While Barbara Gordon as Batgirl has been a beloved fixture in DC Comics' mythos for decades, a handful of moments have undoubtedly defined her comic book tenure. The most controversial of those is undoubtedly the events of The Killing Joke, the 1988 graphic novel that saw Barbara paralyzed after being shot by The Joker. This polarizing moment has been subverted, analyzed, and retconned many times in the years since, but still remains—for better or for worse—a key part of what made Barbara who she is today. All of that sets the stage for Batgirl #47, a tie-in issue to the "Joker War" event which quickly becomes so much more. The issue is not only an exhilarating modern-day update to Barbara and The Joker's upsetting dynamic, but it is one of the best illustrations of trauma that mainstreams comics has delivered in recent years.
The issue opens moments as Barbara returns home from her date with Jason Bard, unaware of the fact that The Joker has broken into her apartment. Once the supervillain makes his presence known, the pair engage in a harrowing back and forth, which leads Barbara to find new ways to reclaim her sense of safety—and her lifeline to the Bat-family—before it's too late.
Cecil Castellucci has been writing Batgirl for a notable stretch of issues now, and it's overwhelmingly clear that this is her best work on the character yet. Castellucci's narrative showcases the profound strength that it takes to rise above trauma and face your abuser, while also telling a story that plays out as only a Barbara Gordon tale could. (There are parts of the narrative that also provide a whole new appreciation for the various ways that Barbara has reinvented herself in recent years, something that has been inconsistent enough to frustrate fans.) This definitely feels like the more frenzied, heart-pounding sibling to Castellucci's stellar work on last year's Female Furies miniseries, which recontextualized the iconic group of DC women through a modern-day lens of toxic masculinity and rape culture. Men manipulating and traumatizing women—either physically, sexually, emotionally, or mentally—certainly hasn't disappeared from our modern-day culture, which makes watching that conflict play out in Batgirl emotional to read.
With Robbi Rodriguez stepping in on visuals, the issue sings, with his artistic flair on titles like Spider-Gwen being utilized in a surprising way. At its core, the issue's physical actions almost entirely consist of Barbara and The Joker making their way around her apartment, but Rodriguez is able to turn even the smallest of visual moments into something visceral and claustrophobic, with certain panels deserving a second look after you've read the issue once. In a lot of other artists' hands, the issue could have easily presented Barbara in a demoralizing or overly-sexualized context (especially as her wardrobe for the issue is sweatpants and a t-shirt), but there's a sense of her having control of how her body is presented, even in these bizarre circumstances.
Jordie Bellaire's colors are absolutely stunning here, with the use of pink, purple, and orange standing out in particular. The vibrancy of these colors also helps firmly plant the narrative of the story in Barbara's point of view, as opposed to potentially letting things grow too grim-dark. Andworld Designs does a stellar job on the lettering as well, especially when it comes to differentiating between Barbara's internal monologue and the actual spoken narrative of the issue. A few lines of dialogue from The Joker are also brilliantly-rendered, helping to convey his terrifying and misogynistic tone.
Batgirl #47 manages to not only be the best "Joker War" installment thus far, but it is one of the best standalone Batgirl issues in recent memory. The issue takes the decades-long twisted dynamic between Barbara Gordon and The Joker and provides it a modern-day rematch, which feels fitting for the character that Barbara has become. The narrative twists and turns in an emotional and incredibly personal fashion, and the art gives it all a frantic, neon-hued flair. Even if you haven't been regularly reading Batgirl as of late, this issue absolutely, positively deserves your time and attention.
Published by DC Comics
On July 21, 2020
Written by Cecil Castellucci
Art by Robbi Rodriguez
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Andworld Designs
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