By Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
One of my favorite anecdotes (not mine), involves some confusion at an Arby’s drive-thru — a woman orders orange juice and drives away with a cup full of au jus. Of course, the entire premise of that story requires us to accept that anyone would order orange juice at an Arby’s, but I like the punchline enough to justify that minor suspension of disbelief. And that really is how I think about suspension of disbelief: if it’s justified — even retroactively — I’ll happily go along for the ride; if not, then the very odd detail of the orange juice at the Arby’s drive-thru probably shouldn’t be there. Such is the case with Batgirl 21, which finds both Babs and Jim independently investigating the same supernatural phenomenon, but never quite justifies their choices.
Maybe I’m overestimating what it would take to get a police commissioner to take up an investigation himself — I get that this is Jim Gordon we’re talking about — but that he noticed something his detectives hadn’t hardly seems like a reason to shut them out of the case entirely. Actually, I don’t totally get why Babs isn’t sharing her findings with the Burnside cops, either. A throwaway line about how either one thought it might be too dangerous for the cops, or especially if there was some suspicion of police involvement, would solve this problem, but the bigger issue is that nothing is retroactively justifying the choice. There’s no real payoff for these two working together, either in terms of plotting, or in terms of their relationship. Sure, Babs reaches out to her Dad at the end of the issue, but there’s nothing in here to suggest that she wouldn’t have, otherwise. They aren’t estranged or drifting apart, and this investigation doesn’t give them a new purchase on their own lives or their relationships to one another.
It’s kind of a non-story — a boilerplate investigation (at least for Gotham) that just happens to feature these two investigators. That they have a connection outside of this investigation is entirely coincidental — change this to any other Gotham vigilante/cop pairing, and you don’t really lose anything. Or, to put it another way: the investigation doesn’t have any meaning to these characters. The creature doesn’t pay off a case that somehow impacted their relationship years ago. Nor does it have any kind of metaphorical father/daughter meaning. They feel like parts of a story drawn out of a hat, but unlike “Arby’s drive-thru” and “orange juice,” this story lacks the “au jus” punchline to justify that randomness.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?