Batgirl 17

batgirl 17

Today, Patrick and Shelby are discussing Batgirl 17, originally released February 13th, 2013.

Patrick: Like 20 minutes into the movie Fight Club, Ed Norton’s character meets Brad Pitt’s character for the first time. [I’m about to spoil Fight Club – heads up.] Prior to this point, there’s almost non-stop voice over from Norton’s character, prattling on about life, work, commercialism, phonies, etc. But the second Pitt’s Tyler Durden is introduced, the voice over goes away and the two men have a conversation — the irony, of course, being that they’re the same person, so he’s kinda still talking to himself. But the effect of losing that trusty, comfortable narration is jarring, setting up this scene as a Scene That Matters. Batgirl 17 robs us of a similar comfort as it delves deeper into the broken Gordon family.

Both Barbara and Jim Gordon have been receiving mysterious emails tipping them off as to the identities of Joker’s henchmen. It’s unclear what, exactly, Barbara was going to do with that information, other than monitor the police scanner and pay a little extra attention while they clean up the mess. Gordon, on the other hand, goes in to full-on bad-ass mode and mobilizes the department to take down every single one of these guys, partially because his son, James Jr., is on that list. James has been messing with the rest of the family too: stopping by to tease his mother about her missing finger and using that same missing finger to place an ambiguously threatening phone call to his sister. A little shaken, but still okay, Batgirl goes out to help the cops apprehend some of the Joker riff-raff. The paddywagon (it doesn’t count as racist if I’m named “Patrick,” and I am) is blown up by a rocket-launcher-toting baddie calling himself Firebug, and Batgirl engages him in fisticuffs! Creepily, James, Jr. seems to have been watching — and narrating — the whole time.

James Jr has been narrating the whole time

Elephant in the room: Gail Simone didn’t write this issue. All us Retcon Punchers cried foul a few months ago when she was taken off writing Batgirl. I know Simone has a large following, and has been credited with amazing runs on Secret Six and Birds of Prey (among others), but I’ve only ever known her as The Writer Who Could Channel Barbara Gordon. The voice is so clean and smart and funny and strong, how could anyone else hope to do it justice? Ray Fawkes knows that those are impossible shoes to fill, so he’s changed the DNA of the series for his two-issue stint. We no longer get running commentary from Babs in the form of her voice-over boxes, now the commentary comes from her psychotic brother. The change in writer literally brings about a change in the perspective, both in within the narrative and from the outside.

Fawkes hedges his bets against detractors by delving back into the family’s — and by extension, the series’ — history. There are a lot of little moving pieces in this issue, including a masks-off meeting between Babs and Ricky (the kind of meet-up he was asking for in the Valentine’s Day Special… but not quite ending the way he wanted it to). But all of the lose threads all come from the spool that Gail Simone started spinning over a year ago. Fawkes may have staked out his own style in James Jr.’s verbose, eloquent narration, but he’s holding on true to the world of Batgirl.

That means he’s got a lot of good Batman-style stuff and a lot of good Gordon-family stuff. Like James using his mother’s finger to dial the phone. That is fucked up, but it’s menacing and consistent with everything I fear about that character. I also love this drawing of James sitting on the edge of the bed, dialing the phone in the dark – it draws clear parallels to the iconic image of his father sitting on the edge of the bed in Batman: Year One. I don’t know what it means, other than to remind us that they are, in some ways, similar creatures. 

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My favorite sequence in the issue through, is straight-up Batman-y. Babs swoops in to take out the Joker henchmen that are mere seconds away from killing some cops. But instead of staging the beat-em-up action as a coreographed action sequence, the violence all happens on the other side of a closed door. The reader sits outside with the cops with nothing but the sound effects — and our imagination — to tell us what actually happened in there.

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If the issue suffers from anything — other than inevitable comparisons to Simone’s series — it’s that there’s too much stuff going on here and it’s not clear how it all connects. Even though I like all the creepy little James, Jr. moments, I’m not sure how he fits in with the Joker henchmen. Further, what’s up with Firebug? Does James have anything to do with him or is he just another costumed weirdo in Gotham? And either way, why’s he blowing stuff up? Is he targeting the police? The Joker dudes? It’s a dark issue with more than its fair share of questions, with none of Barbara’s wit to lighten the mood.

Shelby, how’s this series read to you without the strong female voice? Do you think that’s intentional? We saw Fawkes write Batgirl VO just last week, so we know he can do it. The unsettling effect of supplanting her narration with her brother’s is striking – but does it make you want to read more?

Shelby: It does make me want to read more, if for no other reason than to see where Fawkes is going with this. I think the change of tone was a smart move on Fawkes’ part; I’m also glad this is only going to be a two-issue run, because I don’t think I’d want to read much more from the POV of James Gordon, Jr. The James-as-narrator reveal is actually pretty unsettling. It’s obvious from the start that Babs is not narrating the issue; I wrote it off as “omniscient, absent third-party” and thought nothing more of it. But to then find out that not only is James directing the story I’m reading, all the scenes we see of Babs at work are through his eyes,  I instantly felt uncomfortably like a voyeur, on top of the realization I was following along through the eyes of a psychopath.

