We’ve reached the bargaining phase of Batman’s 5 stages of grief and it’s Batgirl’s turn at the plate as the latest guest star. In addition to all of that it was also hinted in the last issue that Carrie Kelly would be showing up more and Two-Face would also rise up as the newest threat to face the Dark Knight in his most trying time. Sure sounds great so how did it all play out? Well, as you can see from the 2.5/10 score… not very well in my opinion.
Oddly enough, there isn’t any Carrie Kelly or Two-Face to be found, but this issue starts off strong. Very strong. Peter Tomasi captures the voice of Batgirl perfectly and it actually feels more like an issue of Batgirl than an issue of Batman & ____. I would even go so far as to say that this issue features one of my favorite Batgirl moments of the New 52 so far. The Bargain begins with Batgirl fighting thugs at the Gotham shipyard as she brings a halt to an incoming shipment of drugs to Gotham’s shore. As dark as that may sound, the narration from Batgirl is spot on with the character we’ve seen in Gail Simone’s series only the action we see has far less doom and gloom. Then Batman shows up acting like a total bad ass as he destroys the heroin shipment and quickly brings down the remaining goons. He’s still cold and distant toward Barbara, but it makes sense with how the bat-family has been behaving lately.
Batgirl is obviously hurt by this because she’s ready to make amends. It’s time for this family to heal and when Batman turns his back on her she goes to talk to her real family, her dad. The one man who she needs to talk to most and the one man she can’t admit the truth to. This is the moment I love. As your eyes scan down the page you see an image of Batgirl pouring her heart out from the ledge of Gordon’s home juxtaposed against the silence of Gordon cleaning his firearm. Her entire confession goes unheard, but just knowing that her father is close makes Barbara feel just a little bit better. It’s a very heartfelt scene and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Everything that follows in this book, however, is absolute trash. Spoilers pop up throughout all of this because I go off on tangents so be forewarned.
I’ve actually had a very hard time expressing myself on this issue since it was such a perfect storm of disappointment and disgust. It was a 2,000+ word article and then I deleted it all and started over again so I can distill what I hated down to something easier to read so we can get out of here. Such a bad comic doesn’t deserve such a big article.
Batman’s actions go beyond the worst grim portrayals of the 90’s and become downright stupid. That’s what I hate. I can move past the problems with Batgirl giving up her bat symbol. I’ve complained enough in the Batgirl reviews about how silly it is for her to give up being a symbol of the bat while still wearing pointy ears, a cape that looks like wings, and throwing batarangs. None of this is what really upsets me here. Yes, Batgirl frustrates me horribly on the final pages, but what bothers me most about this issue is the portrayal of Batman.
The bargaining phase actually felt more like the anger that was supposed to be emphasized in issue #20. It’s some of the worst characterization I’ve seen and it all starts when Batman foils a car theft and walks directly into the line of fire, letting the bullets ricochet off of his suit as he marches toward the criminals. Bullets bouncing off Batman? No. NO! He’s not Robocop. Batman shouldn’t do that. None of the Bat-family should do that. It happened before in an issue of Batwoman last year and I hated it then. It’s simply not what Batman does. It’s foolish, not bad ass. If he gets shot in the mouth he will die. I know we’re supposed to be seeing a very reckless Batman right now but this casts all credibility aside. When Batman can take a barrage of bullets as if he’s Superman then I don’t want to read Batman anymore. If I wanted to read about a billionaire in a suit of invincibility I’d pick up Iron Man, at least Tony makes me laugh.
