Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Batgirl 16 originally released January 16th, 2013. This issue is part of the Death of the Family crossover event. Click here for complete DotF coverage.
Drew: Themes are tricky. As a semi-abstracted element of storytelling, they require an attention to detail that simply isn’t always there, but our perennial favorites never seem to struggle. Gail Simone has proven herself particularly adept at weaving notions of fear and independence into Batgirl, creating individual issues that satisfy emotionally even when the narrative doesn’t conclude. Leave it to the Joker to throw a wrench in those gears, thwarting any sense of thematic unity — essentially generating a meta-theme of chaos. It’s a brilliant and unexpected choice that manages to make the reading experience subtly unsettling beyond the issue’s own gruesome imagery.
The issue begins in a flashback, titled “interlude one,” as a wheelchair-bound Babs begrudgingly meets with her psychologist. Babs describes a recurring dream where she kills the Joker. This of course recalls last month’s issue, where Barbara nearly did kill the Joker, but it also ties into notions of agency — something that has plagued Barbara long before she was ever paralyzed. Dr Latemendi is left to assume these are the typical revenge fantasies of a random and helpless victim, but Ed Benes reminds us that Barbara was so much more.
Babs actually did have the agency to stop this kind of thing, but because she has to keep her alter ego secret, she can’t tell anyone. Nobody will ever know just how much the Joker actually took from her, at least, nobody her dad would make appointments with.
It’s a theme that could easily occupy several years of a series (especially in the hands of someone like Simone), but it’s all but forgotten after the first two pages. That’s no accident — this issue is too packed with event to really revisit Barbara’s unique state of mind while she was paralyzed — and the fact that it is referred to as “interlude one” suggests that we’ll revisit that period of Barbara’s life somewhere further down the line. Intriguingly, the fact that there’s no consequent to something so pointedly numbered adds to the off-kilter sense that the Joker has driven Batgirl’s story off the rails.
We resume the present-day action at the church as the Joker threatens to follow through on the plan revealed in issue 15: that he would amputate his bride’s arms and legs. Just when it seems like Barbara is cornered, James Jr. shows up letting Babs know that their mother is safe. Barbara seizes the opportunity to strike, and just when it seems like she might once again kill the Joker, James double-crosses her, offering the Joker Batgirl in exchange for Barbara Sr. When Barbara comes to, we’re privy to the same image that seems ready to close every Death of the Family issue this month: the Joker offering something on a covered platter.
I’m sure we’ll get to conjecturing about the platter in the comments, but the thing that really intrigued me about the main action here was James Jr. What the heck is his motivation, here? This is the guy who drove his own mother away when he was a child, so what is he doing staging elaborate deals with the Joker for her safety? He turns on Babs with the kind of psychopathic detachment we’ve come to expect from him, but why is that same psychopath invested in the safety of his mother? He’s up to something and I’m still not sure what it is. But yes, of course, that platter is the more pressing concern at the moment.
So what did you think, Patrick? Did you find that ending swallowing your interest into crossover-land, or was the drama going on with this title’s characters enough to keep your attention? Did you find the piling-up of themes effective, or muddled? Does any of that really matter when this issue has a CHAINSAW FIGHT?
Here’s something I find kinda frustrating: just when it looks like Batgirl is going to get herself out of trouble, her brother kinda-sorta half bails her out. Drew, you point out that Babs’ agency (and frequent lack thereof) is an on-going theme throughout the series and is under the microscope in the first couple pages of this issue. What’s the bigger crime against Barbara? Using her as a bargaining chip or taking away her ability to save herself? I get that they’re functionally the same decision, but which seems like the greater transgression against the character?
As much as the Joker looms large over this issue, it’s James, Jr. that ends up stealing the show. That’s weird, right? Yes, Joker represents an obvious and immediate danger to Batgirl, but only so much as she is part of the Bat-family. In fact, ending this issue with the ol’ bloody platter all but assures us that Joker’s only interested in getting to Batman – and that we’ll only get resolution on this Joker stuff in the pages of Batman. Which oddly relegates Joker to an incidental spot on Batgirl’s Rogue’s Gallery. I’m not discounting his connection to her past, or one of her character-defining traits, but that’s NOTHING compared to how personal her upcoming conflict with James.
There are actually a few times in the issue where it seems like Joker kind of admires James. He even says how happy he is that there is “another spider in the porridge.” (Which, what an awesome turn of phrase, by the way). Should Joker not make it out of this event alive, there’s a creepily appropriate replacement in James Gordon, Jr. Like Joker, James seems to not want death to come to his adversaries – James wants the Gordons alive so he can continue to torment them – right? Why else would he be so insistent on saving their mother? I suspect he knows that Joker doesn’t intend to kill Barbara for much the same reason.
Hey let’s talk WEIRD DETAILS. This issue has a lot of them, which I mostly attribute to Joker’s presence. He has a tendency to fuck things up on both a literal and metaphoric level. There’s that strange “Interlude One” Drew mentioned, but here’s a goofy thing: a mouse attending the wedding?
I also love that Joker’s got his henchmen Lefty dressed us as a bridesmaid. They can’t all wear tuxes, I guess.
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?