Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Daniel Sampere
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
I don’t say this often, but no Taiwanese lady-boys were needed to get this guy salivating over BATGIRL 19. I refer of course to lame stream media’s fervor of activity over the reveal that Babs’ roommate tucks before he/she slips on his/her panties/boxers. And before anyone asks, this was not the intended WTF moment from the gatefold cover – you don’t slide it open to see Babs’ kicking in the teeth of the “To Wong Fu” cast. Before I praise this book, I just had to lament the mores in states sans coastlines are about as progressive as an episode of Leave it to Beaver, and that 99% of the world still simply does not get the comic medium.
Don’t let my rampant immaturity give you the wrong impression; Simone used her usual grace and eloquence to broach the issue of Babs’ double-life and her roommate’s as well. It was sweet and endearing moment between two friends. Babs opened the kimono half-way to tell her BFF what the Joker had done to her in the past, without giving away the whole store if you get my drift. Likewise, her friend shared the fact that her clitoris isn’t some engorged appendage mutated like in a bad Ed Wood movie. This was about one and a half pages of the book. So next time you meet someone from the associated press please spit in their face and punch them directly in their transgender please.
This was one of the few WTF gate-fold books that provided an honest to God whollup of WTF. Of course nothing is really WTF these days thanks to the spoiler likes of…well…people like me, but still the execution can still deliver a gut punch even the concept leaks months ahead of time. How do I know? Because Simone did it in spades for this book.
I’m a sucker for James Gordon Jr., I have been since Snyder was crafting this little “freak on no leash” way back in pre-52 DETECTIVE. He’s not just creepy, he’s a level of insanity that I would say puts him on Joker level creepy. This guy relishes in the pain of others, but does it without an ounce of joy. He’s a new level of calculated killer that would have never enticed a silver age audience, but resonates fine and dandy in this new dark world we all live in. Simone does a great job reintroducing James’ particular brand of nutty by having Babs reflect on a moment in childhood when they would watch horror movies together. James doesn’t look away from the screen out of fear, but out of shame for the killer’s slasher sloppiness….Brilliant! Since then James was nuthin but trouble for the Gordon clan, culminating into his now outright vendetta against the family Gordon.
The true WTF moment asks whether Barbara will unleash the ultimate solution to stop JJ’s reign of dy-no-mite terror. She doesn’t do the deed, but someone else does and it TRULY was a WTF moment. I’ll also say it wasn’t Commissioner Gordon either. Of course the door is left somewhat open as to whether James is actually dead, but ta the very least this oedipal wound is sure to sting for a bit. Palpable danger is set in place for next issue as Gotham PD witnesses this righteous murder from afar and makes the assumption that Babs is the culprit.
Simone is meant for this book, and I hope any future scuttlebutt about her leaving or jumping ship remains simply in the land of conjecture instead of sour grapes.
DEATH OF THE FAMILY: BATMAN 16, BATGIRL 16, BATMAN & ROBIN 16
Writers: Snyder, Tomasi, Simone
Artists: Capullo, Gleason, Benes
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
A King, a bride, a prodigal son and a silver domed serving platter seeping with blood: This isn’t a Don Mclean song; it’s the latest happenings in the Joker’s reign of terror against the Bat-Clan. “Death of the Family” is the panacea of how events should be run, with the sum being greater than the whole of the parts while not forcing readers into imbibing every mother-loving book to understand what the hell is going on. Synergy has also been the mantra of this series. Each book has kept chronology straight and truly built off the last and this week’s books are the absolute proof in the proverbial pudding.
Now, since I’m a completest I’m reading every tale, even the ever so tangential DETECTIVE, but this is my compulsion at work, not a mandate from DC. Every character has their beef with the Joker, and with only a few weeks left we now stand at the precipice of his grand plan’s fruition.
Before we pontificate, let’s SEE what these penultimate series of books have to tell.
Snyder delivers the most esoteric of this week’s offerings, with the motivations of the Joker still only being understood by him and him alone. He’s blathered abo;ut breaking up the family for issues now, so Bats could reach his full potential, but the means to accomplish this end seem haphazard at best. However, when dealing with a psycopath it’s probably best not to understand. When last we saw Bats he was on his upward climb into the mouth of madness that is Arkham Asylum. Now Bats is cowl-deep in the crazies following a maze of gore that lead to his throne. Yes, the King has returned and his court consists of Penguin, Two-Face, Riddler and of course the Jester himself. Why Joker is anointing Batman remains unknown, the joy in this issue remains firmly steeped in Joker’s twisted sense of humor. Endomorphic inmates dressed as the JUSTICE LEAGUE, flaming horse torpedoes, and a double cross on his accomplices are what keep the pages turning. The issue ends as all will this week, Joker gently lifting the lid on a silver domed serving platter.
