Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Batgirl 13 originally released October 10th, 2012. This issue is part of the Death of the Family crossover event. Click here for complete DotF coverage.
Shelby: What was the last really difficult thing you had to do? It could be something physical, mental, whatever. About a year ago, I ran a 10K, the longest race I’ve run yet, and it was hard. I had trained for it, but not enough that it was a walk in the park. Not only was it hard on my body, it was also hard on my brain. I had to spend a lot of time reminding myself that I could in fact do it, that the little voice telling me I couldn’t was wrong. After it was over, you know what I did? I immediately went home and ran a half marathon. No, no, I’m totally kidding; I had brunch and took a nap. I rested, I rewarded myself for accomplishing this difficult task. Batgirl is concluding her fight with Knightfall just as Death of the Family is ramping up; instead of resting her broken body, things are just going to get much, much harder for Barbara.
Back in issue 12, Knightfall had just stabbed Batgirl in the ribs. Despite fighting to stay conscious, Babs gets in a few good hits, prompting Cherise to remove her mask and monologue for a bit. Turns out, she WASN’T the one who horribly murdered her parents; it was her boyfriend, who made her tie them up and watch him work. During that horrible ordeal, something broke in her brain, and she realized there was no way the judicial system could punish him the way she needed him punished. So, she let herself get declared guilty and sentenced to Arkham to learn how to be a sadistic psychopath. She then used regular ol’ mobster tricks to get out: bribes, threats, blackmail, etc. So now, Cherise was free to roam the streets dispensing her own crimson brand of justice, with a whole cadre of judges and cops in her pocket. Batgirl decides it’s time to get the guys out of the cage, which leads to more punching from Cherise. Luckily, Ricky (remember the car thief in the bear trap?) grabs onto her arm so Babs can kick the shit out of her. The good guys win, hooray! Except that when Babs is at home with Alysia, she gets a call from her mom: an armed man in a Hawaiian shirt and clown mask has just kicked down her door, and is looking to make some “new memories.”
Let’s start with that last little bit.
Of all the titles involved in Death of the Family, Batgirl is the one I’ve been most looking forward to. The Joker has hurt Batman through the people around him, and Babs is one of those people. Her first-hand experience with the Joker’s madness is horrifying, and it fundamentally altered her character. This whole year we have been witness to Barbara’s recovery from the physical and mental wounds the Joker inflicted upon her. Hell, it’s because of her personal growth that we have grown to love this title so much; in Gail Simone’s hands, Babs’ recovery has been heartbreakingly real, and we can’t get enough. Now the Joker’s back, and one of the first things he does is hire some thugs to recreate what he did to Barbara with her mother. If this is merely the prelude to things to come, the Joker’s effect on Batgirl and her world is going to be worse than I ever imagined. I think there’s an actual chance Barbara won’t make it out of this. A year ago, she froze completely just from an encounter with a man with a gun. She’s gotten a lot tougher since then, but tough enough to face the man who put her in the chair? At this point, I honestly can’t say.
There’s a little epilogue as well, of Cherise’s goons freeing Mirror, Gretel, and Grotesque from their various penal facilities because they are the victims of an unjust system, and also to kill Batgirl. The question I’m asking is how is Cherise connected to the Joker? She mentions to Batgirl that she has cameras all over the city, and we’ve seen promo art of the Joker just hanging out and watching the Bat-family. Has the Joker convinced Cherise he’s working with her to clean up the city? Or are the two working totally separately, giving our gal Babs two horrifying foes for the price of one? Wait, THREE horrifying foes, since James Jr. is still floating around. I hope we don’t have to wait much longer for that shoe to drop, I am DYING for that confrontation, especially after this little panel.
Just a quick little reminder from Simone that she’s got a psychotic ace up her sleeve, that’s all. What about you, Drew? Were you able to come down off your Batman high long enough to see what Babs is up to? Drew: I have to admit, after the high-pitched fervor of Batman, it was tough to readjust to a world where the world isn’t revolving around the Joker’s return. I was inclined to see this as an unfortunate step down in tension, but then I realized how much this issue brings the Joker’s master plan into focus. We talked a lot about the Joker’s identity issues in our write-up of Batman 13, and while the Joker’s plans clearly revolved around returning to his past, it wasn’t until I considered the meaning of the die-cut cover that it really began to make sense: the Joker is attempting to remake the entire Bat-family in his image.
Batman sees Bruce cast into a vat at ACE Chemicals, while this issue plays as an attempt to recreate his “a bad day is all it takes to make me” theory from The Killing Joke. We knew we’d be going back there with Joker’s return, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Babs wasn’t the target of his attack. At least, not the physical attack. I suspect she is the target of the mental attack, but I want to dissect that a little.
First off, this reading requires that the Joker knows that Babs is Batgirl. It could be that this attack is intended for Gordon, but given that Joker also knows to attack Alfred, it doesn’t seem out of the question that he knows Batgirl’s identity, too. Still, Barbara Sr. is a strange target. The Joker’s plan in The Killing Joke revolved around recreating the loss of his wife — the only person in the world he cared about — and their unborn child. I’m not sure “estranged mother” really has the same impact, especially given Babs’ recent interactions with her. I can’t begin to assume I what the Joker is thinking, but there’s clearly a reason he picked Barbara’s mother instead of her father (who clearly has the emotional edge). ALTHOUGH, while Jim most assuredly will survive this event, Barbara Sr’s fate is a little more up in the air. It would be pretty cruel to take her away when she so recently returned, but then again, the Joker is pretty cruel.
The rest of the issue lacked that emotional resonance. I don’t know if it’s just my excitement for the Death of the Family event, but I got a little impatient with the other material. That is, until Cherise made her closing threat:
That moment where Babs pauses totally sells this moment, and Ed Benes nails it perfectly. With that single sideways glance, we know that Barbara and Cherise will be doing this dance for a long time to come. Because I found this moment so effective, I almost didn’t need the epilogue, which advances this plot EVEN THOUGH THE JOKER IS HERE. I say “almost,” because the notion that Cherise would enlist ALL of the villains we’ve seen Babs face since the relaunch is a brilliant move on Simone’s part, to the point that it may actually justify deviating from the DotF story line. It cements those villains as an actual rogues gallery, rather than a disposable parade of walk-ons (which it was kind of starting to feel like). Cherise’s resources make her a formidable opponent, but bringing in everyone that has given Babs trouble since she returned to the cape is something else altogether.
All that is to say, I’m excited to see this storyline with Cherise play out AFTER DotF. I think it has all the makings for a great Batgirl story, but I really want Simone to put all of her focus on Barbara facing the Joker. It’s a face-off that has been 24 years in the making, and, as Shelby pointed out, one that Babs might not be ready for. I have every bit of faith that Simone is going to make the material sing — I just want time to luxuriate in the song.
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?