Yet another “epic” crossover goes through the Bat-books of the “New 52” with “Death of the Family.” The crossover takes its name from the classic “Death in the Family” story that resulted in Jason Todd, the second Robin, being killed by the Joker back in the 80’s. Of course, it’s comics, so no one dies forever, and Jason has been back for years.
Batgirl 14, by the talented Gail Simone, is called “A Courtship of Razors,” which you don’t find out till the end of the book. As a general rule, I don’t like the trick of giving the issue title on the last page, but it works this time, as you’ll see. Barbara gets a very creepy phone call with a disguised voice giving her instructions about what she has to do in order to help her mother, who has just been abducted by Joker’s henchman. The taunting voice seems to be Joker, yet through it all I was thinking something was just a bit off.
Batgirl learns that her caller knows her secret ID, and that Joker goons will be coming for her. Babs lets them have the full brunt of her rage and frustration from the way the night is going, and bringing up her powerful traumas at Joker’s hands. After she beats the men badly (and a bit savagely, but that’s somewhat understandable), Babs takes a hurried leave of her just arrived home roommate, apologizing for dragging her in to this, and saying she won’t be back.
As Batgirl races across the city on her motorcycle, she berates herself for thinking she could live a normal life. She ends up at the Cherry Hill Skate Rink, where Joker has killed off all the customers and staff so he can terrorize Mother Gordon in private. And this is where it gets really weird and twisted. What we learn in the last few pages is that Babs/Batgirl has NOT been talking to the Joker on the phone, but rather her twisted serial killer brother, who explains “…I can’t very well allow this hideous creature to harm our mother, can I?”
That was a surprise, but a bigger one awaits. Joker is holding Barbara’s mother hostage, strapped to a “five pound nail bomb.” But this isn’t a normal hostage scenario, with the Joker off on some wacky and gruesome trip. Joker rants about how all the Batman’s allies are dragging him down, and then switches gears bizarrely even for him. He PROPOSES to Batgirl. Mind you, he does it with her mother’s ring (finger still attached), but still.
I admit, I did not even come close to seeing this coming. Gail Simone has proven she’s adept at being marvelously twisted, as fans of her late, lamented Secret Six especially know. And this is such a great take on Joker’s insanity and Batgirl’s reactions to facing him again. I don’t get many of the far too many Batbooks, and I don’t jump on crossovers anymore, so I don’t know how most of the rest of this is going. But this was just fantastically done. Gail kept me guessing (wrongly) till the end. I didn’t think for a moment it was James, Jr. on the phone, nor did I imagine a proposal in all this. Batgirl’s over the top (for her) violence against the Joker henches, and their surprise at her ferocity, was well done, too.
My only quibble with the issue is a minor one about Ed Benes’ art. Most of it is great, which I’ve come to expect. For the vast majority of the issue, Barbara is wearing just a shirt over panties. In addition to miraculously staying in place as she leaps, kicks, and flips through her fight, it gets drawn a bit oddly a few times. Most of the time it appears to be a standard button down shirt, other times it looks a bit different. As I said, it’s a minor quibble, but it was enough that at least once I stopped reading to try and figure out what the heck she was wearing, so I found it a bit distracting. But maybe that’s just me. And even if I’m right that something’s weird there, it’s made up for with this wonderful shot of her face as the henchmen come storming in. She looks almost feral. It’s not a look I’d associate with Barbara, but for what’s going on it works amazingly well. I don’t know what’s going to be happening in much of the rest of the crossover, but I’m really curious to see what happens next here. Clearly, she won’t actually marry the psycho clown, but I’m fascinated by what she might actually do. For that matter, there’s usually some sort of reasoning, however twisted, behind Joker’s actions, and I’m wondering how he got from the Bat-family distracting Batman to the marriage proposal. It’s going to be a long month’s wait.
For more by this author, go to www.watchtowermansion.com