I will definitely agree with you that there is too much going on in this issue, to the point that I actually interpreted parts of the story very differently. I thought it was Babs who figured out the Joker henchmen stuff, and sent it to Jim so he could do something about it. You know, since she’s got the magic memory that can see through clown paint and all that. I also did not realize James was using his mother’s severed finger to place a phone call.

james gordon is scary

I think I was distracted by how weirdly sweaty he is, which begs the question: how did he get his mother’s finger? I assumed it was reattached, and the last interaction we saw between James and his mother was him looming menacingly over her bed. Did he cut off her finger again? Was it really strenuous, is that why he’s so sweaty? Does he have to be so happy about it?

Daniel Sampere is on pencils duty this issue, and he does a more than fine job. He’s got a gritty, noir sort of feel to his work, which is well suited to the darkness of this particular story. Sampere has a way with faces and eyes especially; his closeups are so expressive.

barbara gordon

 

That’s a beautiful image that conveys through Babs’ eyes only the shock and confusion she’s feeling. More importantly, though, it’s panels like these that really highlight the fact that we never see James’ eyes. There’s always a glare, a reflection, something bouncing off the lenses of his glasses that keeps us from really seeing him. As a long-time glasses wearer, I can personally attest that, while there is often a glare or something on my glasses, never are my eyes completely obscured one hundred percent of the time. His mask is more efficient than Barbara’s when it comes to hiding his identity. Honestly, that might be ok; I think there’s a pretty good chance I don’t want to actually see what’s in James Gordon, Jr’s eyes.

Batgirl’s involvement in Death of the Family has been great fun, no doubt, but I’m looking forward to letting her just be herself for a while. I want to see her get back on her feet and fight her own fights, not have to deal with whatever MASSIVE CRISIS Batman is currently facing.  Having James as her primary big-bad means that I get to continue with my upsetting, unsettling stories while getting Babs back to her old self at the same time. I’m very excited to see how this arc will go; the James story has been cooking on the back burner for quite some time, and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion things are starting to boil over.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?

22 comments on “Batgirl 17

  1. Patrick, I don’t think Babs received those pics from an anonymous tipster, I think she was the anonymous tipster. She talks about using her eidetic memory to match mugshots to who she remembers seeing while fighting Joker. She later explains that she wanted the police to have the moral and public victory of bringing these goons in, which is why she sent them instead of taking care of it herself.

    • Yeah, fuck – that’s pretty clear huh? I was reading it as she got the tip and then went about memorizing their faces so she could be helpful tracking them. Further, I thought she was out watching the police bring in the clowns because she wanted them to have that victory, but also kind thought she might need to be there.

      My “what the fuck is up with Firebug?” questions persist. Also, what’s the matter, the old Batman villain Firefly wasn’t good enough for Fawkes?

  2. I didn’t get to read this one last night, so I will tonight, but I have to ask: does it seem like Fawkes intends to wrap the James Jr plotline in his 2 issues? I’d hate to see Gail not handling that after putting in the work of the setup. I wouldn’t blame Fawkes of course, since he couldn’t possibly have known she’d immediately be re-assigned back to the book, but it would be an unfortunate result of the whole fiasco

    • Yeah, I was wondering that last night as well. I also thought that maybe the creative team switcheroo was the reason why this issue was so jam-packed. All speculation, of course, but maybe Fawkes had a longer vision for this story that he’s now got to cram in just two issues.

    • Just from the sheer amount of stuff in this issue, I don’t see how Fawkes could finish the James Jr. story in only one issue. I would imagine most of the next issue would be spent with Firebug. But that could just be wishful thinking. I don’t think Fawkes did a bad job at all, but it does upset me a little to see him handling a story that Simone had been spinning for months. I hope we at least get to see some version of the story she had planned. At the moment I’m thinking we will, I just hope that thinking is grounded in reality.

      • James Jr. will almost certainly haunt Babs for a while to come. No way it will be wrapped up next issue, although I imagine the Firebug story will. I have no problem with his using James Jr as a through-line from Simone’s story through DotF into his own. The story could have been written without James Jr appearing but it makes sense to continue that creepy, creepy thread.

        Talking about what Simone had planned makes me think about the issues she had written before her dismissal. There were certainly posts about her being disappointed in not being able to see plot points that she had been establishing from issue 1 to their conclusion. James Jr would be one of these and from what I read, she planned to go back and explain how Babs was healed. When she was reinstated, it sounded like the stories she had already written would not be used and she was re-plotting things. I really hope she is able to bring to light what happened.

        • My guess about the plot points Simone had been establishing from issue 1 has to do with Knightfall’s goons visiting all of the bad guys Babs had faced up to that point. Those villains all had some strong thematic resonance, forcing Babs to deal with some of her own issues, and I think seeing them all team up could have been a really powerful story.

          It also seems to me that James Jr’s appearance here doesn’t exactly fit with the way Simone had been treating him. Here, he’s a strait up psychopath, but Simone seemed to be suggesting that he had some empathy, what with him comforting Alysia (not something he would need to do if he was just using her to get close to Babs) and bargaining for his mother’s life.

