Written by Gail Simone
Art by Daniel Sampere, Jonathan Glapion, and Marc Deering
Release Date: April 10, 2013
SPOILER ALERT: There are two major surprise moments (I am loathe to use the phrase ‘WTF’ as neither moment is inconceivable, nor displeasing) that occur in this issue. The one alluded to on the gatefold cover I will discuss freely. The other I will simply allude to obliquely. Travel further at your risk!
If a single theme permeates this chapter of Batgirl, it’s unquestionably that of family, in all its permutations. Central to Barbara’s character has always been her relationship to her father, Commissioner James Gordon, but in recent years, many other threads have begun to wrap themselves around the Dominoed Daredoll’s life in such a way as to flesh out her psychology and familial ties more significantly. The reemergence of her mother who abandoned the family when Babs was young. The development of her brother James Jr. into a psychopath rivaling the Joker, providing an intellectual counterbalance to Babs’ own ethical genius. The separation from not just Batman, but the entire Bat-family, toward an independent existence, and methodologies much more influenced by the Gordon in her than the Bat. And certainly not the least of all: the introduction of a new best friend and roommate in Alysia Yeoh, who’s been harboring a secret of her own since the early days of the rebooted series.
All of Barbara’s family ties come under the microscope in this issue, in such a way that it makes her life exceptionally complicated moving forward, but also rounds out her character as so perfectly human and full of influence that she can almost believably jump off the page. There have been many jokes about the arrival of “new writer Gail Simone” taking over for that slacker, former writer Gail Simone, these last few months, but there’s some truth behind the giggles. Simone treats this issue as a truly fresh, but emotionally deep, jumping on point — a new beginning for Batgirl in relation to pretty much every aspect of her life, and an excellent place for readers who have been hesitant to pick up the series to join in.
We see a beautiful moment of Babs in her daily life, something we’ve not had an opportunity to catch back up to since before the events of Death of the Family. Without spoiling the revelation that arises in that moment, I can say that I was exceptionally impressed and moved by the simplicity of Barbara’s emotional response — the epitome of what every vulnerable soul opening up in the face of the unknown wishes to get back from the universe. Sure, it avoids the who-what-when-how-why that makes a compelling comic book story, but instead reflects a reality of response that resonates far deeper than pages of dialogue ever could. The moment is appropriately momentous without feeling gratuitous, and Simone’s careful pacing and chosen dialogue has produced a milestone page for a community that will be remembered and reproduced for years to come.
The meat of the issue, of course, is the confrontation between Barbara and James Jr., as portrayed on the gatefold cover, and sadly, it seems as final as the cover would imply. But what we get out of this moment that is far more significant than just another showdown is a real analysis of the differences between Batman and members of his extended family. I argued at the end of Death of the Family that Batman never, ever kills. And that’s unquestionably true, because he is neither a soldier (like counterpart Kate Kane), nor a cop (like Commissioner Gordon), roles which do not revel in killing by any means, but understand it as an unfortunate result of circumstances where no other choice remains. Whereas Bruce Wayne — and I’d argue the children he personally raised and who accepted his teaching — cannot see a circumstance where killing is a negotiable scenario, Barbara was raised by a policeman, and therefore has a different core tenet that does not make the act inconceivable, even with deep regret attached. I could go on and on about what the ramifications for Babs are with each member of her blood or chosen family, but I just encourage the reader to step back, reread once or so, and start to draw the lines across the page themselves.
Where Simone takes Batgirl next is uncertain. What is assured, however, is that Barbara’s path continues to be fraught with the sort of complex ethical dilemma and resolution perfect for a hero with a degree in psychology and the deep sense of morality Babs has consistently portrayed throughout her history. If chapter one of Batgirl’s journey in the New 52 was overcoming her encounter with the Joker, then chapter two definitely starts here with the spectre of James Jr. A beautifully rendered issue, from start to finish, from dialogue to art, and a magnificently tight plot throughout, Batgirl #19 is my book of the week, and perhaps even year. Thank you, DC Comics, for your commitment here to complex storytelling that raises the reader up, probes the unknown, and provokes emotional thought. It is not unappreciated by any means.