After a confrontation with Joker, Barbara Gordon has to deal with lingering stress over the fight, and figure out what to do now that she’s removed her implant. To top things off, James Jr. is back, and seemingly wants to try to mend their relationship.
This issue, while dealing with the fallout of Barbara’s face off with the Joker, works as a set up for the title’s final arc. It reintroduces her family, shows their tense dynamics, pulls in an unexpected character, and starts a murder mystery plot.
The story opens up with a few pages of Barbara having a nightmare. It sets the stage to show her own internal conflict and for the tension between her and her family that becomes an important part of the story. And there is a lot of tension between them. In fact, more than anything else, the issue focuses on them and their relationships.
It reintroduces both Jim and Jim Jr. and refocuses readers on where they are and what’s happened to them. I think it’s a good idea to get us up to date, and to have Barbara confront them on a number of things, but I’m also not sure how to feel about how some of it was handled. Babs is very confrontational towards both her dad and Jim Jr, and some of it feels a little contradictory, which might just be the nature of families –especially those as complicated as the Gordons– but some of it just feels off.
The part I have the problem with is how harsh Babs is acting towards her dad. I get her distrust of her brother, but she lashes out equally towards Jim. She’s angry because he hasn’t been around, and now suddenly wants to be. My thing is, he wasn’t out of her life because he wanted to be, he was poisoned and brainwashed by a super villain. If I were Barbara I’d be happy he was okay not angry at him and demanding to know where he’s been. Equally, his attempts at helping her make sense, he’s her dad and she just told him she got mugged and her implant was busted. Naturally he is going to be worried. The book uses Barbara’s anger at him to reinforce the idea that she’s independent and doesn’t need to lean on her family, but that doesn’t mean she can’t or shouldn’t. It also doesn’t mean she should lash out like this at her dad who’s she’s just gotten back.
I think her scenes with her brother go better. She’s distrustful, but they’re still siblings, and still grew up together, and their interactions feel more natural. Like when you’ve been fighting with your sibling but you share a common goal, if you could share a common goal with a psychopath. This is especially noticeable when they go to find her implant. They’re talking about childhood memories, but James Jr. is framed in a much darker panel, and by Barbara’s blood, making the moment feel far less innocent than the dialogue might paint it to be. It’s good to show this dynamic now, since JJ will most likely be a main figure in the rest of the arc.
Beyond dealing with her family, the issue also resolves the issue of Barbara removing her implant in the previous one. Here it is made clear that she dug the implant out of her back, though looking back it doesn’t seem like a precise digging out of an implant, but instead a stabbing of herself to break it. But, the narrative couldn’t fix her as easily if it had been legitimately broken, and so it’s found with relative ease, and is in great shape considering.
Once she’s got the implant back, Babs then spurns all further help from her family, and ends up calling Luke Fox to help her replace it. I have so many questions about this bit. Why couldn’t she just return to the hospital –a hospital she let JJ talk them out of by the way– and have them do it? It’s a legitimate implant, and if a civilian with no medical training could fix her then surely doctors could too. The wires being fried and Babs not knowing how to fix them reason also doesn’t fly for me, this is Oracle we’re talking about, she would know how her implant works. And even then, what does Luke know about it that she doesn’t? Again, why not go to the hospital where they could deal with it? And if she’s so set against that, why not call Frankie? We might not have seen her since the Oracle bot arc, but they were still on good terms then. It just feels like an odd thing to do, bringing Luke back just to fix this one thing.
Also, really what was the point in tearing it out and putting it back in the very next issue? It takes away some of the seriousness of the act, and makes it feel like something Barbara can just be flip about. She and Luke talk about how the implant shouldn’t just be torn out whenever, but the seriousness of that conversation doesn’t land since the situation is easily over and done with. It would have made more sense to have her need to wait on it to be repaired. That would have also added conflict on her part, and some weight to her own frustrations over Joker having “taken her down again”.
Beyond my questions of why he’s here, the scene with Luke generally feels really awkward. He spends the whole time calling her Babes and generally the whole scene has this odd feeling of intimacy, with them leaning close or him telling her she can be scared around him. It’s not until Barbara is standing again that she tells him she’s seeing someone. I know they dated previously, but if they’re not together and she’s as into Jason as we’re supposed to believe, then Barbara should have spoken up sooner. The awkwardness of the scene overshadows some of the good moments, like the two of them discussing their parents and thoughts about Gotham.
Luke himself brings up some questions of continuity with the rest of the Bat-books. It’s not just him, but events around him that have me scratching my head. Babs is in Gotham right? Why is her part mostly normal compared to the utter chaos going on in all the other books? Every other book shows Gotham as a total war zone with Clowns everywhere as Joker’s taken over the city. But in Batgirl the city is normal, quiet, and even though people are talking about what’s going on, it’s like it hasn’t spread to this specific spot. Castelluci has been really good about incorporating continuity into the book, so when things don’t line up it confuses me. If this title really is working outside of canon, it would have been better to downplay some of this, or not mention it beyond what’s really needed to help prevent questions of how it fits in.
Something I do really enjoy about this issue, is how soft and hard the art feels. Rodriguez’s light and airy lines paired with sharp angles on characters, and Bellaire’s colors blend together to make this issue feel tense but also bright and open when it needs to be. The moments after Babs heads back out as Batgirl again are a great example of this. She’s excited again, but joyful and the colors match that being bright and vibrant. Rodriguez furthers that mood by giving her a delighted expression as she takes her first dive.
The same can be said for the feelings of tension, I spoke a bit about this when I talked about Babs and Jim Jr. talking, but another good place is when everyone learns of the murder featured at the end of the issue. The colors change to deep red tones, to signify the darker turn the narrative has taken. A great example of this is how in one panel Bab’s is bright, with oranges and the very next features her as a silhouette, with the background painted red.
Speaking of the murder. It comes in the last couple pages and seems to lead into what’s going to be the main conflict for the rest of this arc, which is the murder of a young woman.
That young woman not only looks just like Barbara, but she’s been dressed up as Batgirl as well. There’s all kinds of things I could speculate here, but I’ll wait to see how it plays out next issue.
The energy leading up to the end of the issue is high, and it works. Seeing the last page I found myself already theorizing who did it and why. Despite some awkwardness in the narrative, I’m interested to see how everything plays out over the next couple issues
- The Gordon family dynamics
- The colors are really stunning
- You’d like to see Batgirl deal with a murder mystery
Batgirl #48 has some odd places, and parts that don’t seem to make sense, but generally it’s an interesting start to the title’s final arc. It fixes the issue of Barbara removing her implant, and introduces Luke Fox to the narrative. At the same time it also brings back the whole Gordon family as protagonists as they deal with family drama, and a new murder that looks like it will involve all of them in some way or another.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.