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.