Batgirl #47 review

Barbara Gordon wants nothing more than a quiet night in on her own. A moment of calm gives her a chance to reassess her priorities.

A peaceful few hours? Good luck with that.

The Joker. The monster who crippled her years previously, ending her career as Batgirl.

Thing is, though, Barbara Gordon didn’t fold after losing the use of her legs – she came back mentally stronger, using her formidable mind to forge a new crimefighting identity, Oracle. Eventually, a medical implant let her walk again, and Batgirl returned to the streets. She’s not going to let the Clown Prince of Crime destroy her life at a second attempt.

That’s not actually what the Joker wants, this night. He requires information.

What he’s after is part of the big Joker War crossover that I’m not bothering with – I’ve said it often, I’m sick of the Joker. I bought this issue, though, because while I hate The Killing Joke story – I can’t argue with the level of craft – I care about Babs. The Joker shooting her through the spine after invading her home became an iconic moment, but Babs never let it define her. She got some payback in an issue of Birds of Prey but the continuity has changed since then. I wanted to see how the current Batgirl creative team handled Babs coming face to face with the Batman Family’s greatest foe once more.

And the answer is, superbly. Writer Cecil Castellucci doesn’t have Babs in costume at all this issue – as with The Killing Joke, we see only the woman beneath the mask. But where the iconic Alan Moore/Brian Bolland story features Babs solely as victim, basically a prop, here she’s anything but. Without being preternaturally calm and superhumanly resilient, Babs is no helpless victim. She’s shocked by the Joker’s presence, but keeps her head and works to take control of the situation. The Joker considers Batgirl ‘the worst of the Robins’ and assumes she’s easy meat for psycho-sexual torment. Wrong.

Illustrator Robbi Rodriguez is required to homage one particular panel from that other story, but he makes no attempt to ape Bolland. The style is all the artist’s own – somewhere between naturalistic and cartoony – and it complements the script brilliantly. He captures Barbara’s grace, determination, her struggle to push beyond the pain… and boy, is he great at conveying creepiness. Remember the reflection in the kettle in the first batch of panels I posted? That skulking shadow two panels later? The images are subtle enough to be almost subliminal, building atmosphere even if they’re not actively seen. As for conveying action…

Jordie Bellaire’s colours add another layer of storytelling, the tones naturalistic except when emotions peak. Otherwise it’s the muted hues of Babs’ apartment and the orange glare of the city streets – as ever with Bellaire, it’s clever, artful work. Letterer Andworld Design does a fine job with the Joker’s trademark font, keeps Babs’ words suitably even and has a wild time with the many sound effects.

The cover by Giuseppe Camuncoli. Cam Smith and Jean-Francois Beaulieu does evoke the work of Bolland and Killing Joke colourist John Higgins. It’s a terribly well-executed piece almost guaranteed to create dread. And again, not a Batgirl costume in sight, just the sickest of suitors.

The book closes on a cliffhanger; I can’t imagine anyone reading this not coming back to see what happens next.

9/10

6 thoughts on “Batgirl #47 review

  1. So… let me see if I’m reading this correctly?
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    Batgirl crippled herself instead of Joker crippling her? Hard pass.
    Like you, I’m over the Joker and never have to read another story staring this character.

    But I’m sorry to see him crippling the story that was being told in Batgirl. Up to this point, the creative teams have managed to steer clear of the darkness that birthed the New 52 Batgirl, but this seems like we’re skating awfully close to the edge again.

    No harm no foul. This is the longest Barbara Gordon led series we’ve had, I think, so that’s something to celebrate. And I’ve enjoyed most of it.

    But I’m not really interested in seeing how the series wraps up. I’ll check it out if it gets rebooted.

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  2. Maybe I’ve read too many comics – well, obviously I have – but I just took that moment as Babs not so much crippling herself permanently as stopping the Joker being able to control her legs; she got back enough control to fight back and the tech can be replaced if she survived. Desperate measures seemed appropriate and if it turns out that she can’t be ‘repaired’, we get the one and only Oracle back.

    I’ve dipped in and out of Castellucci’s run and it took me several attempts to get through last issue… a fight scene that just went on and on in an exceptionally boring manner, then pages and pages of courtship. I can see what she was trying to do with the Jason scenes but the book felt terribly ill paced. With this issue, she shone, it was like an Audrey Hepburn ‘menaced girl’ thriller… actually, did Audrey do any of those beyond Wait Until Dark!

