Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Batgirl 14 originally released November 14th, 2012. This issue is part of the Death of the Family crossover event. Click here for complete DotF coverage.
Shelby: There are two stories I’m most looking forward to with Death of the Family: Jason Todd’s, and Barbara Gordon’s. Their connection to the Joker is the most violent, both physically and psychologically. Obviously, the Joker is in Gotham to destroy the entire Bat-family, physically and psychologically, but those two have a little more heart invested in the situation. We have spent the last year watching Babs grow and recover; she’s back to her strong, confident, compassionate self. With the Joker’s return, she’s changing again, but instead of reverting to frightened and powerless, she’s becoming a creature of rage: an even greater victory for the Joker.
Once Babs realizes something terrible is happening to her mother, she freezes for just a moment. She pulls it together and leaps into action, only to get another phone call. The Mysterious Voice at the other end tells her she can’t call the police, and that she needs to calm the hell down and make a sandwich. Oh, and that it knows she’s Batgirl. Two of Joker’s thugs burst into the apartment, and again, she freezes for just a moment. But then she gets PISSED, and kicks some wholesale ass, coming dangerously close to shooting them. Alysia rushes down stairs, and Babs tells her she needs to go to the police and forget she ever knew Gordon, Barbara Gordon, because they were never going to see each other again. She’s figured out that she can’t live a civilian life anymore; there’s only the Bat. The Mysterious Voice leads her to a roller rink, where the Joker is having a little party with Barbara, Sr. Turns out, he wasn’t the one on the phone; James, Jr. had led Babs to him. Claiming he’s doing what he’s doing for love, and for Batman, the Joker does the unthinkable. He proposes to Babs, using her mother’s ring, still on her severed finger.
Love is a fascinating motivator for this issue. Babs rushes out to save her mom because she’s lost her once, she won’t do it again. She tells Alysia to forget her because she doesn’t want to see her hurt. Even the psychopaths claim to act out of love. James sends Barbara to the Joker to keep him from harming their mother. The Joker claims to love the people of Gotham; they have such joie de vivre, it’s extra exciting to kill them.
Gail Simone gives us our first glimpse at the Joker’s motives, and a glimpse to the motives behind calling the event “Death of the Family.” When Babs asks the Joker what he wants, he tells her it’s all about Batman. I’m going to quote him directly, because if I paraphrase I’ll mess up the crazy. “The Batman, yes? He’s the king, he’s the apex, the top head cheese, as it were…it’s people like you who weigh him down. Clutching at his cape, drowning him with your empathy and your compassion.” People like you: the Bat-family. By giving Batman something to love other than brooding and justice, the rest of the Bats have weakened the head honcho in the Joker’s eyes. Maybe he doesn’t want to defeat Batman, maybe he wants to elevate him; the Joker wants to mold Batman into what he thinks is his ideal form. Of course, any kind of speculation is mostly useless, and trying to figure out the psychology behind anything the Joker does is like herding cats; still, I think there’s something more at play here than “I’m the Joker, therefore I want to hurt Batman.”
Heady, heavy motives aside, Simone still manages to give us the little character moments that make this title worth reading. The brief conversation between Barbara and Alysia is a perfect example. Having just realized she can never go back to the way things were, and that it’s not right of her to endanger those she cares about, Babs’ instructions that Alysia forget she ever knew her make sense. Alysia’s tears as she stands in the kitchen with two handcuffed thugs, asking Barbara to take her with so she can help, are heartbreaking. This whole series, Alysia has been the strong one, the one who’s there when Barbara needs her. Now, not only is Babs clearly involved in something very serious and very dangerous, she’s actually the stronger one pushing Alysia away. What an alarming situation for Alysia to suddenly be a part of; even more alarming for us, because we know who has her in his sights.
This issue is a perfect, horrifying little gem in the Death of the Family crown. Simone and artist Ed Benes build tension like I’m watching an old school horror movie. These characters we’ve come to know so well over the last year are being put to the most extreme stress test imaginable, and there is a real chance they will break under the strain. I didn’t even get to talking about Benes’ art, especially the beautiful horror of Barbara, Sr.’s bandaged and bleeding hand. I suppose I have to leave something for Patrick to talk about.
Patrick: The art in this issue certainly is interesting – partially because of how many damn artists are credited. Ed Benes shares the art credit with Daniel Sampere, and even though the title page takes special pains to list which inkers inked which pages (Mark Irwin on 11 and 12, Vincent Cifeuntes on 13 through the end), it is not specified who drew what. I’ve seen enough Benes’ drawings to assume that the first 11 pages in Babs’ apartment are his handiwork – he does have her hanging out (and fighting!) in no pants. Tease as I might about the no-pants thing, Benes actually pulls off a neat trick in the first half of this issue – altering his focus based on what’s controlling the scene. Early, when Babs is frightened, and largely powerless, panel after panel is tight on her eyes. When the goons break in, the focus becomes her body as an instrument of extreme power. And her body only gets upstaged once the gun is introduced, which she waives around as a symbol of unchecked power.
Shelby, you suggest that this emotional journey is Joker’s work, but I’m not totally convinced. Joker didn’t call Babs, James did. It is possible that Joker didn’t send those men to the house either.I don’t know what James Jr. stands to gain from any of this, let alone what would be his motivation if my crazy theory proves true. And I guess that’s the most significant complaint I have about the issue – the James Jr. stuff doesn’t really make sense, but it also isn’t a surprise. I don’t know about you guys, but I read every line of Joker dialogue as Mark Hamill. (If I’m alone, I do the voice out-loud, really taking my time to emulate one of the greats.) So the second a voice modulator was in the picture, the voice on the other end of the phone wasn’t the Joker anymore. Further, Batman 13 suggested that Joker is obsessed with the concept of his identity – projecting that identity where ever he can – disguising one’s voice hardly fills that MO.
I also sorta felt like Babs’ voice was a little bit weaker in this issue. One of the traits I always look for in her voice-over is that self-deprecating sense of humor, but it was nowhere to be found here. I know, I know, this is some Serious Shit she’s going through, so we’ve got to Be Serious. But Barbara has been in mortal danger a couple of times so far in this series – most recently while dealing with a psychopathic serial killer / super villain who STABBED HER IN THE STOMACH. And yet Babs still found the opportunity to crack wise, if only to herself. I wouldn’t make mention of something so trivial, but that personality has been a guiding voice for this series.
But this issue has a guest personality to contend with: Joker. His presence here is huge, and he’s packing in the twisted humor where ever he can. Whatever ground Simone gave up in Babs’ voice, she gained in Joker’s. When Batgirl first gets in to the roller rink, Joker’s mid-explanation, talking about the tradition of wearing a wedding band on the left ring finger. We don’t have enough context to know what the hell he’s talking about at the time, but by the end, we learn he’s talking about the finger HE JUST CHOPPED OFF Barbara Senior. Also, how cute is it that Joker chooses a roller rink for this scene? That’s the ideal setting for young love if ever there was one.
I can’t find a logical way to loop back around to this so here’s a NON SEQUITUR: I really love this panel.
Before Batgirl understands just how emotionally twisted the Joker’s plan is, Sampere depicts the encounter as a simple, linear fight: beat-up Joker to get to Barbara Sr. It even sorta looks like a 1990s arcade beat-em-up (a la Final Fight). Incidentally, I would play the shit out of that game.
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?