          Overall, I don’t think Fawkes’ two-issue stint could be enough to fly Simone’s setup off the rails, but I’m guessing that she might have had to can them anyway, as a condition of returning to the title. We still don’t have a lot of info about why she was off the title (or how that was then resolved), but I suspect that editorial didn’t like the stories she had already turned in. All that is to say, the blame for the fact that Simone won’t get to do those stories likely lies more with editorial than Fawkes.

        • Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing Knightfall, Mirror, Gretel and Grotesque again and seeing exactly what an attack from all of them together looks like. Firebug is clearly not echoing any of Babs’ psychology (or experience), which was formerly one of the hallmarks of the villains of this series. Once we know what he’s doing, it’ll be interesting to see if there’s a connection to James’ psychology.

  3. Hey, so anyone have any readings of that reference to Batman: Year One Patrick pointed out? There’s a lot to note there, but the most salient is obviously the fact that Jr. has nobody in the bed behind him. The other detail that really grabs me is that, in the original image, Jim is cradling his gun, thinking about how much he hates bearing that weight. James Jr. is handling his own weapon, though he seems to be much more gleeful about it. Is this just supposed to be a dark reflection of his father (further supported by the comparative amount of shadow in the James Jr. image), or is this suggesting that Jr. might be doing this for some kind of force beyond him? I guess the fact that there’s nothing in his image that nearly approaches the propulsive force of “pregnant wife” suggests “no,” but I’m curious what everyone else thinks.

    • I kinda took it as a comparison of these two men in their youth. Obviously, Year One features a younger Jim Gordon, and I just kind of assume James Jr. is about the same age here. That image from Year One is packed with so much of what makes that character so interesting – the gun (representing responsibility, danger, etc.) and the pregnant wife (the ultimate symbol of domesticity). So maybe we can infer that James Jr.’s priorities are also on display in that image – which is to say, basically nothing. The only thing we can see there is his phone and his mother’s disconnected finger.

  4. Finally read it. I dug it well enough, but it was weird to not have Babs’ voice featured prominently in the book. Probably just because the book has had one writer since inception. I thought it was good, though. Great job by Sampere, and the fact that Fawkes turned in something that didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth is kind of a minor miracle considering the circumstances. I’d have really disdained an attempt at a clean break

  5. While the interior art is really good, does anyone else think that the cover for this is straight up awful? It also bugs me that the action shown here (direct confrontation with Jr.) is not at all what happens in the story. This happens quite a bit in comics and is a pet peeve of mine. The cover doesn’t need to be an enlarged panel from the interiors, by any means, but at least don’t contradict what is going on in there!

    Otherwise, I agree with the general consensus here that Fawkes did a good job. I was thrown by the 3rd person voice at first – which is pretty rare to see nowadays, when panel text typically is just a replacement for thoughtbubbles – but it made perfect, creepy, sense once revealed.

    • Yeah, I too was thrown by it at first. I kinda guessed early on that it was James doing the narration — because that’s the sort of things comics love to do — but it was still an effective moment to have him refer to his sister in the final pages.

      And as far as the covers go, I miss Adam Hughs.

  6. Hey, so who’s glad Fawkes isn’t out in the cold after this whole debacle? I was definitely pulling for Simone, but it’s kind of shitty that that meant Fawkes had the rug pulled out from under him. The fact that I can support him elsewhere (and happily) allows me to have my cake and eat it too.

    • Yeah, Fawkes seems like he’s definitely going to be okay (co-writing basically every appearance of John Constantine). I like this issue pretty well, even if I was a smidge confused about what happened. I’m sure I’m happier with it because I know it to be a detour before coming back to Simone’s voice, but it’s moody and atmospheric and scary. And I only touched on this in the review, but James Jr.’s narration is almost poetic in its creepiness. Fawkes has chops and I’m also happy we’ll get to see them (the chops, that is) develop further in our silly superhero stories.

  7. I’ll be the voice of discontent here and say this issue didn’t really do it for me. I’ve really loved Simone’s run on this title thus far and obviously this 2-issue stint will have to deal with that baggage, but Fawkes’s writing leaves me a little disconcerted. The story itself is alright, but I really hate James’s voice-over, and it’s all over the issue. I don’t hate the fact that it is James narrating per se, in fact that was a bit of a saving grace for me because I think one of the things I hate most in comics is omniscient narration, it always feels clumsy to me and I find it really does the medium a disservice. Thing is, in trying to conceal the fact that it is James narrating the whole time, his voice comes off as an omniscient narrator and lacks personality, and it just doesn’t seem like it’s the way anyone would actually talk. On the plus side, the art was quite good, and I really like that shot you guys pointed out that mirrors Year One. I think it’s kind of funny too that James Jr. is in both shots in a way, because the original has his mother pregnant with him the background, so it’s not only a parallel between James Jr. and Jim but also an observation of where life has taken James Jr. Anyhow, I really hope I can better enjoy Fawkes’s second shot at this next month when it comes out, but otherwise at I can console myself knowing that in two months’ time this title will be back in the capable hands of Gail Simone!

  8. Pingback: Batgirl 18 | Retcon Punch

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