From there we see Batman go to a hostage situation at a 7/11 or “24/7” as it’s called. This scene is one of the most spectacularly stupid things I’ve ever seen in a Batman comic. Batman infiltrates the building and has the drop on all of the hostage takers. What does he do? Does he go full-terminator like in the previous mission? Does he stealthily take them all down one by one? No. He waits for one of them to make a comment about food and then he announces his presence with a line about how none of the 7/11 food is good for you– sort of like the The Dark Knight moment of “Then you’re gonna love me!” only it takes longer to say and he doesn’t hit anyone after saying it. He just stands there. As you can imagine the baddies are very startled by all of this. Startled, but not terrified. The turn all of their uzi machine guns on Batman, who doesn’t move. He’s ready to negotiate. He’ll trade himself for the hostages. A) There’s no reason for the baddies to not blow him away. They have the muzzles right in Batman’s face. B) It’s out of character compared to what we saw in the previous 2 missions with a Batman who was at his most brutal and ready to crush skulls. In fact, Batgirl makes a point of how Batman is pushing himself too hard these days but his actions here are of a Batman who has gone soft or stupid. C) Why would he put himself in danger and then negotiate? The very second Batman is seen is the exact moment that negotiations should be over. He’s not a character who holds out an olive branch to nameless thugs. Batman is the terrible consequence of you not surrendering in time.
The worst part about the 24/7 attack is that Batman strikes down Bullock. He kicks a police lieutenant and one of his best allies simply because he goes “That’s enough Bats, we got it from–” as he tries to get Batman to stop pummeling a defeated crook. Batman not only kicks his ass for it but he talks a little trash before leaving. Now isn’t the time for this. Bargaining is about hope. A dying hope that the person can do something, anything to postpone a death or bring someone they lost back. It’s a stage of grief overwhelmed with regret and what we get in Batgirl #21 is a series of temper tantrums.
The big confrontation between Batman and Batgirl plays out much like every other meeting we’ve seen in the previous two issues. Batman doesn’t seem to be progressing at all through the five stages or maybe it’s so subtle I’m not seeing it. All I see is him getting angrier and angrier. Hell, their overly dramatic argument (lots of things are thrown, I hate it when this happens in any movie or book or TV show. It’s often used as such a cheap way to show fury and when it’s employed in a genre that’s already saturated with violence, well, the smashing of a computer monitor in a Batman comic isn’t going to shake me up the same way as the throwing of a plate in American Beauty). The nice characterization of Batgirl is also thrown out the window as she makes the situation more about her than Batman or Damian and even gets mad at Batman for bringing in so many criminals lately that the courts are overflowing. Worst of all, she gets so overly dramatic that she smashes Jason’s display case (I’m not sure if this was an artist mistake and it was supposed to be Damian’s outfit) and screams that she’ll be the new Robin if it will help save Batman from himself. Barbara is the one bargaining here. Not Batman. It’s a very poor way to show Bruce’s stages of grief.
And if an argument between Babs and Batman was to be the big moment of this issue, how on earth did Tomasi neglect to bring up the fact that BATGIRL WAS NOT AT THE SCENE OF DAMIAN’S DEATH. Grant Morrison didn’t use Barbara at all in the latest volume of Batman Inc. Where was she? Where the hell was Barbara at the moment Damian died? If she was there to help, maybe Damian would have lived! This is the big burning question that should have been asked. This is what could have generated the most drama and the most interesting debate of all.
As for the artwork, Gleason is gone and we instead have Cliff Richards doing pencils and Mark Irwin and Mario Alquiza doing the inks instead of the usual inker, Gray. The first few pages are the book at it’s best, but there are some truly awful panels here. The structure of Batgirl’s face is constantly in flux, the most emotional scenes are ruined by odd facial expressions, the larger shots have bizarre use of perspective in which the characters and items don’t match up with the angle of the floor, Bullock has brown hair, the Batmobile is just a lambo with fins… it’s a long list of mistakes I expect from Arkham Unhinged, not Batman & ___.
Another thing I found odd was that the cover was changed from the original solicit. The original colors looked so, so much better in my opinion. Why did the water need to be changed to blood?
Anyway, I’m done. I’m tired and in a bad mood after reading this book. I’m not even going to re-read what I wrote. It’s time to just walk away from this issue and see if anything good came out today. I’ll probably regret not giving it a lower score, honestly. This whole arc isn’t living up to expectations at all. Where’s the heart we saw in the Annual and issue #18? What the heck happened?
I finished it and said “Yikes. That was awful.” There are some really nice Batgirl moments in the first half of the comic but I hated everything else.