Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Batgirl 12, originally released August 8th, 2012.
Shelby: I am no stranger to the feeling of being unable to put a book down. There are some authors out there whose stories get their hooks in your brain; as you read, you reach a point of no return, a point that leaves you still reading at 2:30 AM on a work night because you just HAVE to know what happens next. Luckily for me, Batgirl is doled out in little bite-sized portions once a month, otherwise I would quickly reach that point. This title is so good, I can’t tear my eyes away.
The issue opens with McKenna about to spill the beans on how she got involved with Knightfall, when Batwoman literally bursts onto the scene. There’s a bit of a Bat-fight, and then everyone chills out to talk. Batwoman is there to take McKenna, Batgirl is not on board, and McKenna says the DEO has actually been playing Batwoman the whole time. Knightfall calls to summon Batgirl with the car thief from a few issues back as bait. Naturally, it’s an ambush, and also naturally, Batgirl brought backup. While McKenna and Batwoman fight the minions, Batgirl goes after Knightfall. As she tries to free the car thief, Knightfall stabs her, for the good of Gotham.
This issue is incredible. The most exciting moment for me is Knightfall talking with her “advisor” of this whole affair: one James Gordon, Jr. I have been intrigued by the Knightfall story, and in love with James lurking in the background these last few issues; to have him directly tied to the action is thrilling. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it last month when we learned that Cherise had spent time in Arkham. Was James the final straw which turned her from a shy girl to the deranged woman she has become? The car thief calls Cherise “the worst thing in the world;” there is something about the pure honesty in that statement that resonates with me in a truly horrible way. If there’s anyone I can believe to be calculating and smart enough to transform someone like that, it would be James.
The James connection adds an interesting twist to Cherise’s motives. She’s aiming to purge Gotham of its criminals in the only way she sees fit, and yet in doing so she is relying on the counsel of a sociopath who’s biggest claim to fame is trying to turn babies into psychopaths. How can Cherise see fit to pardon him and let him live after the atrocities he has committed and will probably commit again? Is Bonebreaker on board with this? She was put in Arkham for killing the man who killed her daughters, I would imagine she would be especially harsh on anyone committing crimes against children.
Both Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf are even more on the top of their game than usual in this issue. I know I continuously praise Simone for the voice she has found for Babs, but I can’t help it. She might be at her strongest yet here; the relationships Babs has developed with McKenna and even Batwoman in this issue are astonishingly real and believable. Also, hilarious, like when Batgirl realizes she has misjudged Batwoman’s fighting skills.
Seeing the two Bat ladies interact is a real treat, and a lot of that is due to Syaf’s masterful pencils. There are approximately a thousand moments in this issue I could reproduce here, but the one that stood out to me the most was Batwoman’s first appearance. Not only has Syaf crafted a dynamic and beautiful image, as per his usual, he’s done so in a very J.H. Williams-esque style. For those of us reading Batwoman, it’s a visual nod to Williams’ distinctive and gorgeous style, and a very classy move on Syaf’s part.
I feel foolish to constantly rant about how good this title is. The writing is sharp, smart, and refreshingly light-hearted, even when dealing with the most serious of subjects. The art is visually interesting, unique, and more often than not just plain beautiful. Simone and Syaf are my own Dynamic Duo, and this title remains one of the strongest in my pull list. Patrick, I can only assume you were also giddy as a school girl after reading through this issue, am I right?
Patrick: Fun fact: Shelby was in LA last weekend and we got to hang out for the first time since like January. For all the internet-based communication we engage in about comic books, we haven’t really had an opportunity to do some face-to-face jibber-jabbering about our obsession since before we started Retcon Punch. That sounds insane, now that I type it. But it’s true. So on Shelby’s last night here we stayed up until almost 3:00 in the morning talking about – what else – comic books. When the subject of Batgirl came up, I mentioned that I was feeling a little disenchanted with the series – I couldn’t (and still can’t) put my finger on what had changed, but everything since the Night of the Owls lacked the magic I had grown to expect from the first 8 issues. One thing I was able to site as disappointing was the directionless Gordon family drama. Barbara Sr. and James Jr. have been hanging out on the periphery for so long, it was starting to feel like filler – or so I believed as recently as Sunday night. Always happy to be proven wrong.
Not only does the James Jr. reveal make all the sense in the world, it supports this growing shroud of legitimate darkness in this title. We love Babs’ voice, and praise it at every opportunity, but her flippant attitude occasionally does deflate the tension (as humor is often wont). And that’s been totally fine for the kinds of stories Simone was telling in the early run of this series. Mirror, Gretel, Grotesque – all of these guys function as pretty standard super villains, some with costume themes, some with powers. But the one-two punch of James Jr. and Knightfall is twisted, dark, disturbing and disturbed. They’re pain-obsessed monsters that torture and mutilate their victims. Take another look at what they did to poor Ricky.
Yup, part of that leg is just missing. DARK SHIT.
I think it’s smart to bring Batwoman in to fight an enemy like this. I also absolutely adore the splash page you posted above: very, very J. H. Williams II. The only thing I still can’t really follow is how anyone is setting anyone else up (and to what end). Drew mentioned last month that the motivations and schemes must be running so deep as to make everyone but Batgirl in on it – whatever “it” is. Sorry, to do this – but can we just unpack what we know a little?
Batwoman works for the D.E.O. We know this from Batwoman. We also know that she’s not crazy about that assignment. We know that McKenna saw her husband murdered at the hands of an Arkham inmate, and that Cherise witnessed this same crime. We also know that Cherise reached out to McKenna when she was released from Arkham. On top of that, McKenna’s got three side-by-side state-of-the-art computers in her apartment, presumably used to either assist or hunt the Disgraced. McKenna also mentions that there are others – cops, prosecutors, JUDGES – lined up to help them in their mission to bring twisted violent justice to Gotham. Was McKenna one of those cops at some point? If so, that means that she once bought into Cherise’s uber-violent methods – what would have made her change her mind?
So many questions, and I shudder (in the best way possible) to think that it all comes back to James Gordon, Jr. That’s also a damn-dynamic way to make this whole Knightfall and the Disgraced story meaningful to both Batgirl and Barbara.
Oh, and obviously, I’m in favor of any opportunity to use to the term “Bat Ladies.” For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?