Review: Batgirl Vol. 8: The Joker War hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

I’ve stated before that I don’t think Cecil Castellucci’s run is Batgirl at its finest, and Batgirl Vol. 8: The Joker War is no exception. This volume is better than the last in at least that we don’t see Barbara Gordon shunted off to a fantasy dimension, but still, quite aside from the story, there’s enough inconsistent details and poor characterization that the whole thing just feels sloppily done.

It’s a bit astounding that there’s no new Batgirl book announced on the horizon with this one ending, something that hasn’t been the case for roughly 10 years; at the same time, I do tend to think Barbara’s in better hands with Tom Taylor over in the post-Future State Nightwing than she’s been in her own title for a while.

[Review contains spoilers]

There’s three main stories in Batgirl: Joker War, all of which have their share of troubles, but freshest in my mind is the end, the “Gordons Never Give Up” story. Someone’s been killing women with red hair in Gotham, and in the end that someone turns out to be James Gordon Jr., struggling with a multiple personality disorder. Confronted with his own villainy, James Jr. kills himself by jumping off a building.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

I object on any number of levels. First, the story is such that there’s really no potential villain offered in the story except James, and then lo and behold he turns out to be the culprit, albeit “unknowingly.” Second, much of the story involves the three Gordons bickering — Jim Gordon doesn’t want Barbara taking risks, Barbara’s mad because Jim’s being overprotective, and both of them are angry at James even for just showing his face.

Barbara has nearly never trusted James, but much of this flies in the face of the second chance Jim was giving James in Batman: The Man Who Laughs, even though this story references that one. Further, Jim seems staunchly against the Bat-family in general and Batgirl in particular, a weird anti-vigilante stance that supposedly comes from his having been “infected” by the Batman Who Laughs but is overall poorly explained. Jim’s even bickering here with now-commissioner Harvey Bullock, even though we’ve been given no reason otherwise why the two would be on the outs.

But finally we have the scene where James kills himself, an unfortunate end for one of the better new Bat-villains of the past decade or so (though never used since as well as in Batman: The Black Mirror). We’ve very much been here before, notably in the aftermath of yet another Joker attack, when Batgirl’s batarang knocked James off a bridge and seemingly killed him, and Jim Gordon tried to arrest Batgirl for it just the same as he does here (not withstanding, as the story presents, he’s not even a cop any more). There, at least, there was an out that could bring James back, but here, a resurrection would seem in poor taste, such that I think this sticks for a while.

I can’t see, here at the end of this Batgirl series, how this adds much to the Batgirl character (when later Castellucci via Batgirl decries Barbara’s lack of a rogues gallery), but rather only takes away. Further, I thought it a particularly questionable story choice that Castellucci’s Batgirl doesn’t even try to save James but fail — instead she can’t make it across the span of a rooftop in time, and bafflingly doesn’t even seem to have a batarang or grappling hook to throw.

These kinds of head-scratching moments pervade the book. In the first story, Barbara describes a philanthropist and seemingly accomplished scientist (who also turns out, no surprise, to be the story’s villain) as someone she believes “can barely light a light bulb” (so much for being a detective or a tech genius). That the woman has grotesque golden statues that happen to look like missing people bothers no one except Barbara and her associates. Guest-star Batwoman Kate Kate refers to Batman as “Batsy” and tells Batgirl that she misses their “chats,” when equally we’ve never known the two to be friends. In a scene of Barbara looking at holographic images of James' victims, she begins smashing holographic balls amidst them for no reason I could discern.

There is no small awkwardness in this book’s Joker appearance, given how loaded Joker appearances are in the context of Batgirl, how many times this “ultimate remach” well has been revisited, and that this encounter even involves a paralyzed Barbara laying on her back with the Joker in her apartment. There’s a cool (but icky) visual in that Barbara stabs herself in the back to take out the implant that the Joker is controlling, and Castellucci uses Barbara’s history nicely in Luke Fox returning to help Barbara reset the implant again — but that’s all predicated on Luke having helped Barbara the last time that the very same thing happened, a recurring issue in the book.

Castellucci’s 50th (final) issue is a curious ode to this era of increased recognition of inequality and injustice and the protests against it. Nothing wrong with that, though the railing against the system feels less true to Barbara Gordon than authorial fiat; Batgirl needs only to feel she doesn’t make a difference if the writer wishes it so, just the same as Batman here is dismissive of the Gotham Homeless Fund but is supporting orphanages and other such shelters in his own title.

One of a couple of additional short stories by Castellucci sees Batgirl taken for granted by a variety of DC entities (Flash calls her “Hawkgirl”). She finally decides to blow them all off to fight her own viral villain (called “Vi Ross,” no less) while the others wonder where she’s gone. Again, it’s not as though these things don’t need to be examined — whether the more prominent heroes relying too much on the second-tier ones or the male heroes expecting the female Batgirl to be everything for everyone — but here Castellucci suggests a difficulty not particularly held up by the story as a whole (which saw nearly no other DC characters appear). I get it abstractly, I’m just not sure why Flash should be the heel or that the satisfactory solution should be for Batgirl to leave the other heroes out to dry.



So, while far from the worst ever (and with good art among others by Emanuela Lupacchino and Robbi Rodriguez), Batgirl Vol. 8: The Joker War is not great, just as much of this run has not been great. I wholly support DC putting this title on the shelf for a while, and I’m just hopeful that even though her name’s not on the masthead, Tom Taylor will give due attention to Batgirl over in Nightwing. Maybe that title will serve as an adequate home for a while.

[Includes original and variant covers, Robbie Rodriguez “Joker War” character studies]


Post a Comment

To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.