Today, Shelby and Mikyzptlk are discussing Batgirl 27, originally released January 15th, 2014. This issue is part of the Gothtopia event. We talked with John Layman about Gothtopia, you can find that interview here.
“It was a disaster. No one would accept the program…I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream your primitive cerebrum kept trying to awake from.”
Agent Smith, The Matrix
There’s some truth to ol’ Agent Smith’s theory. Humans do in part define their reality through suffering, because without suffering how would we know joy? In order to recognize and truly appreciate the good in life, you have to know the bad, which is the problem Batgirl is running into as she tries to understand her stay in Gothtopia.
As we know from Detective Comics 27, something is rotten in the state of Denmark. The members of the Bat Family have been pulled into some sort of drug-induced utopia, where Gotham City is clean and bright, with barely any crime (except for the rash of recent suicides). Barbara Gordon wakes up and is living life; her family is awesome, she fights crime during the day as the masked crusader Bluebelle, with her bestie Charise, a.k.a. Daybreak. Everything’s coming up roses, until everyone starts dying after enjoying a delicious Joker-brand ice cream treat.
Turns out, the head of Joker Brand Ice Cream remembers a husband and child. She also remembers them going to a roller rink, and dying horribly with smiles stuck in the dark forever. She also remembers always being happy, and the cognitive dissonance was too much. She dons a Joker mask, calls herself Mother Mercy, and prepares to kill a field trip of children with poisoned ice cream before Babs intervenes. Mother Mercy ends up dying from a sniper shot, but not before Babs suddenly has some less-than-perfect memories of the Joker as well.
Gail Simone doesn’t hesitate to help us understand how horrible this false reality would be. It’s really no wonder people are killing themselves left and right in Gothtopia; I cannot imagine the strain trying to reconcile utopia with reality would create. Can you imagine? Remembering the awful murder of your family, but only being able to feel joy? What a nightmare that would be. It’s really a shame we have to see Babs in this position. She has had a ROUGH time of it lately, and I know I just want her to have some happiness. It’s especially cruel to know that, though she seems extra super happy here, it’s not real. Im also concerned as to what this will do to Babs’ drive and determination. In regular, scary Gotham, Babs is overcoming adversity left and right. She was in a wheelchair not too long ago, she had to fight (and nearly kill) her own brother, and even her boyfriend got shot. The tragedies in her life have become a source of strength for her, challenges she has fought her way past. Without those challenges here, what sort of person is she? Is she able to stand in the face of something awful and refuse to back down?
I was unfamiliar with Robert Gill’s work before this issue. His style is pretty straight-forward, but he does some fancy pages when he’s dealing with these people’s memories.
Gil differentiates the true memories with a swirly, Joker-green background, and I love the way the ice cream logo bled into Joker from Death of the Family. Hopefully, instead of getting sucked into yet another Bat Family event, Simone will be able to use this opportunity to let Babs explore most recent memories of the Joker and begin to let go. This bright and sunny diversion is fun and all, but I want Babs to be able to get something out of this other than, “oh yeah, my real life is super shitty right now.” Not just a better appreciation for the things in her life that are good, but a real beginning for her when it comes to dealing with the baggage the Bat Family Drama has thrown her way lately. Plus, it’s fun seeing the happy version of stuff: come on, Daybreak instead of Knightfall? Mik, what do you think? Do you think this story will be bogged down by yet another Bat Family thing, or do you think this will be a great chance for Babs to really begin to heal herself?
Mikyzptlk: Shelby, I think you’ve asked the most important question that one should ask when thinking about Gothtopia as a whole: What does the main character get out of this? I think that is especially important when a particular book gets taken over by one of these increasingly common crossover events. I’m sure that John Layman knows exactly what he wants to say about Batman during Gothtopia considering that he came up with the concept in the first place, but do the creative teams of the individual tie-ins have anything to say through the lense of this event?
Tie-ins can be hit or miss for a variety of reasons, but I think that a part of what makes some of them hit is if the writer maximizes the potential of the tie-in by using it to propel whatever story they had going on prior to the invading storyline. Here, Gail Simone manages to let the theme of the previous arc shine through the seemingly overwhelming brightness of Gothtopia.
In the real world, Babs’ family has completely fallen apart. Her mother is often absent, her brother is dead (for all she knows), and her father has practically disowned her. However, in Gothtopia Babs is provided with an idealized version of reality. Babs’ mother isn’t gone in Gothtopia, she’s just “gone shopping.” Her brother James Jr.? He’s volunteering at the homeless shelter, “bless his heart.” Oh, and let’s not forget the pièce de résistance:
It’s a subtle and clever way to remind us of what is really going on not only with Batgirl, but with her series as well. The last line on this panel, “We’re kind of inseparable,” is downright heartbreaking. Babs wants nothing more than to have a loving family, and damn it, she deserves it too. Which is why it’s even more heartbreaking when the conclusion of this issue finds Bluebelle remembering her life as Batgirl. Note: this page directly follows the Joker flashback posted by Shelby above.
Ugh. That one gets me right in the feels. Babs hates her own life so much that she’d rather live in a world she knows to be a fabrication. Shelby, to answer your question, I do feel that this story can be used to make Babs stronger. It looks to me like Gail Simone will be able to use Gothtopia to elegantly transition this book into the next chapter that I assume she was already intending to begin anyway. For Babs, Gothtopia seems to be a personal denial of her new lot in life, but if we know one thing about Babs it is that she is strong. We know she will have the strength to wake up from this dream soon and that she will have the inner and outer strength to face her new and ongoing challenges.
Another thing that I have to mention about this issue before I wrap things up is the incredibly dark villain that Simone whips up for this adventure. Mother Mercy:
Shelby already mentioned the cognitive dissonance that drives this woman to madness, and it makes for an incredibly tragic, compelling and terrifying villain. Honestly, she could have been a fantastic addition to Batgirl’s rogues gallery, if not a particularly disturbing one. Another clever thing about Mother Mercy is that she’s an allusion to two of the most famous comic book stories in history.
The other Mother Mercy in DC’s lore is the alien being that created the Black Mercy plant. Which, if you might recall, puts its victims into a coma where they dream of an idealized reality. The other allusion speaks to the Joker, obviously, but to much more too.
As far as I’m concerned, Mother Mercy is the Joker of this faux reality. Not only does she work for “Joker Brand Ice Cream,” but her modus operandi is definitely Joker-esque. In essence, the Joker created Mother Mercy and she works as a kind of proxy of him in this reality. The final nail in the coffin is when Mother Mercy excuses her psychotic break by saying:
The Killing Joke is obviously an incredibly important part of the history of Batman and the Joker, but it’s arguably more important to the history of Barbara Gordon herself. That story is where she is shot and paralyzed, which redefined the character for decades and has been a huge part of Simone’s current run of this series.
Finally, if Mother Mercy is the proxy of the Joker in Gothtopia, then the conclusion of this issue features Batgirl triumphant over him. Kinda neat huh?
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?