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    1. You’re probably right about how they’ll fix Barbara next issue.
      My complaint probably had more to do with theJoker being involved than any long term story (or short term) story plans.
      But come on… read too many comics? No such thing. Lol

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  3. This issue has the fandom abuzz, and for good reason. People are extremely passionate about what went down in Killing Joke, passionate about Barbara as Oracle, and passionate against and for her return as Batgirl in New 52. I wasn’t reading Batgirl until Rebirth so I don’t feel like I can contribute to that discussion.

    Looking strictly at the craft of this issue, it’s the best outing Castellucci has had on the title. (Maybe the only good one!) And it’s the best artwork in a long time. Rodriguez’s pages are crackling with energy, highly stylized but exciting. (And, he uses a ton of zip-a-tone, which always wins the day. Or is it Bellaire who adds it?) I wish he hadn’t come on board for such a controversial issue, and wish he was going to stick around for more than 3 issues. We may only get to see his Batgirl for part of the next 2 issues – if at all. He’s not involved in the series finale in Batgirl #50.

    This isn’t much of a Joker War tie-in. It can’t be reconciled with the action in Nightwing, who is fighting Batgirl along with Punchline on a different rooftop. Punchline has slashed Barbara’s leg badly, and is holding the knife against Barbara’s throat, when Nightwing stops her only to punch Barbara unconscious. (Sheesh!) Then Joker arrives to cackle with delight at the situation.

    So DC has essentially, and pretty unbelievably, dipped back into the Killing Joke well twice in the same month, in unrelated yet simultaneous stories, as Barbara gets attacked viciously either by Joker or his acolytes in two stories at once. Meanwhile her self-esteem is so low she’s been considering a relationship with a bad guy (Jason Bard) who hates her inner core, and she knows very well that he does. And in the ultimate character assassination, she’s cancelled. Where have we seen a female character treated as a puppet and then cancelled? Oh.

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    1. That’s terrible, there being two Batgirl meetings with the Joker. I really don’t understand why this kind of thing happens so often – the first example I recall is the Losers having two very different death scenes during Crisis on Infinite Earths. Why is the coordination so terrible? Is there not even a shared Google doc or something with the beats that have to be hit on it? It’s amateurish and shows disrespect for the readers.

      You’ll have seen by now that an upcoming Batman has Babs firmly in the Oracle seat, but who knows, in another issue the same month she may be ruddy Bat-Hound!

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      1. In that Joker War Zone preview, Barbara is also still wearing the Bat symbol, and so is Steph Brown while still in her Spoiler suit, while Cassandra is in a full Batgirl costume. I think it’s in a short story, but sometimes it’s the short stories that are very important.

        Both Batgirl and Nightwing were edited by Jessica Chen, with group editor Ben Abernathy! NO EXCUSE. I’d call this a breakdown with Castellucci.

        Schedules were altered due to the pandemic, but not enough to affect this Nightwing/Batgirl mess.

        Original schedule:
        May 20: Nightwing 72 and Batman 95
        May 27: Batgirl 47

        Actual:
        Jul 14: Nightwing 72
        Jul 21: Batman 95 and Batgirl 47

        Either way, the plan was always for Nightwing before Batgirl, and it’s pretty clear from the schedule as well as the dialog and editor’s note in Batgirl that Batman also comes before it.

        Tynion has said that at this stage the order doesn’t matter, but that Nightwing and Batgirl come before Batman 95 – contradicting the contents of Batgirl. Perhaps he contradicted it because he knows there was a story problem in Batgirl, and maybe this whole Batgirl arc (47-49) was supposed to come way before Joker War.

        The prior Batgirl writer, Mairghread Scott, tweeted out some serious complaints on Jun 23:

        “You know the day I knew I’d never be able to make it big in comics? The day I bumped into another writer in an airport and accidentally learned he was heading to DC’s Burbank offices for a Bat-family summit.

        “I was writing Batgirl at the time. I wasn’t invited.”

        “I had just started the gig and I desperately wanted to believe it was timing. I begged my editors to let me come in, for free, and at least sit in on summits that dealt with my characters. I was literally working up the street at the time.”

        “It didn’t matter.”

        “I was expected to shut up and execute. To chase and beg “higher up” writers who couldn’t be bothered to even let me know they were about to blow up months of work, then write revision after revision with no extra pay.”

        “It got so bad I literally couldn’t afford to work there any more because my pay was so low.”

        “I quit.”

        “I still blame myself for that. I thought I could be good enough to break through it, even if I knew it wasn’t about merit.”

        She got some pushback in the replies that, being new, she should not have expected inclusion.

        My guess is her Art of the Crime story was ruined, when it got shifted oddly into being the continuation of the Phantasm story that began in Nightwing. It didn’t make much sense.

        Seems the Batgirl and Supergirl characters and writers have been marginalized and forced to work around other peoples’ storylines, while given insufficient information and support to do a good job.

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