Batgirl 14

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?

32 comments on “Batgirl 14

  1. I would imagine Babs’ lack of humor has less to do with the fact that Things Are Serious, and more to do with the fact she’s facing the man who shot, paralyzed, and sexually assaulted her for his own amusement. Yeah, she’s faced psychopaths before, but this is so much more personal.

    • Yes, but humor as a self-defense mechanism is remarkably persistent. I might even argue that the worse the situation gets, the MORE likely Babs is to be a smartass in her own head.

      Also, however it’s justified, the end result is that it’s a little bit fewer of the qualities I love about the character shining through. I mostly read this book to hang out with Gordon-Barbara-Gordon.

      • I think that Babs making smartass quips when faced with her mother’s severed finger would be an inappropriate and unrealistic reaction.

        If we want to keep the discussion in story, we already know this has changed her. She admitted it herself after she left the apartment, “Sometimes you don’t wake up, sometimes the nightmare is never over.” We may have lost that bit of her.

        • Ooh, good point, Shelby. As much as we might miss sassy-pants Babs, I think it’s a SUPER EFFECTIVE choice to put a damper on it here. This shit is so scary, even Batgirl can’t make light of it. Though now you’ve got me worried it’ll never come back.

  2. Shelby, I love your read on the Joker’s motives. I think we all tend to think of Batman as this lone figure, but with so many disciples around, maybe he has gone soft. Or, if not “soft,” he’s at least opened himself up to caring about others in a way that he really wasn’t doing when he first showed up as Batman. Essentially, Joker is like an old buddy who gets jealous of the attention Bruce is paying to his new family. If that happens to normal people, they kind of step back and realize how absurd that jealousy is; it it happens to the Joker, he goes on a killing spree.

    • See, I’ve never bought into this idea of Batman as a lone figure. It’s true maybe for the first ten or so Batman stories back in the 1930s, where Alfred and Robin had yet to be invented and Gordon was only a minor figure, but in almost every incarnation since Alfred was there from the very start, and Gordon is playing an increasingly important role. Even in the cynical Christopher Nolan Batman movies, where there’s no way you’d get that smart-ass circus acrobat in short pants somersaulting across rooftops, you have Alfred, Gordon, Lucius Fox and even Rachel Dawes not only providing moral support but actually physically supporting Batman on his missions. And before the reboot, the reason Tim Drake became Robin in the first place was because he saw that Bruce was basically losing his mind after Jason’s death and that he needed a Robin to keep him balanced.

      Batman needs a support group, or else not only would his operation be unable to run effeciently, but I doubt he could even stay sane. And perhaps that’s just what the Joker’s counting on.

      • But his crusade is entirely his own, and is specifically driven by all light being shut out of his life. We don’t see much of his interaction with Alfred in Year One (which is still kind of canon), but we see Alfred’s absence enough to get a sense that Bruce feels totally alone in this, even if he’s going to rely on Alfred to sew up his wounds and help sell his alibi to Gordon. I think their relationship actually has more strength if it sneaks up on Bruce — he thinks he’s incapable of loving something again until he loses it. At any rate, I’m at least sympathetic to the notion that it doesn’t make sense for dark, brooding Bruce to team up with rambunctious, sassy kids in brightly colored costumes.

      • Which all goes back to the “Return of Bruce Wayne” in the pre-new 52 universe. “The first truth of the Batman is that he’s never been alone.” The logic that caused the creation of Batman, Inc. Bruce believed he was alone in his own mind, while all the time he’s had Alfred, Dick, Jason, Tim, Gordon, and Babs to help in his crusade.

  3. Patrick, I like your read that James sent the goons for Babs. They only ever talk vaguely about their boss wanting her alive, and it would explain why they didn’t know where Barbara Sr. was (which they A would have just taken her to and B would be taking Barbara Jr. to, if they were the Joker’s goons). It would imply a level of pre-planning on James’ part that strains credulity a bit (did he know about the Joker’s plan, or does he just have goons in clown masks ready to go at the drop of the hat?), but it makes more sense as an attack for her benefit than as an intentional clue leading her to the Joker, since there was no way for her to connect the dots outside of the phone call. The Joker suggests that he was simply “canvasing” the neighborhood, and that this is what caught Batgirl’s attention. That leaves the possibility open that he doesn’t know her identity, which would make the whole Barbara Sr. thing QUITE the coincidence, but I’m holding out hope that the Joker is bluffing on the whole identity thing.

    • Oh, I’m pretty sure the Joker knows Babs’ identity. There’s no way he would copy his attack on Babs by using her mother as a stand in simply because she’s a convenient redhead.

      • Also in Batman #14, Joker brags that he knows all their identities (though, doesn’t actually prove it). It could be that he just kidnapped Barbara Sr. because he knows the Gordons are close to Batman. You mention that he copies the Killing Joke attack, but like, that’s how an in-home abduction has to start, right? Guys at the door?

      • Wait, wait, wait. What makes you so sure this has anything to do with Batgirl? The Joker is repeating his crimes with a twist, and attacking the mother of the woman you famously shot in the spine seems to fit that MO pretty well. He knows he attacked Barbara Gordon, and he knows Barbara Sr. is Babs’ mom. Just because it also effects Batgril might be a coincidence.

        • That’s a fair point.

          Let’s not fall into the trap of over-thinking this, though. The simplest answer is the Joker knows everyone’s identity, and will target them appropriately.

        • …maybe. I think the fact that Simone (and Snyder) have left the Joker’s actual knowledge ambiguous is very important to this story. I very much suspect that it will all come down to opening that little book the Joker showed off in this month’s Batman. The “punchline” of that book could really break either way, but I think it’s important that we pay attention to what we know the Joker knows.

        • Yep, this. For those of us obviously doing research to increase our appreciation of this storyline, I read an interview where Snyder confirmed Joker-Fish and Joker’s Five Way Revenge will be important in some small way. Considering he’s also referenced the initial Red Hood from DetCom #168, I believe much of the Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told trade seems to be coming into play – kind of a manual for this arc

      • I don’t think this is spoiling anything, because I don’t think it’s what Snyder has in mind, but before the reboot The Joker pretty explicitly knew Batman’s secret identity. The Black Glove just about straight-up told him in Batman RIP, and the Joker proceeded to completely not give a shit, but I believe it was referenced in Morrison’s Batman and Robin as well.

        So I’m inclined to believe that the Joker knows until proven otherwise.

        • Yeah, but he also said he was going to fight crime when we last saw him in Morrison’s Batman and Robin. More importantly, Morrison’s story is still going on, and is pretty clearly separate from this version of the characters. I really think we’re supposed to be unsure what is written in that book, and that we should be surprised, either way. I know I will be.

  4. Man, that bandaged hand. You see it a couple times before the big reveal, and I loved the tension created waiting for it. Having the ring on the finger was a disturbing cherry atop a horrifying sundae.

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