Gleason still wins the award for creepiest representation of the Joker’s rotting Halloween mask. It’s attached, but not really. It’s intact, but not really. It’s creepier than Poltergeist’s Carol Ann in a movie with the two chicks from The Shining, really. While I’m still partial to Joker’s macabre puppetry with his flesh mask in last issue, Gleason does a great job of still making this the face of fear. Likewise Tomasi hits ever psychological chord expertly to make Damian believe he is in a mano-a-kido against dear old Dad in a fight to the death. Obviously it’s not, but Damian’s belief rips off his emotional scabs to reveal an epiphany that not all “bad” guys should be killed. As with BATMAN, the last page is the Joker serving Robin…something under a silver domed serving platter.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate an unraveling of the mind. No, not Joker’s, that ball of yarn has already been undone. Barbara’s sanity is what’s at stake in issue 16 as she becomes the wedded wife of Mr. J. Why is the Joker suddenly interested in betrothing BATGIRL, well, we’re still not sure. Again, it has to do with tearing the Bat-Clan asunder, but it’s still inconceivable “how” Joker’s scheme will all come together. Benes balances beauty with horror in this issue, giving us one of the best rendered Barbara’s we’ve seen. I’ll also say there are a ton of other artists on this book, but not once was the shift jarring or out of place. Each artist hand-off was so perfectly timed with the movement of the plot chapters; I honestly thought the changes were merely Benes making stylistic shifts for mood. This issue also answers the age old question about how long Barbara was Oracle (or merely wheelie-bound) in the New 52. The answer, about a year. Simone delivers her final piece of goodness in redeeming James Gordon Jr. (sort of). Since Snyder took Jimmy J on in DETECTIVE, he has become one of my favorite new Bat villains. And clearly one of the Joker’s favorites as well. This issue, as with all others this week, ends with the Joker revealing something to Barbara under a silver domed serving platter.
All right, now let’s speculate. The serving platter at the end of each issue this week is a pretty good indicator that Alfred is what’s for dinner. I find this to be too easy and convenient. I still don’t believe we are to take the “death” in “Death of the Family” literally. It’s too easy, and Snyder has already alluded to the fact Joker wants BATMAN separated from the family, but not necessarily shuffling off any of their mortal coils to achieve this end. Also, to kill Alfred would do anything BUT tear the family apart. Let’s be honest, they would band together to pound the Joker into white jelly if he touched one combed over hair on Alfred’s head.
Basically, we still don’t know Jack…or Joker.
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo/Jock
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
The nature of Batman and the Joker’s relationship has changed with the sensibilities of the time. As we readers get deeper in touch with our feelings and have more free time to lament the human existence, so to have our heroes and their foils sought deeper introspection.
The Golden Age, when men were men and our enemies were eminently clear showed few emotional tethers between Bats and Joker. During the days of WWII, good was good and evil was evil — period. And of course good always triumphed. Flash forward to the silver age and you see the sanitized fifties bleed copious campiness into the title and little insight into either man, simply a goofy game of cat and mouse rife with ludicrous gadgetry and even more ridiculous crimes of grandeur. Go Bronze and we start to see a few chinks in each characters’ emotional armor, albeit the zaniness carry over of the silver age still forbade either from too deep of introspection. The 70s was the me generation and we began to see that essence in the pages of Batman. We began to know who the men were behind the masks and mayhem. The Dark Age propelled us into the ID of both characters as opposite sides of the same coin. Who made who was the question that plagued my mind leaving Tim Burton’s BATMAN, and can one really exist without the other was my walkaway from Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.
Now, we have Scott Snyder, the modern man in an age where self-discovery isn’t a luxury, it’s a requirement for societal success. In a time when the term Bromance can easily cross the lips of guys who are straight as an arrow, is it any wonder that the transformation of BATMAN and Joker’s relationship is one of an obsessive affection? Love, ladies and gentlemen is the new emotional bedrock between BATMAN and the Joker, and the penance for that love being unrequited is, “DEATH OF THE FAMILY.”
BATMAN 15 bleeds motivation for the Strap-On Jokers’ need to squelch all things Bat. In essence Joker wants to be part of the Bat family, he wants to be that crazy cousin at Thanksgiving who someone has to go bail out of jail for drunk driving when they go to get more stuffing from the store. Joker needs to be chased by the Bat like the earth needs the son and Lindsay Lohan needs to smell the inside of jail cells.
Now, even though I’ve said words like Bromance and Strap-On, let’s please not get puerile with the often associated act of love. This is an obsessive love based on an unhinged desire, not the higher state of intimacy and becoming one in flesh. Spirit perhaps, but that’s it.
This issue also successfully divided the family, and we are left wondering whether it was of the Joker’s devise or merely a side effect to the Joker’s grand plan. It’s a cool little mind-fuck “later reveal,” that more serial books should remember to use. I won’t ruin the details on how the Bat Family splits, but I will say it involves Bruce being odd man out for living in a state of delusional deniability regarding the Joker’s prowess and wiles.
The back-up story continues to delight, mainly because of Jock’s eerie ass way of seeing the world of the Joker. Even the point of view in the panels gives pause for creepiness. The backstories have been trips down memory lane to moments before the crossover started and how the Joker set all the main story’s plans in motion. I have to admit this one didn’t give me the same ick factor as the Harley episodes, but seeing the first signs of the Riddler in the Bat-Verse as more arrogant than maniacal gave me great hope for future Bat tales.
