15 November 2012

"Batgirl" #14 (Jan 2013)

Batgirl #14
"A Courtship of Razors" | Death of the Family tie-in
Gail Simone - Writer
Ed Benes and Daniel Sampere - Art
Vicente Cifuentes - Inks, pgs 13-20
Mark Irwin - Inks, pgs 11, 12
Ulises Arreola and Kyle Ritter - Colors
Dave Sharpe - Letters
Ed Benes and Ulises Arreola - Cover
Katie Kubert - Assistant Editor
Brian Cunningham - Editor
Batman created by Bob Kane
Date of Publication: 14 November 2012
$2.99/32 pages


I generally open my comic reviews with some context. Last week when I went to The Great Escape with a friend before we saw Skyfall, I signed up with their holds program to ensure that I got Batgirl each month beginning with issue #14 because they're getting much harder to snag before selling out. I strolled in this afternoon, picking up Detective Comics #14 for myself, Batman #14 for a friend and Legends of the Dark Knight #2 (same friend and I are splitting it, trading off the buying each month and each of us reading the book). Lo and behold, they did indeed already have my Batgirl #14 waiting behind the counter.

I started tonight with my friend's Batman #14. I'd read his copy of #13 last week and was curious to see what happened. I won't spoil that here, but it was pretty obvious what the implications were for Batgirl #14. I wanted to rush straight to it, but I always read Batgirl last because it's my favorite. Next, I read Legends of the Dark Knight #2; not part of the "Death of the Family" story but eerily timely. Then 'Tec #14 which kinda-sorta fits into "Death". And then I was left staring at Batgirl #14.

I'll be honest. I debated not reading it at all and going to bed, leaving it for tomorrow. Delayed gratification? Maybe, but I'm not exactly known for my willpower. The truth is, I was squeamish about opening it. Issue #13 ended with Barbara's mother being abducted by three men in a recreation of The Joker's vicious assault on Barbara in Batman: The Killing Joke. (Babs was also recovering from injuries sustained fighting Knightfall that should have had her laid up in a hospital bed for weeks, but I'll forgive her swift recovery.)

Throughout the previous 14 issues (and Annual), Gail Simone has tested Barbara with a parade of conflicts designed to suss out our heroine's true nature: her values, her compassion, her self-confidence and, yes, her physical prowess as a fighter have all been put through the ringer. When I read a Batman story, I take for granted that he'll have the upper hand at all times and even if he doesn't appear to have it, I know he'll regain it momentarily. He's Batman. That's what he does.

In Simone's hands, though, Batgirl doesn't fare so well. She prevails in the end, of course, but it's nowhere near as neat or tidy. And so I reluctantly opened Batgirl #14 knowing that Babs herself will survive...but all other bets were off. Her mother? Her father, the intrepid police commissioner? Roommate Alysia, last seen beginning to date Babs's psychotic brother, James, Jr.? For that matter, James, Jr.? The entire Bat-family? Hell, even hunchback Harold was on the table and I don't even think he exists in The New 52!

We open with intensity and it never slows. Not for a single panel. At one point, Simone tweeted that she was working on something really dark, surprising stuff for this issue. I thought I had favorited it so I could refer back to it, but apparently I didn't and after spending nearly 40 minutes scrolling through her tweets, I still can't find it. Seriously, Gail Simone tweets more than just about anyone I follow except Rosanne Cash, and I didn't realize how much of it is actually spent replying to people until I tried to find this one tweet.

Anyway, story page 5, panel 5: "He knows. He knows." Even after having already read Batman #14, this was the most chilling moment in all four comics I read tonight. I've read Detective Comics since its first issue as well, but because that's the only Batman book I follow, I don't really think of myself as necessarily keeping up with the Caped Crusader. "Death of the Family" will only mean to me whatever its effects are in 'Tec...and Batgirl. I care about Barbara Gordon. I care about Batgirl, both as a character and as a comic. I felt a sort of twisted thrill reading Batman #14, but I felt totally threatened reading Batgirl #14.

The art has been terrific on this book from the beginning, though this might be the strongest example to date. Kudos to Ed Benes, Daniel Sampere and Vicente Cifuentes, as well as Mark Irwin, Ulises Arreola and Kyle Ritter for their collective part in telling this story. The range of emotions on Barbara's face, even in just the first few pages, is captivating. She's alternately terrified, furious, stunned and determined, fluctuating from one panel to the next. One might expect to see her move from one to the next in a progression, but instead her emotions are dictated by the revelation of each panel. Just as she's recovered from one moment comes another that provokes an entirely different emotional reaction. She's off-balance throughout this entire issue, and that keeps us off-balance, too.

Story page 7, panel 2: Barbara flying into action wearing just a shirt - Maybe the most kinetic image we've seen yet, and Babs has done a lot of fighting. Story page 11: Barbara and Alysia - I don't care what Barbara thinks; this just can't be the end of Alysia in this book! That's right: I care about Barbara's roommate enough to be bothered by the prospect of her not being in the book anymore. Then there's that last page. After the anxiety-inducing tension of the issue itself, that last page is actually almost a relief. I needed to stop there, I think. There's something oddly comforting about there being a cliffhanger here, if for no other reason than that it didn't end with page 5. That would have been agonizing!

This brings me to a point I've made previously when discussing Batgirl and that's that it really is a perfect monthly book. A lot of comics are suitable for collected editions. Batwoman, for instance, is really a series of graphic novels presented in serialized form first rather than a monthly comic later collected. Batgirl, however, takes full advantage of that four week wait between issues to pay off our anticipation while rebuilding it for the next issue. Anyone who's trade-waiting on this book is missing out on a large part of the fun.

But seriously, issue #15 needs to come out, like, tomorrow because HOLY. DAMN.