Last month’s “Death of the Family” prologue issue of Batgirl was a pretty big letdown. It was marketed as a starting point for the Batman crossover event, but contained only a small lead-in to the Joker’s return at the very end of the issue. Overall, the issue wasn’t branded well and it led to a lot of frustrated buyers who thought they were getting an actual “Death of the Family” story. I’d have to include myself on that list. Of course, Barbara Gordon has a deeply personal connection to the Joker, meaning her stories should be some of the darkest. Fortunately, Gail Simone more than makes up for the Joker’s absence last month by bringing him front and center in Batgirl #14.
The Batman family (basically) kept their continuity intact in the New 52—albeit a little more time compressed than before the reboot—which means Barbara was shot and paralyzed by the Joker some years prior. On that day, the Joker won because fear beat out justice. We’ve seen throughout the New 52 run of Batgirl how much Barbara clings to and attempts to reconcile her past. Overcoming her paralysis was part of the bigger picture of how she needed to overcome her fear of the Joker. Obviously, she’s been back in her bat-suit for a while, but the past seems to always be on Barbara’s mind.
At the end of Batgirl #13, the Joker kidnapped Barbara’s mother in the middle of the two ladies having a phone conversation. It was a shocking moment; one that Batgirl #14 reveals wasn’t so different from when the Joker came after Barbara. A mysterious caller who Barbara assumes, at first, is the Big J himself simply having his sadistic fun, explains the similarities in the Joker’s crimes from then and now. After a while of following the caller’s directions, though, it becomes increasingly apparent (to the reader) that it is not the Joker on the line with Barbara, but in fact some malicious third party intent on leading Babs right into the Joker’s hands. The identity of the caller is important because it sets up the next arc for Batgirl after it wraps up with “Death of the Family”.
The Joker is more terrifying now than he’s ever been in the past. Seriously. His face skin is stretched over his actual face in a constant smile, his eyes each have starkly different kinds of crazy behind them, and his new repairman outfit means he could use just about any tool on that belt as a lethal weapon. As we move through “Death of the Family”, each writer attached to the event is going to have to give readers a little more about the Joker, whether it be what he was doing for the past year, what his current motives seem to be, or what his plans include to destroy the lives of the Bat family.
This month’s Batman revealed that the Joker knows the identities of every Batman ally, and Batgirl #14 reveals how much disdain Joker has for the familial aspects of Batman’s relationships. To Joker, they’re all “…(c)lutching at his cape, drowning him with (their) empathy and (their) compassion.” Joker sees Gotham as Batman’s kingdom, and himself as the Dark Knight’s court jester, intent on making his king laugh by any means necessary. But in this twisted metaphor, making his lord ‘laugh’ means Joker must make Batman’s world chaotic.
The final sequence is a bit confusing and disturbing at the same time. Honestly, it doesn’t make much sense in it’s own context, but after getting totally sucked in by Barbara’s attempt at rescuing her mother. I’m confident Batgirl #15 next month will explain the Joker’s actions. And really, on some weird level, I almost like being totally in the dark about where this tie-in arc is going.