s partially because that baggage is too tricky to unpack in a simple hero-narrative. But you point out that Babs’ stories here are shying away from simplicity — opting instead of frustrated nuance. As more members of the Gordon family step up to play an active roll in Batgirl’s life, the murkier motivations become.
And that’s so cool, I almost can’t stand it. For everything you can say in favor of the Night of Owls story-line, the villains appear to be impossibly evil. Sure, it makes a solid foe that everyone in Gotham can unite against, but there’s really no way you could find yourself cheering for the Owls. But when family members are in conflict, there really is no such thing as a cut-and-dry happy ending. I think we should start a pool right now – who thinks one of the Gordons is already mixed up in the Court of Owls, and who thinks we’ll get back to the family drama after the cross-over?
Which is all very heady, very meta-Batgirl stuff. There’s so much awesome contextual shit in this issue, it’s sort of embarrassing how long it’s taken me to address specifics. That picture you pulled of Batgirl cradling Danny’s body is striking, but it is especially so when you consider this sorta-sister-image from a few pages previous:
Both panels depict an obscured Batgirl, overcome with emotion, baring down on another human being. This image (which comes before the other) shows her at her most primal – she even muses on how Batman keeps the emotional distance to do this sort of thing. The other image, which serves to end the scene, shows Barbara’s better angels prevailing – she’s driven my compassion and not by rage. I love the nature of the compassion that wins out in the end: it’s not easy to forgive Danny, but she takes a very specific interest in him and chooses to treat him with sympathy.
Actually, come to think of it, Batgirl is one of the more active superheroes we’re reading. Hal Jordan gets pulled into adventure by a Sinestro that won’t leave him alone, Bruce is tormented by Owls, Clark is hunted by a jealous Lex Luthor. They’re all reactive, defending themselves and those close to them. Babs is almost the exact opposite: she overcame paralysis and then got back into the costume. I just love that Simone keeps allowing this character to realize her ambitions – it’s rewarding and hugely fun to read.
I’ve got a little detail that I love. It’s apropos of nothing in particular, but I like it regardless. When Babs is done talking with her mother, she returns to her handi-capable van. In the compartments that would have once held her chair: a freshly pressed Batgirl costume.
So, I don’t know — because I’m the worst comic book fan possible — what kind of danger is Alysia in right now? From the context clues provided only in this series, we know that James Jr. is demented and spent some time in Arkham. Beyond that, I don’t know what he’s capable of. Babs seemed pretty certain that he was still behind bars – how on Earth would news of his escape allude her? Basically, I’m just going to apply a blanket “what does it all mean?” to the coda to this issue. I suspect we’ll have to wait until June to get answer. Oh well, all things in time. Onward to Owls!
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