Today, Drew and guest writer Gino Killiko are discussing Batman and Batgirl 21, originally released June 19th, 2013.
Drew: I have to admit, as a stage of grief, bargaining never made all that much sense to me — especially not as the third stage. I can accept that somebody might make an impassioned plea to whatever powers exist at the time of a loved one’s death, but I’m just not sure who people are bargaining with long after a loved one has died. It turns out, that is because the whole Kübler-Ross model that the “five stages of grief” are based on is actually adapted from the stages associated with an impending death, which kind of supports the notion that bargaining after the fact doesn’t necessarily make any sense. That might explain why Batman and Batgirl 21, which is meant to focus on the third stage of grief, doesn’t quite work.
Curiously, this is the first issue that doesn’t find Bruce bargaining with science or magic to bring Damian back. Instead, the “bargain” of the issue’s title refers to Barbara’s attempts to pull Bruce back from the brink of madness. If that doesn’t sound like it would involve any bargaining, it’s because it doesn’t, but writer Peter Tomasi tries his hardest to make Babs say “bargaining” enough to make it not matter. That might be forgivable if Babs was able to actually bring Bruce through this. Unfortunately, he’s still got to plow through depression with Catwoman next month before he can even think about acceptance.
The issue isn’t completely without catharsis — Babs actually has a rather touching moment where she opens up to her dad about everything…he just can’t hear her.
Catharsis may not be the right word — none of their issues are actually resolved — but it’s a surprisingly touching moment for a cameo player. It is a bit surprising to devote so much of this issue to her state of mind from events in her own series, but Tomasi writes a compelling, convincing Babs. Unfortunately, Bruce is left without any similar emotional connection in this issue.
This is all particularly disappointing because of the Two-Face tease at the end of issue 20, which seemed like a logical set-up for an issue about bargaining. Unfortunately, it seems like Tomasi is actually setting up issue 23.1, and we likely won’t get more or Harvey until September (which, it seems, will preclude Bruce’s acceptance for another month).
More than anything, this issue just felt padded. Never mind that it mostly just rehashes that Bruce has been going on violent vigilante benders (which we learned back in issue 18), we see Babs run into Bruce three separate times at three separate crime scenes before she finally confronts him in the batcave. Actually, let’s keep in mind that we already knew Bruce had thrown himself into crime fighting — it puts in perspective just how unnecessary showing us three more times is. Actually, let’s back up further: Bruce’s method of grief has always been to fight crime. This is a man whose life is still driven by the death of his parents in his childhood. I doubt he’s ever moved on to acceptance, and probably never made it past anger (which might also explain why the notion of bargaining felt so forced). Anyway, this notion is pretty old hat (we saw Bruce do it after Jason’s death, too), which makes the repetitions here particularly gratuitous.
Tomasi is usually fantastic at making the emotional connections devised in other titles sing, but this issue felt completely flat. Part of it may be Patrick Gleason’s absence — we’ve seen him turn weak scripts into gold — but I don’t want to be too hard on fill-in penciler Cliff Richards. The story here just isn’t enough to carry an issue. On that cheery note, allow me to introduce Gino Killiko, a regular commenter here who you might remember from our Superior Spider-Man 7 writeup. Gino, I know you’re a fan of this series, but this issue really left something to be desired. Were you able to find more to like here than I was?
Gino: Although that’s a seemingly simple question, the answer is a bit complicated. On one hand, I share your feelings that this issue is redundant, not only within itself, but also as it retreads ground from Batman 18, which itself was basically just a modern re-telling of A Lonely Place of Dying. It also feels more like a Batgirl issue than a Batman and Batgirl, seeing as she gets all the voice-over and is the only one of the two who seemingly advances emotionally at all during the course of the book. In all honesty, for all the 5 stages of grief gimmick being pushed onto this book, Bruce doesn’t seem like he’s moving along at all through his grieving.
I’d found a different source from yours about the 5 stages of grief which explained that bargaining after the passing of a loved one usually manifests itself as an attempt to rationalize the situation by imagining the scenario as it could have played differently. Essentially, it’s a game of “if only”. “If only Alfred hadn’t let him out of the cave, if only I’d handed him back to Talia”, etc. We get none of this here, and, as you pointed out, Batgirl awkwardly stuffs the word bargain a few times into her dialogue in order to justify this phase.
To be fair to Tomasi, I seriously question whether DC imposed this grieving period as a sort of buffer for when the next Robin (more on that in a second) is introduced, and so perhaps this feels so clunky because it isn’t really the story the author means to tell. Tomasi’s silent issue was so heart-wrenching, I have a hard time swallowing these last few issues and the lack of emotion which they convey.
At any rate, enough bad for now, let’s talk about the good. One interesting idea that this issue brings up is the possibility that Batman’s next Robin might be someone already from his entourage. It’s extremely unlikely that Batgirl will step into the role since she has her own excellent monthly to carry, but Tim Drake could use a bit more spotlight from his role in Teen Titans, and thus could (I know, again) help Batman through his grief. In any case, the thought that Batman’s next partner could come from within (other than some kind of Damian resurrection) hadn’t really crossed my mind before, and it would at least make more sense if Bats chose not to endanger anyone new/untrained and patrolled Gotham with a soldier he knows would be risking their neck anyway and is up to the task.
The other thing that really struck me as I read this issue was Batgirl’s monologue which you pointed out, but I’d like to draw attention mostly to Jim Gordon here. While Barbara is pouring her heart out, he’s silently and methodically cleaning out his gun; he looks cold and machine-like. Circumstances indicate that he’s bent on making Batgirl pay for killing his son, and in that drive, he looks just as menacing as James Jr. In fact, and I don’t know if Tomasi or Richards should get credit for this, but in the very last panel you showed, Jim Gordon’s eyes are portrayed exactly as his son’s often are, with one eye seen through the lens of his glasses and the other hidden by shadows or a reflection effect in the lens.
If Jim Gordon is turning psycho and Batman is beating criminals senseless, Gotham may be in much disarray for a long time to come.
Gino Killiko is a long time Batman trade paperback collector who’s recently made the jump into monthlies and branched out beyond the Bat-verse. Probably due to his self-diagnosed OCD, he is now reading way too many comics for his own good. In his spare time, Gino prefers not to write about himself in the third person.
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