Today, Drew and guest writer Chuck Maa are discussing Batgirl 23, originally released August 14th, 2013.
Drew: Superheroes lead miserable lives. The demands of serialized storytelling require that they are regularly beset by life-altering tragedies, are perpetually unlucky in love, and maybe die once or twice in their career. Month-to-month, it’s exciting, but when you total it all up, the life of your average superhero is unspeakably depressing. Take, for example, Barbara Gordon. Her mother abandoned her when she was a child because of her psychotic brother; her fledgling vigilante career was violently ended when she was shot in the spine; after regaining the ability to walk, she suffered from rather severe PTSD. Oh, and remember her psychotic brother? He grows up to be a serial killer who she now feels guilty of killing. Also, her dad also holds her responsible for killing her brother. Things seemed to be finally looking up for her last month, as she forgot her troubles and went on her first date with a new squeeze, but we all knew it couldn’t last.
As the issue opens, Jim Gordon is getting closer to tracking Batgirl down, inquiring with Charise Carnes about her recent interactions with Batgirl. Charise agrees to cooperate with Gordon, but is also suspicious that he might be onto her nightlife as Knightfall. That seems like a dead-end, but Gordon is leaving no stone unturned. His next stop: Ricky Gutierrez (that is, the guy Babs just had the date with). Of course, Ricky has his own problems, as his brother is being held hostage by the 68 Kings, a gang that apparently has some kind of agreement with Knightfall. Ricky goes to meet the 68 Kings, leading Gordon to their door. Charise gets wind of this, suspects that he’s onto them, and puts a hit out on him to be carried out by basically every villain Babs has sparred with in the New 52. Tragedy strikes when the police storm the gang compound, and Gordon accidentally shoots Ricky.
That’s a convoluted summary, but the most striking thing about it is that I never mention what Babs is up to. She’s actually in this issue plenty — and has some great scenes — but as far as driving the plot, she doesn’t even play a supporting role. To some degree, this is typical of the start of an arc — most of our heroes are more reactive than proactive, but it’s strange to see so much action taken by both Charise and Jim without Babs even knowing what’s up. She eventually catches wind that Ricky is in trouble — and rushes in sans Batgirl costume — but ultimately isn’t able to save him.
In spite of not contributing to the plot, the machinations here are becoming increasingly personal for Barbara. Not only is she being antagonized by her own father, one of her recent adversaries has set all of her other recent adversaries on a mission to kill that same father. It’s a personal twist on the “save someone who is trying to kill you” superhero trope, and it works beautifully, specifically because writer Gail Simone has such a strong command over Barbara’s personality. She’s able to take Babs from a carefree shopping trip to a violent outburst to the brink of a total breakdown in just a few panels. With that range established up front, it’s easy to follow this issue as it veers towards tragedy.
The writing is as strong as ever, but I can’t seem to get over the way Fernando Pasarin gives everybody the same face. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that every character has the same expression — his acting range is actually quite good — what I mean is that he gives every character the same facial features. Check out this strange scene, as four characters with identical faces look at each other.
It’s a bizarre funhouse mirror routine; it’s an Aphex Twin video; it’s that scene from Being John Malkovich. Point is, it’s weird, and it completely pulls me out of the story. I can accept that Babs and Jim might have some kind of family resemblance (which, coincidentally, bears a striking resemblance to the Gardners of Baltimore), but it’s distracting that Charise, Alysia, and these randos at the mall also look the same.
As the fist issue of what could be a longish arc (which will unfortunately be preempted by Villain’s Month), I think this set some great ideas in motion. I suspect Ricky will survive (lest Simone be accused of “fridging” him), but I think that’s ultimately small potatoes compared to the danger her dad might be in — she had only been on one date with the guy, after all. I don’t know, Chuck, does this arc hold any promise, or is my Simone fandom clouding my judgement?
Chuck: Drew, I think your fandom is awesome and justified, and in this case I do not think it has clouded your judgment at all. The sheer amount of questions that I need answered after reading this issue is likely going to keep me invested in the title at least until the end of this arc. Will Barbara confess to her father that she is Batgirl? If she does, will he forgive her, or at least hear her out? How will Barbara deal with yet another tragedy befalling someone close to her? Can she ever feel worthy to wear the bat again? Tune in next time, same bat time same bat channel? (Sorry couldn’t resist.) There’s also the questions revolving around Knightfall’s role in all of this, and if the very much alive James Gordon will surface again. I was surprised and incredibly impressed that Gail Simone was somehow able to touch on all these plot points without the story getting convoluted. It is a pretty astounding feat, and one that gives me faith that the rest of the arc will also be a fantastic read.
When Drew, you pointed out that panel with the four similar faces, it helped me discover another reason I enjoyed this issue so much. Although the similar faces did bother me a little, the panel stood out to me for entirely different reasons. When I saw Barbara break the plate and point it at the thugs, I involuntarily said out loud, “Yo, Barbara Gordon is a fucking G!” Now I don’t talk like that in normal life, nor do I use that term often, but for some reason it felt appropriate, though I will admit a bit ironic. It may be odd, but this thought led me to thinking about how the issue has all the beginnings of a classic gangster story, and I am a fan.
Let’s break down the gangster story elements really quick. There’s the warring gangs, the star crossed romance, the misunderstood crime, the fugitive on the run, and of course the trying-to-go-straight thug with a heart-of-gold; who is then subsequently forced back into the crime world. Take a look at this page right here. It feels as if it were torn straight out of a classic gangster film (aside from the space gun), and it is great.
I’m not sure if Simone had a gangster story in mind when she set out to write this issue, but I’m quite happy it turned out that way.
In terms of Fernando Pasarin’s art work, though I agree that at times some of the faces he draws are a bit too similar — which did take me out of the story a little bit — the well-illustrated action sequences helped me get over it pretty quickly. Some of the fight scenes in particular are what I enjoyed the most. Pasarin draws most of the fights here tight and close; it gives the fights a more down and dirty feel that I thought synced up nicely with the overall feel of the story.
There are so many interesting and horrible circumstances revolving around Barbara right now that it would be near impossible for me to not pick up the following issues of Batgirl just to see what happens. I can’t wait to see how Simone ties up all the separate story elements together, while hopefully satisfying all the questions we want answered. Although I love how the arc is starting a bit like a classic gangster story, I hope that it doesn’t end in even more tragedy, as those stories tend to do. With all the rotten things that Barbara has gone through, the poor girl could use a happy ending or at least catch a break.
Chuck started reading comic books as a young kid in grocery stores, while his mom was shopped for groceries. The first comics he remembers reading are an issue of “Knightfall” and an issue of “Reign of the Supermen.” After moving away from the USA when he was 9, Chuck was unfortunately cut off from American comic books throughout his teenage years. Chuck scraped by on the few issues friends would bring back when they went on vacation, it was a sad time. However, his thirst was finally quenched when he moved back for college, and he hasn’t stopped reading since. It’s a problem.
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?