Following Batgirl’s latest run-in with the Joker, it’s unclear how she will proceed. Complicating matters is the arrival of several figures from her past.
The opening sequence of Batgirl #48 is stunning, showing readers a kaleidoscope of scattered memories and emotions that occasionally bleed into one another, obscuring the real events Barbara experienced. It shows her alternately hating and forgiving both her father and her brother, as well as the disgust she feels in being forever connected to the Joker. It’s incredibly realized in a swirl of colorful vignettes by Bellaire and Rodriguez, as well as cleverly-worded snippets of dialogue. Castellucci knows exactly how to sum up the difficult nuances of a particular situation in just a few words. Even if some of these sequences aren’t meant to be taken literally, it gives readers an inside look at Barbara’s inner struggle.
This issue reunites Barbara with both her dad and brother for the first time in quite a while, and it’s fascinating to see how everyone skirts around the truth at all times. Everything each person says to the other is covered up by at least one half-truth, and yet there’s a palpable connection here. Every member of this family keeps absolutely screwing up in their efforts to protect one another, however misguided those feelings of protection may be.
One thing in this issue that did rub me the wrong way is how Barbara describes her altercation with the Joker from last month. She tells Luke, “The Joker did me in. Again.” And it just feels like too much of an oversimplification of what truly went down last month. It’s understandable that Barbara is angry and wallowing in that fury, but part of what made the last issue so satisfying is how she made the decision to take control of her own body and the outcome of the fight.
It’s disappointing to see Barbara viewing this as a total loss. Again, it makes sense, but it does feel a bit like backtracking.
It’s also slightly annoying to see so much expository dialogue in the middle of a family argument. Jim and James Jr. in particular spout a few lines of dialogue specifically phrased to refer to things that both characters have recently gone through. That is of course the side effect of this comic coming after/during some major crossovers, but it does distract from an otherwise naturalistic conversation.
The dialogue between Luke and Barbara is so natural and so sweet. Bringing back that kind of connection for Barbara at a time when she’s feeling so directionless is so important for the character. One of the highlights of this run by Castellucci and company has been to see Barbara’s supporting cast being given further chances to shine.
Despite this issue being much lighter on the action, that doesn’t mean that things are at all boring — it’s chock full of excellent character development, and there are also some truly dynamic sequences in here. In particular, the moment when Barbara swings back into the city is wonderful. It’s shown to readers in a splash page that shows just how much she loves being Batgirl. The joy in her face is a soothing balm after all of the pain of recent issues.
Barbara’s new status quo seems to have been reversed a bit too quickly, but that may be due to the fact that the book is ramping up for its final issue in two months. And if it means we get to see Barbara enjoying herself for just a bit longer, I’ll take it.