Barbara Gordon finds herself in the presence of the Joker once again. However, she’s not at all the victim he believes her to be, and that’s why this issue means so, so much to me.
As with most reviews, I approached this story with a critical eye. However, when I review a book, it is also based upon how a story spoke to me on a personal level, as a reader. There is always a certain amount of personal emotion that goes into how I respond to and review any particular issue. So please understand what I’m saying when I tell you that it is nearly impossible for me to extricate my personal attachment to Barbara Gordon as a character and the events of this issue.
To put it simply, Batgirl is my favorite member of the Bat Family. And one thing that has always brought me down in regards to this character is the trauma and psychological scarring represented by the very existence of the Joker. Ever since he paralyzed her in The Killing Joke, whether it’s intentional or not, bringing up the Joker has always been shorthand for showing how he still had some measure of power over Barbara. In much the same way that some people love to pair Jason Todd and crowbars — to trigger flashbacks of another time when one of Batman’s loved ones was needlessly brutalized — it seems that people can’t get enough of reminding us of how much of Barbara’s life and sense of security was stolen from her by the Clown Prince of Crime.
One need look no further than the controversial (and ultimately pulled) cover for 2015’s Batgirl #41. While the cover itself was a striking piece by Rafael Albuquerque, the problem was how it perpetuated the violence against women that The Killing Joke has long represented in the comics world. While The Killing Joke has become a lauded work, for some reason (even Alan Moore thinks it has nothing of value to say), there’s a reason that DC allowed Barbara to move on and continue being a hero, both as Oracle and then as Batgirl again.
I’m not going to say that Barbara’s trauma isn’t important. What I have grown tired of is the fact that it is always dredged up for event tie-ins as a cheap way of raising the stakes at the expense of a character who has already had so much agency taken from her. As fans, we want to see Barbara win. That’s why the Albuquerque cover was so disheartening and why it was a relief when DC decided to pull it.
It’s also why I approached this issue with some trepidation, which continued for the first few pages as Barbara found her body quite literally hacked by the man who hurt her all those years ago. However, that worry quickly turned to optimism, which eventually gave way to full on cheers.
While it is undoubtedly a dark piece, this issue subverts all expectations and shows just how well Cecil Castellucci and company understand Barbara Gordon’s determination and resolve. She plays the Joker at every turn, showing the criminal mastermind that he can’t plan for everything and that he has no power over her, no matter what he’s done.
Batgirl #47 shows Barbara Gordon confronting her demon and telling him, in no uncertain terms, “you don’t own me.”
The artwork throughout is fantastic. Robbi Rodriguez pencils this issue and the whole story has a very appropriate horror vibe when paired with Jordie Bellaire’s colors. There’s such powerful kinetic energy on display throughout this issue. Every movement feels intentional, but also like there’s a ton of power behind it. Fitting, given the fact that Barbara isn’t holding back at any point here.
The “hacking” scenes are hard to look at, but that stands as a testament to the art team’s work. There’s some real body horror going on here, and it makes the finale of the issue feel all the more satisfying. I won’t spoil the ending here, but Barbara proves that she’s the one calling the shots where her life and her body is concerned.
This issue will probably not be received the same way by some fans. In fact, I fully expect people to take issue with how some of the story plays out. It’s supremely uncomfortable to see the Joker literally puppeteering Babs for portions of the issue. However, Batgirl #47 ultimately wins me over with the portrayal of Barbara Gordon as someone who absolutely refuses to let history repeat itself.
In many ways, this story feels like a bookend to The Killing Joke, even a response to it. However, that book feels like an antiquated, grimdark “comics aren’t just for kids” piece in places, a tale of a woman being butchered in order to motivate other men to action. Batgirl #47 is a story of bravery and perseverance, as well as a testament to Barbara Gordon’s ingenuity and inner strength.
You may disagree with how this story plays out, and that’s perfectly fine, but that’s my personal take on it. I also know that I run the risk of sounding super preachy here, but as a Barbara Gordon fan, I feel the need to express why this issue worked so well for me. For the first time in forever, it felt like Barbara was allowed to dictate how a confrontation with the Joker ended, and that means the world to me. I am a mix of emotions right now. The ending left me with a pit in my stomach, but feeling so proud to be a fan of this character.
Again, it’s impossible for me to feel impartial when reading this story. Batgirl stories got me through some of the most difficult times of my life, as I’ve covered on this site before. So I’ll end this review with this sentiment:
If there is any justice to come from Joker War, it’s that hopefully this particular installment of the crossover will be remembered as one of the very best single issue Joker stories, as well as an iconic moment in Batgirl’s history. Let this be remembered as the day that Barbara Gordon got to look the Joker in the eye and show him why he should never come for her again.
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