by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
There are no incidental details in prose. Or rather, there are no specific incidental details in prose. You might get a sketchy description of someone’s home or office, with the understanding that you can more or less fill in the blanks on what kind of furniture might be there, but if a specific item of furniture matters, it has to be mentioned explicitly. This makes it very difficult to introduce elements casually; if a specific item of furniture is mentioned, we can’t help but assume it will have some significance to the story. For most stories, that’s not a problem — indeed, faith that the details matter to the narrative might be fundamental to our enjoyment of them — but that gets complicated when there’s a mystery to be solved. That is, prose has a hard time giving us clues that don’t immediately broadcast themselves as clues; the very fact that it’s being mentioned betrays its significance.
Visual media, on the other hand, is full of details we often ignore or dismiss as incidental. That is, we can see the specific items of furniture in a room without ascribing any more significance to them than “set dressing,” meaning we can actually be surprised at their significance later. This is a devilish way to introduce clues in a mystery, forcing the reader to identify what is and isn’t significant. Hope Larson has always embraced this feature on Batgirl, allowing Babs to recall elements from earlier panels we might have missed (which in turn drives home how valuable her eidetic memory is to her sleuthing), but issue 12 brings an almost defiant confidence to understating plot points. Here it is in action:
Did you catch it? While the characters are offering the kinds of exposition so many Sherlock Holmes stories have led us to believe contain all of the clues, the most important plot point might actually be Babs glancing at that missing person poster on the bulletin board. Beyond simply placing that poster in the background of the scene, artist Eleonora Carlini has taken pains to make it look like an insignificant detail, shoving it so far to the side of the panel, we can’t even see the whole thing. It’s only when Babs flashes back to this moment (from a slightly different angle) that we have any indication that there might even be a missing person at the heart of this mystery. It’s a way for Larson and Carlini not only to keep us on our toes, but to remind us just how good Babs is at finding clues.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?