Today, Patrick and Shelby are discussing Batgirl 18, originally released March 13th, 2013.
Patrick: You know how NBC does a week of environmentally themed shows for the week of Earth Day? (Maybe they even call it Earth Week, who knows?) It’s a network-wide mandate and there’s a persistent green peacock in the lower right corner of the screen to remind us of this fact. How individual shows deal with this mandate is sorta flexible — The Office will relegate their green message to the cold open, and 30 Rock will have Al Gore on again. Everybody tows the line because to not do it would be monstrous. You don’t want to be the only sitcom that doesn’t care about global warming, right? Batgirl 18 finds itself in a similar predicament: how to participate in this REQUIEM without derailing the series’ forward momentum. Ray Fawkes eschews convention by trading in themes rather than plot points. The results are mixed.
The issue opens as the building around Batgirl and Firebug goes up in a pretty spectacular explosion. The citizens of Gotham (James Jr. included) band together to dig her out of the rubble. Batgirl retreats to her crime lab (read: her van) to analyze the evidence she scraped out of the explosion site. But she also takes a few phone calls. First from her father, delivering the news about Robin which had been passed on to him directly by Batman. He makes her promise not to go out crime-fightering tonight. So Babs calls Dick to talk, but he sort of abruptly hangs up on her. Just as she’s about to wrap up her forensic work, she gets a third phone call — this one from her little brother. James promises that he has something special in store for her, but Babs has a Firebug to catch. Fortunately, she’s actually able to track, disarm and arrest Firebug in three-and-a-half pages, so she’s got ample time to track James’ cell phone. Unfortunately, James is nowhere near his cell phone, but he has prepared a horrific little alter to his sister.
James Jr. is turning out to be an interesting character and not simply because of the threat he represents. James is weirdly fixated on inflicting pain on his family. This makes him a wildly inefficient villain. Hilariously, both Batgirl and James’ inner monologue seem to agree on this. It’s hard to tell if she’s just talkin’ a good game here, but Babs says to James “I’m ready for you, James. Just you try me. Any time, any place.” It doesn’t seem like she’s all that intimidated by him, right? James also has a moment where he acknowledges that he’s just playing a game with his sister. I can’t really nail down James’ specific brand of villainy but “super” doesn’t seem like the right modifier, does it?
This issue, like the previous, is over-stuffed. While the shadow of James Jr. looms large over the issue (he narrates the damn thing), the story that’s being neatly tied up is actually about Firebug. Batgirl has a proven history of telling fairly compelling two-issue stories about Babs’ encounters with new supervillains (both Gretel and Grotesque burned out after two issues), so it seems like Firebug could have been a worthy entry in that rogues gallery. But we never delve into his psychology — and therefore, we never delve into how he reflects Barbara’s psychology — so the character rings hollow. Plus, the beat-em-up ending is sandwiched between a mourning-Damian scene and a being-terrified-of-James scene. With all three of these compelling ideas vying for space, they all sorta get swallowed up.
It feels like editorial interference — what writer would chose to have all of these disparate elements in a single 20-page comic? Each story thread belongs to a different genre, for christsake. Fawkes almost pulls it off by seeing the theme common throughout — Gotham is hard on its heroes. Without even knowing Damian’s fate, James muses about Batgirl:
Gotham is a city that devours its heroes… They are tested to death… This is a hero’s death in Gotham City… The shift comes quickly. The cries die away in the smoking haze. They surge forward, the people, as one. Towards the collapsing wreck instead of away from it. They scorch their hands on the still-burning timbers, the smoking brick. They pull it away, piece by piece, in their desperation. In their gratitude. In their love.
It’s an oddly fitting eulogy for Damian, but this line of thought also creepily encapsulates both James’ affection for and desire to kill Barbara. Unfortunately, the unity of the these concepts trickles away after a couple pages and (let’s call a spade a spade here) the rest of the issue is a little bit of a clusterfuck.
Daniel Sampere’s art achieves a few clever moments throughout the issue. All the action is well staged and he manages to clearly convey an alarming amount of incident in one issue — even when a good chunk in the middle takes place on the phone. But my favorite thing Sampere does in this issue his how visually he sets up the two methods Barbara is going to use to take down Firebug.
When she’s outfitting herself in the van, he draws specific — but not explicit — attention to her gloves and the wrist-tracker thing. Those are literally the only two pieces of equipment she uses to take Firebug down, and it’s neat that, in the absence of Babs’ voice over, we still know how she’s doing what she’s doing.
Shelby, I’m interested to see how you felt about this issue. It seemed to have more direction than the previous, but I’m ultimately left feeling like we didn’t really get a Ray Fawkes run on Batgirl. Gail Simone returns next month, but it still feels like there’s too much stuff to deal with (remember how Nightfall busted all those Batgirl baddies out of jail? Also fallout from the Joker? Also Babs’ one-legged boyfriend? Also Damian? Also James Jr.? Also Babara Sr.?). I’m starting to feel like we need closure on some of these stories soon.
Shelby: I think Fawkes was wasted on these two issues, through no fault of his own. Patrick, you are one hundred percent correct that this issue is overstuffed, and all the story elements suffer because of it. There are so many good stories mushed into these 20-odd pages, it’s really a shame they weren’t given the opportunity they deserve. A little two-issue arc makes sense after Death of the Family; I can totally see how Babs would use busting some anonymous baddie as a way to deal with the fallout of her encounter with the Joker. In fact, as much as I like James and have been dying for their confrontation, I think he would be more effective as a villain if he slunk off into the night, and we didn’t see or hear anything of him for a couple issues. If we knew he was out there somewhere, somewhere close, just biding his time, he would be a much bigger threat. As it is, I’m just getting a little tired of his games.
On top of the Firebug story AND the James story, Damian is tacked on. Again, it’s unfortunate that it had to happen this way; not only does Damian deserve a full issue here, we also could have drawn some interesting parallels between Bruce and his actual family Damian, the Bat-Family, and Babs and her actual family. All that, plus the unresolved plot points we’re still waiting on from before Death of the Family, and this issue is barely treading water. It’s issues like these that make me very frustrated because they are so unfair to the creative team. Not only are they forced to shoe-horn in all these disparate story elements, they are the ones to take the heat for issues that don’t really work. It may be the editorial staff making these decisions, but it’s the creative team that has to face their audience when an issue isn’t great. Next month sees Simone back on this title, I hope that she can help Batgirl find it’s legs again and begin moving forward.
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?