Gail Simone’s run on Batgirl has been solid, mostly because she’s brought depth to a character that’s been mishandled and oversimplified in the past. Barbara’s inner monologue throughout her return to crime fighting and regaining the use of her legs has not shied away from the deeply personal struggle to get back in the game. It’s an excellent example of a strong female character written by a strong female writer. Finally. Huzzah!
In issue #14, Barbara is still reeling after receiving a call from her mother during which she hears her being attacked and abducted by someone. Unsurprisingly, it takes Barbara a few moments to snap back to reality and do something productive. That process is helped along by another phone call, this time from a mysterious stranger who uses a voice modifier to hide their identity. They don’t hide the culprit behind the abduction though. The Clown Prince of Crime has returned. She follows their instructions, which starts off with her making a sandwich to calm down and start thinking rationally again. Whoever it is, they sure do know a lot about Barbara, her past and her secret identity as Batgirl. That’s not good. She’s fairly certain it’s the Joker himself on the phone, discussing what he’s done to her in the past and how he’s going to hurt her through her mother now.
After tipping her off that the bad men are coming for her again like they did so many years ago, she snaps out of reliving the nightmare of her paralysis just in time to kick their asses. Hard. They’re just Joker thugs, but the fury she feels almost leads to her crossing the line with one of them. As the reader, you can’t really blame her. The pain and struggle she had to endure at the hands of that maniac would lead even the best of us to question whether he and his henchmen deserved a death sentence.
Eventually she reaches the building where her mother is being held by the Mad Jester of Gotham and confronts the Joker. This is a moment I cannot describe and do Simone’s work justice—you’ll just have to pick up the book and read it yourself. I literally gasped out loud twice during this confrontation; that’s how expertly Simone was able to build the tension, drop the bomb (that I probably should have seen coming) and write the Joker with such faithful, terrifying precision. I read Batman #14 before I read Batgirl #14 and thought Snyder had written the quintessential Joker reveal in that story. Simone has created a moment for Batgirl and the Joker that rivals the tension between him and the Dark Knight. While Batman struggles with having let down his partners and friends by not protecting them, Batgirl has struggled with losing her mobility, her identity, her purpose and—I’m sure it felt at times—her life to the Joker. But she persevered. She’s still fighting head to head with the man who did this and thank you Gail Simone for making this such an empathetic read, bringing that reality to fans who did not really consider it until now.
Batgirl #14 is a powerful book that manages to be an integral part of Death of the Family story while still standing on its own. Let me amend that, kicking ass on its own.