10 October 2012

"Batgirl" #13 (Dec 2012)

Batgirl #13
"A Blade of Memory" | "Death of the Family" Prologue
Gail Simone - Writer
Ed Benes - Pencils and Inks
Ulises Arreola - Colorist
Dave Sharpe - Letterer
Cover by Greg Capullo and FCP Plascencia
Brian Smith - Editor
Batman created by Bob Kane
Date of Publication: 10 October 2012
$2.99/32 pages

Though I really did enjoy Batgirl #0, I was irked that it meant two months would pass between issues #12 and #13. This was particularly concerning since issue #12 left off with Batgirl lying on the floor having just been stabbed by Knightfall. I mean, I knew Babs was gonna be alright and all...but that's the least opportune part in a story to take a time-out for an origin story! I understand why DC Comics wanted the stunt of a company wide #0 month on the anniversary of their New 52 relaunch, but it seems to me the marketing cart came before the storytelling horse this time around.

Anyway, I was already looking forward to resuming the "Knightfall" story and then last night, Gail Simone re-tweeted this from Larry's Comics:

Recall, Dear Reader, that The Great Escape only had three copies of Batgirl #0 last month an hour after they opened the day after it went on sale. As luck would have it, I had a very rough time going to sleep last night so I found myself awake this morning in time to get to The Great Escape when they opened. Knowing that demand was high for this issue, a friend of mine ran to another comic shop on his lunch break looking to secure me a copy. It was already sold out there, just a couple hours after I had bought mine.

So that's the context - the wait and the worry over demand - in which I found myself finally reading Batgirl #13. The original solicits for this issue featured a very different cover from the one that was published. The earlier cover art depicted Batgirl clutching her wounded side, a reminder of exactly where we had left off with this story at the end of Batgirl #12. It's savage and ominous, and frankly it fits the tone of this issue perfectly.
The cover art that was solicited for Batgirl #13.
We've seen Babs behind the 8 ball frequently in this book, which is one of its charms. There's something gratifying about seeing her rally herself to overcoming the antagonist at hand, whomever that may be. Wounded and entirely outmatched, Babs engages in a tête-à-tête with Knightfall. Out comes the truth of Knightfall's origin story, which has been teased in previous issues but what is shared here is surprising all the same. Charise Carnes's account of how she became Knightfall is nearly as touching as it is depraved. In fact, it's almost the kind of origin story one would accept for an antihero or a particularly aggressive vigilante. Even though Batgirl recognizes that Charise is too far gone to be saved, we're left with a sense of sympathy for her all the same.

This is perhaps the strongest appeal of Simone's storytelling. In the pages of Batgirl, she's putting her own values under the microscope. "Knightfall" is a crucible for the values of defending the weak versus opposing predators. Ultimately, Simone by proxy of Batgirl rejects the argument that escalation is an acceptable doctrine. Batgirl displays compassion for both a young kid she had actually apprehended and busted up at the beginning of this arc, and even for Charise Carnes's tormentor - a guy that Batgirl herself would surely have relished in tracking and taking down had his activities been brought to her attention in the first place. It's refreshing to read in a genre dominated by characters who got into the superhero business with a chip on their shoulders that Batgirl is driven by her heart and values. Contrary to political propaganda, one can promote fairness and compassion without being a doormat.

As regards Ed Benes's artwork, I was quite happy with his work here. The action scenes are dynamic and exciting, making shrewd use of splash pages (take note, Batwoman!). Yet what comes through most are the emotions of the characters: the desperation of Batgirl, young Charise's horror and current Charise's seething rage. I read Batgirl last of my monthlies (presently I'm down to just this and Detective Comics), because I know it's the most dependable. One of the reasons is that Batgirl is an emotional book, driven by emotional characters. Benes's artwork perfectly reflects the tone of Simone's writing, and I look forward to their continued collaboration.
"Death of the Family"
The published cover makes very clear that Batgirl #13 is a prologue to the next major Batman crossover story, and it's very likely a big part of the high demand for this issue. Casual readers likely expected to see something of The Joker here, a rematch that's been the talk of fans ever since we learned Barbara Gordon was going to return to being Batgirl. The truth is, this is 99% entirely a Batgirl story. Only a single incident in the very end teases something larger, to be explored in the next issue. It's almost shameful for DC to so quickly bill this issue as something that it isn't.

A friend of mine bought Batman #13 (the first official part of "Death of the Family") and I plan to read his copy but I have no intention of delving into the story beyond the issues that are part of my regular reading. I just have no desire to buy an issue of any comic because I feel I "have" to buy it. Whatever comes of "Death of the Family," I'm only really interested in it in as much as it affects what I'm already reading. If it affects Catwoman, Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Suicide Squad and/or Teen Titans, so be it. I don't read those comics so I don't really care what the ramifications of "Death of the Family" are for them.

It looks as though this crossover will dominate the Bat-books for the next three months. I'm sure I'll enjoy the issues I read, but I'm already looking forward to its conclusion so we can get on with business as usual in the pages of Batgirl.

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