Everyone who keeps saying, “Robin’s going to die. Robin’s going to die.” Please kindly shut the fuck up. That’s a hack move neither Snyder nor DC can afford right now. If after reading BATMAN 15 you still believe this inane theory, I suggest you take a class in understanding subtlety. It’s not Robin that’s going to die, or Barbara, Dick, or Jason. BATMAN 15 clearly shows that death does not have to be a physical state of being, emotional death or untethering can sometimes be the most painful end of all because you must continue living afterwards.
P.S. When is that freaking face going to rot? I’m not a Sciencey guy, but I always thought faces needed more nourishment than leather and dental floss to avoid becoming necrotic.
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Ed Benes
Reviewer: Rob Patey (AKA Optimous Douche, Ain’t It Cool News)
I’ll admit now, my dalliances with Barbara Gordon once she became the wheelie cool Oracle pre-52 was a “just the tip experience.” If Babs helped Bats, I was all over her L33T hacking skills, but as for her soo adventures and time with the other gals of Gotham – not so much. I have no regrets from a canon perspective, but I am woefully heartbroken and mildly embarrassed to have missed so much of the scrumptious Ms. Simone’s musings until this late in my comic collecting career.
I read BATGIRL #1 last year, but I’ll admit my analysis was rushed at best. There were a lot of titles churning out that month and my diligent commitment to broad coverage made me rush through the adventures of the now mobile Barbara. Also, I was carrying the butthurt of change into the reading experience, so no matter how wonderful Babs new life was I was damned and determined to scoff at her miracle of newfound mobility. Yes, even though she was no more than a necessary Google search to me before.
I realized the first error in my choice to shun Babs, inside the pages of BATGIRL 0 2 months ago. Then I had even more egg on my reviewing face with BATGIRL ANNUAL #1. Sweet Jesus what a beautiful tale about a lady Talon and the Frenemy relationship between BATGIRL and CATWOMAN. Finally, I was drawn into the die-cut cover that sat atop BATGIRL 13 heralding the beginning of “Death of the Family.” And even though the story was a wrap-up from the prior arc and had less Joker in it than the premiere of The Dark Knight Red Carpet, I was still moved by the relationships Barbara had formed in her life and fearful at the prospect of Joker once again darkening her doorstep.
When I received this week’s offering of Bat Fam Death, I immediately bragged about my new treasures on Facebook. About an hour later Dan Didio wrote me with the sage advice, “Read BATGIRL 14, you won’t be disappointed.” Despite my new infatuation with Simone and Batgirl, and the ringing endorsement from the EIC, I still went to my safe place inside BATMAN 14. It was great, stupendous even. Alfred is still being held by the Joker, and being subjected to some wonderful torture involving eyeballs and shock treatments. While Bruce and Dick are so fearful of being watched they speak in code even when alone and Harley Quinn becomes more unraveled as each of the Joker’s plans come to fruition.
It was BATGIRL 14 though that delivered the true terror as well as the spark of insight I needed to see what the Joker has in store for this bat-bonanza. Despite this being a new 52, we’re all rolling with the fact that at some point in the last 5-12 years Barbara Gordon was shot by the Joker and spent time paralyzed. The whys and hows have changed (I think), but the terror of the event still haunts Barbara and the rest of the bat-family.
Speaking of family, it seems the Joker has finally found the Bats’ Achilles heel after all these years and it has nothing to do with Bats himself. While putting the lives of those close to superheroes in danger is a staple as old as comics itself (honestly how many silver age swords of Damocles swung over Robin and Lois Lane over the years), “Death of a Family” is making it personal by not only going after friends of the Bat, but their civilian loved ones as well. This twist of strategy for the most twisted villain in comics is what sets Barbara out into the streets of Gotham this issue in search of her dear old ma. There’s another player here in cahoots with the Joker, a man close to the Gordon clan who played a pivotal role in Snyder’s Pre-52 DETECTIVE story. This issue was gruesome and emotionally brutal thanks to Barbara’s internal dialog, but the little twist of Joker’s new little friend took the expected and made it extraordinary.
Ed Benes tore things up this issue, keeping the emotion high and the action even higher. I also think he found a way to make Joker’s strap-on visage even creepier than Capullo’s rendition.
It’s hard to quantify what makes Simone such a breath of fresh air for me, and I fear my reasoning might sound misogynistic, but alas here it goes. She has the ability to write strong female characters with the true voice of womanhood. It’s a voice where relationship is just as important as plot, where each action scene is carefully balanced with nods to how these events make the character feel. In short, women are far more concerned with the why of life over the simple what. And there is simply no better showcase of this talent than when a character is faced with their greatest fear as Barbara was this issue.
By my count I’ve crafted well over 300 comic reviews over the years, now I would like your help. Tell me the essential Simone’s in your opinion and why. I want more and I want the best to help keep my comic budget somewhat constrained. Help me TalkBackers and commenters, you’re my only hope.