Surprise Morals in Batgirl 18

By Drew Baumgartner

Batgirl 18

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

There’s a certain type of pat morality we expect of a Christmas special. Even the most cynical characters and series might find comfort and joy in the season. Indeed, the insistence on moral lessons at the end of Christmas stories seems to supersede the typical tone and characterization of the series as a whole, giving “Christmas specials” more in common with one another than they have with their own series. It’s a common enough phenomenon that we both expect and accept it right from the jump, but that’s exactly the expectation Hope Larson and Sami Basri thwart in Batgirl 18.

The issue has all of the trappings of the classic Christmas special, right down to the A Christmas Carol-inspired moral structure. Only, in this case, the one learning the true meaning of Christmas isn’t an aged miser but a broish perfume magnate, and he isn’t taken on a tour of his life by ghosts, but by Batgirl and her friends. And most importantly, he isn’t sent on this journey by his deceased business partner, but by Harley Quinn, who is maybe trying to teach him a lesson about his insensitive ways.

It’s that “maybe” that really makes the issue for me. Harley refers to Bradley Burr as “a very bad boy,” suggesting that her little mission is about making him better, but the lesson she ultimately imparts is that presents are “the reason for the season.” For all of her machinations, Harley’s game wasn’t about morality (or even evaluating Bradley’s life) at all — it was more about guessing whatever her weird twist on morality might be.

But that doesn’t stop Bradley from learning a lesson, anyway. Babs tries to frame this whole thing as a reason for Bradley to clean up his act, but Bradley has a decidedly more privileged perspective on the whole thing:

Bradley misses the point

It’s a shitty takeaway, but he’s not exactly wrong. Except, in a kind of Christmas miracle, his employees decided they’d had enough of his shit, so quit en masse and mount some kind of legal suit against him. He’ll have to face the consequences of his actions, after all, but counter to our expectations, they come from his regular, mortal coworkers, not from some kind of ghostly intervention. The comeuppance isn’t magical, but the result of powerless people putting their voices together against their oppressor. It’s an important moral for our time, but not one we might have expected from the Christmas special setup.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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