Spencer: “Blood is thicker than water.” This expression is usually used to describe how family has a special connection, how family has an obligation to stick together no matter what. It would be wonderful if that was always the case, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, families can be dysfunctional or abusive, or just go through hard times, and when this happens it hurts all the more because it comes from family; when the people who are supposed to protect us and love us unconditionally hurt us, it’s a special kind of pain. Batgirl’s been dealing with a lot lately, horrific events that would get anyone down, but they’re even more painful because family is involved. Fortunately, at least some hope is on the horizon.
Knightfall’s goons—the Disgraced—are about to kill Commissioner Gordon when Batgirl bursts through the wall on her motorcycle, unleashing all her rage and frustration on the villains. Babs and her father reluctantly team up, and as Batgirl takes the group on in a savage display of power and strategy, Gordon activates an emergency Bat-signal. Not wanting to face further capes, Knightfall recalls her troops. Gordon isn’t ready to let Batgirl go, though, as he’s still cross about that whole “murdering his son” thing. Batgirl is able to back him down by explaining that she was trying to protect Barbara Sr., that she was hurt, and that she made a mistake, but also by showing that Gordon himself made the same mistake when he shot Ricky.
I think this scene is brilliant because it’s not just Barbara talking her way out of a murder rap, it’s also Barbara talking her way through her own issues. Everything she says to her father is absolutely true—and it’s to Jim’s credit that he unhypocritically accepts it—but up until that moment, she didn’t believe those words herself. Babs has been feeling guilty and beating herself up over her brother’s death for ages now—even going as far as to strip herself of her Batgirl mantle—but in that moment she’s able to come to terms with what she’s done, and it makes the ray of hope at the end of this story shine just ever brighter.
Of course, then Batgirl attempts to further gain Gordon’s trust by revealing her identity to him, but he’ll have none of it; he flat out rejects her confession and tells her to leave, crushing Babs.
What’s going on here has nothing to do with superheroes or murder; this is something much more primal. Barbara wanted to bare her soul to her father, but he wouldn’t accept her confession; I’m having a hard time thinking of a more soul-crushing situation. The most obvious comparison here would be to a child coming out to their parent and being rejected, but honestly, it could apply to any intrinsic facet of one’s life that their family simply cannot accept. As I said at the outset of this article, this is a special kind of hurt because family is supposed to accept and love you unconditionally.
Fortunately, the universe seems to be on Barbara’s side, and the issue closes by giving her something she desperately needs: hope.
Yeah, Ricky’s suddenly coming out of his coma can feel a little convenient, but it’s easy for me to look past that simply because it’s such a needed bit of happiness for our poor Babs. Her life is still messy, things aren’t fixed, but she has hope now, and it’s hope that she’s earned:
Babs has been through a crucible—and not just at the hand of the Disgraced—but she’s come through as a stronger person and a better crime fighter.
As far as I’m concerned, though, the hope reignited in that panel doesn’t just come from Ricky’s survival; it comes from the chance for Barbara to create a new family. Barbara’s actual family is rockier than ever; her brother’s been a lost cause for years, her mother has abandoned the family yet again, and her relationship with her father is complicated to say the least. Her relationship with the rest of the Bat-Family isn’t much better; she isn’t very close to Tim or Jason, Nightwing’s off to Chicago, Damian’s dead, and she and Bruce haven’t really been on speaking terms ever since the Joker’s attack. Where is she supposed to turn for support?
How about to Ricky, who has proven to be surprisingly sweet? How about to Ricky’s mother, who provided unconditional love to Barbara even as her own son lay in a coma? How about to her roommate Alysia, or even to her psychiatrist? Yeah, sure, they say blood is thicker than water, but as far as I’m concerned, that blood is metaphorical, not literal, and the strongest bonds we can form are often with the family we create for ourselves. My greatest wish for Babs for a while now has been for her to find the shoulder she so desperately needed, and I’m so grateful that so many people have provided theirs for Barbara.
Mik, dude, I’m jazzed to hear what you have to say about Babs’ family, confessions, and new hope, but I’d also love to hear any thoughts you might have about the action in this one, because I think writer Gail Simone put just as much love and thought into the fight scenes as she did the big emotional climax. Also, a question for you: Do you think Commissioner Gordon knows that his daughter is Batgirl? It’s been the question looming over this whole storyline, yet the answer still seems just as ambiguous now as it did when we began.
Mikyzptlk: For the most part, I’ve found it difficult to latch onto this series emotionally. I haven’t always been a fan of this series, as some arcs have missed for me, while others have pleasantly hit. This has always come as a bit of shock to me, as I’m a huge Barbara Gordon and Gail Simone fan. I think that part of the problem I’ve always had with this series is that it’s been drenched in darkness since its inception. Sure, Babs was back in the cowl, which was great, but she didn’t exactly start out at 100%. Things have been very difficult for Babs (and the rest of the Bats) ever since, and I think I’ve grown tired of her getting trounced upon for so long.
The conclusion of this issue gives Batgirl a renewed sense of hope, and I’m happy to say that I’m feeling similarly as well. It was pretty shocking to see how brutal Batgirl fought off her attackers, but then again, it felt right as well.
I was first introduced to this character (in the comics anyway) when she was already Oracle, so for me, that is always how I’ll see her. Oracle was strong, smart, confident, and absolutely brutal when she needed to be. Of course, Barbara didn’t simply become Oracle overnight. It took her years to grow into the role.
In this issue, I think that Simone has found a way to bring Barbara back to who she used to be as Oracle, at least in some psychological way. If Babs was unsure of herself after she was put into a wheelchair by the Joker in the Pre-52, then she was just as unsure of herself once she got back onto her feet in the New 52. Similarly, if Babs needed go through some kind of crucible to rebuild her life as Oracle in the Pre-52, then she needed a similar journey to reclaim her life as Batgirl in the New 52.
Barbara learned so much more about herself as Oracle than she ever did as Batgirl in the Pre-52, and I think that Simone wanted to give her chance to do that organically in the New 52 as well. Without Oracle to rely upon, Simone has to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, in order to give us the Barbara and Batgirl that we see in the conclusion of this latest arc.
We’ve seen Batgirl cower in fear when faced with a gun once again, and now we’ve seen her face those fears and infinitely more. The only thing that I hope to see, now that she has a new sense of hope, is a little bit more light brought into this series. Of course, with Gothtopia right around the corner, I may be getting exactly what I’m wishing for.
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?