I’m up to date in my Batgirl (by Gail Simone) trades, so first thing’s first, a quick review. I’m treating both second and third volumes as a single entity for now, not just because I read them back to back, but because both meld very well together without so much as a hiccup.
No, the hiccup occurs near the beginning to the middle of Batgirl: Death of the Family (the third volume) when Simone’s storyline takes Batgirl on a detour back into the Joker’s clutches. All well and good, I guess, in the big scheme of things, but I didn’t appreciate the distraction from the Court of Owls business, her psychopathic brother (and other family goings-on), and the general her coming into her own as an independent superhero. Death of the Family pulls her character development up short and puts her right back in the shadow of Batman, Nightwing, and Robin.
I’m digging the lone, female hero. Batgirl’s finally on her own. Leave her there to progress down her own path. So, no, I wasn’t very happy with that. Frankly, I think throwing the Joker back into the mix just ends being both a red-herring and a shill to attract readers too new they have no idea that the Joker is actually much more frightening when his face is still attached to his head. ‘Course, I’ve never been one for the explicit gore and horror, monsters are much more frightening when you’re not sure if they’re wearing a mask or not.
The second volume was fine; I quite liked it, actually. The third one just went too far off the rails for my taste. It just smacks of emotional manipulation and laziness. Until, of course, we get back to the Court of Owls (which is gads more interesting) and James Gordon, Jr.
Pushing away from my review, I’m going to touch on the meatier aspects of Batgirl and the Bat-‘verse. The over-arching theme in the Batman comics, and the comics that spin-off from them, is “family.” For a long time, Batman has been about the importance of any kind of family, including the ones to which you’re not actually blood-related (sometimes especially that kind of family). In the New 52 Batgirl, when we ignore the banal generality of the Joker digression, we see the destruction of all family and belonging. This destruction takes the form of both figurative and literal, through lack of trust, actual blood-shed, and even protectiveness.
It’s very interesting. In fact, I wonder if it is behaving this way to spotlight the fear that may or may not be an undercurrent in American society, that such belonging 1) is tenuous and fragile, and 2) actually may never have existed in the first place. I would think that the name of the third volume A Death in the Family is really the only good thing to come of the joker subplot, because it is very thematic, telling, enigmatic, and, in the case of the Batgirl addition to the multi-volume storyline, quite poignant.
I like to think that Simone may have been taking back her story by utilizing the title in this way, instead of letting the Joker-plot overshadow the character development Batgirl/Barbara Gordon has been making. I hope that the following issues resume where Simone intended to go.