Patrick: One of the tricks to performing satisfying long form improv is the ability to call out an unusual thing and deal with it. In fact, most of the Upright Citizens Brigade’s comedic philosophy is based around that single truth: whatever’s happening, let’s identify it, explore it and process it. “Don’t be coy” is what that usually breaks down to. Issue 30 of Batgirl is mercilessly coy, refusing to share its biggest secret, but still tries desperately to mine pathos out of it. The result is an emotional clusterfuck — one that I doubt would be satisfying even if the powers that be deemed us worthy of Forever Evil‘s biggest reveals.
Elephant in the room: SOMETHING HAPPENED TO NIGHTWING. Between Forever Evil 6 and the fact that Nightwing is ending its run with a issue 30 (not written by series writer Kyle Higgins), we can jump to one pretty logical conclusion: Dick Grayson is dead. Or… right? Babs’ running voice over will not stop bringing up Dick as someone who is gone, taking special care to talk about him in the past tense — and even correcting herself when she accidentally uses the present tense. As far as Barbara knows, Dick Grayson is gone.
I wanna stop right there for a second because there are so many problems piling up — and I haven’t even begun my recap yet — that we just need to address some of the problems with this kind of storytelling. The first problem is one of timing. This is a reactionary issue, something that can be immensely satisfying when the character and the reader are allowed to share an emotional state of mind. Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man mined the reader’s affection to Cliff (and, more generally, the Baker family) in the fallout of Rot World. Naturally, we mourn the loss after the character dies. That’s how emotions work: it’s “stimulus” followed by “response,” not just a “response” hanging out there by itself. I know, I argued a few months ago that reading the Green Lantern Corps epilogue to Wrath of the First Lantern before the actually finale was released actually felt like an interesting commentary on the inevitability of Green Lantern comics, but Batgirl is too emotionally honest to engage in that kind of detached commentary.
But that’s an isolated incident right? Geoff Johns and David Finch aren’t going to casually delay emotional stimulus on the reg. The deeper problem, and one I don’t see changing any time soon, is the inseparable connection between series such that what happens in one requires an emotional reaction in another. Again, this is something we encountered about a year ago when Damian died. That issue of Batgirl (interestingly, also not written by Gail Simone) shoehorned in the loss of a character that had never appeared in the series. The actual story of Barbara Gordon loving Damian, losing Damian and mourning his death is told in the spaces between series. The same is true here, unless I’ve forgotten a cameo, Dick doesn’t appear in this series at all (though Babs does appear in an issue of Nightwing). There is something appealing about the interactive nature of kind of storytelling — you get more out by putting more in. Thing is: I don’t want to have to read the entirety of DC’s line in order to emotionally “get” what’s happening in any given issue.
Sorry for the rant, y’all. It’s such a miniscule part of the issue, I debated even bring it up (other than to say “oops”). Honestly, none of Barbara’s actions are affected by her grief. None. Barbara picks up a demon-readin’ on her EMF, and investigates a slumber party that has successfully summoned a horror from beyond. The creature, called the Midnight Man, mimics its victims, but not in any convincing or relevant way. Batgirl is able to repel the beast with a mix of sage and fire (y’know, like the Simon & Garfunkle song).
Maybe if there was more to hang on to here, I wouldn’t have my litany of complaints about the timing of the issue, but not even the internal emotional moments track. When she delivers the final blow to the Midnight Man, Batgirl shouts “You wanna know my name? I’m Batgirl!” even though her own identity was never put into question.
There’s also a super clumsy comparison between this issue an a horror movie, with Barbara questioning her ability to take down the monster. Frustratingly, none of the storytelling takes any of its cues from the horror genre: not the pacing, not the atmosphere, not the art. The closest the issue comes to emulating horror is with the teen characters that summon Midnight Man, but even they lack the characteristics that would make them register as slasher movie archetypes (the nerd, the jock, the funny one, the slut, virgin… look, we’ve all seen Scream, this shit should be easy).
BLORG! Spencer, I don’t think this issue satisfied me on any level… other than, of course, fueling my righteous rage. I guess it’s sorta interesting that there are more supernatural baddies running around Gotham, but if we really are in the aftermath of Forever Evil, I’d guess the city’s got bigger problems. I don’t know buddy, did you find something more to like in this than I did?
There actually is one thing I’ve been thinking a lot about in regards to this issue, Patrick, but it has very little to do with the actual content of the issue itself. I don’t really have all that much to talk about, though, so here we go: the idea of “doors” has a lot of relevance to Barbara Gordon. The worst moment of Barbara’s life is the moment a madman came through her front door and shot her in the spine. Meanwhile, what’s the Midnight Man if not a monster that comes in through the front door? The comparisons are too similar to be a complete coincidence, yet writer Marguerite Bennett does nothing with the idea; at the least she could have shown some anger from Barbara towards the kids for straight-up inviting their monster through their door.
Not that Bennett would be under any obligation to use that idea, but it certainly strikes me as more interesting than anything else in this issue. The thing is, while this issue certainly has its fair share of problems and weaknesses, a lack of ideas isn’t one of them. If anything, there’s too much going on here, so much so that none of Bennett’s ideas get a chance to stick. First there’s the frustratingly vague, ill-timed Nightwing stuff. Patrick, you said that none of Barbara’s actions are driven by her grief, but I believe that they are certainly intended to be, as Nightwing and his views and strategies are the driving force behind Babs’ internal monologue, but none of that comes across in her actual actions, which are as clever and decisive as always. The “horror movie trope” stuff is just as bad, fizzling out almost as soon as it starts, mentioned too few times to ever gain any traction.
Perhaps my least favorite idea is Barbara’s constant comparisons between herself and the Robins, her constant musings about how different their paths are. Not only is the repetition of the theme annoying, but so is the ridiculously purple prose; worst of all, though, is that Bennett is just as coy with this concept as she is with Nightwing’s fate. For as much as Batgirl harps about her path being different from a Robin’s, she does nothing to expound upon what actually makes those paths differ. Even worse, Babs spends so much time reminiscing about her training with Batman and late-night movie marathons with the Robins that there really seems to be no difference between them; as far as this narrative is concerned, Batgirl’s doing everything the Robins do, so how are they different?
Even the monster is uninspired. For whatever supernatural horror the Midnight Man instills, it’s basically just Clayface mixed with a little bit of Tar Pit and Inque. It can’t even shapeshift as well as Clayface! Speaking of which, I know Patrick already laughed at it, but I’ll reiterate: the idea of the Midnight Man copying identities is so tacked-on and inconsequential that it’s laughable. Robert Gill’s art isn’t much better; at its best it’s basically a pretty decent approximation of the typical DC/Batgirl house style, but considering I haven’t been all that impressed by said house style lately, that’s not saying much.
Ultimately, Bennett even leaves any explanations as to why the Midnight Man suddenly came to life as a mystery. That wouldn’t bother me if the plot or characters or art was good enough to distract me from the inconsistencies, but that’s woefully not the case; all the major elements of this issue fail. I hate writing negative reviews. I want to like Bennett’s work; I want every comic I read to be the best comic I’ve ever read, but I’m just having a hard time finding much of anything good to say about this comic. The Midnight Man should have stayed behind closed doors.
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?