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Batman Gotham Knights #12

Posted: Sunday, December 31
By: Ray Tate
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"Damages"

Writer: Jen Van Meter
Artist: Coy Turnbull(p), John Lowe(i), Pamela Rambo(c)
Publisher: DC

Plot: The Bat-signal shines upon Barbara Gordon in a strong detective story.

Let's get this out of the way first. There is absolutely no reason why Barbara Gordon should be in a wheelchair. Alan Moore and Brian Bolland meant The Killing Joke as an imaginary tale dealing with the iconography of Batman and the Joker. This is evinced by the appearances of Bat-Mite, Bat-Girl and Batwoman in a photograph. Barbara also according to Mr. Moore knew Batman's identity before DC ever admitted that she knew Batman's identity. In fact, you will find instances where Oracle doesn't know Batman's identity. DC's thinking seemed to be that it's all right to cripple the poor woman, but cosmos forbid that she learns Batman's "precious" secrets.

DC may have thought it was a good idea to incorporate this non-canonical story, or rather parts of it, into the proper continuity--loosely speaking, but they really did not think things through. Batman has Dr. Fate's phone-number in his Rolodex. He knows a hero who has access to Kryptonian technology. He knows another hero who has access to an Amazonian Purple Healing Ray. He knows two heroes who possess magic rings, and the man himself is a certifiable genius in biochemistry. There are countless examples of Batman employing that which is only theoretical in his fight against crime. His knowledge of stem cell technology should surpass that of the real world. There is simply no reason for Barbara Gordon to be confined to that wheelchair. Alan Moore is not a stupid man. He knew Killing Joke only worked if the universe was devoid of other heroes except the Batman Family.

For this story Babs is Oracle, and although I don't care for that character as much as I do Batgirl, Jen Van Meter describes how different her life now is while plausibly haunting her with nightmares involving the Joker. How the maniac intrudes on her waking world intrigues and creates a character that is not solely resonant only in the reflection of her former Batgirl identity. The idea is that when Barbara fails because of her handicap or her post-trauma from the Joker's actions, the Joker wins. Each day Barbara defies her handicap, she wipes the grin off the Joker's face. In other words, the time of the shooting was indeed "a bad day," but Barbara is showing the Joker that given the circumstances of "a bad day" other people adapt and cope.

While Ms. Van Meter does show how Barbara overcomes her plight, she does not fall into the same trap that has claimed other authors. Ms. Van Meter shows that Barbara really does want to escape DC's crippling, and that makes her more realistic. It's ridiculous to think somebody wakes up thinking how lucky they are to be confined to a wheelchair, and yet the attitude around DC and among the fans is that Oracle is the better character over Batgirl because of her handicap. Rubbish. Batgirl has fought more crime and done more to aid Batman as Batgirl than she has as Oracle. Batgirl has saved Batman's life on numerous occasions. Oracle has not. Barbara in this incarnation is not a bad character, but she is not better because she no longer hunts the night in cape and cowl.

The characterization of Oracle affects the plot. Her thirst to bring a mugger to justice unveils an evil on its way to escalating into a serial killer who preys upon the handicapped. The way in which she discovers the identity takes the form of a police procedural in which suspects are given and then eliminated based upon new evidence uncovered. Barbara's ally in her hunt, and Ms. Van Meter is daring by allowing her to have one alludes to the old 60s Batman television series but also makes sense in light of how Ms. Van Meter establishes the character. Babs cannot go to Batman or any other cape because this act she feels would show weakness. She cannot go to her father because he would react as a father and try to protect her from herself. The former action may actually have any basis. I cannot see Batman thinking any less of somebody be she a cape or a regular Jane for asking for his help. Given however the characterization, her train of thought makes sense. Barbara desperately wants to be just as effective as her former costumed self. She overcompensates and must seem as tough as nails when in reality her life has changed. She is vulnerable. She can no longer be the Dark Knight Daredoll. She has adapted and coped and picked up a heavy burden.

I'm not familiar with Coy Turnball's other work, but his work on this issue always pays attention to anatomy and design weather the plot vacillates from surreal dream states where Batgirl's legs are the emphasis or a harsh reality where Babs' point of view is an alienating experience. Mr. Turnbull is never photorealistic nor is he a traditional cross-hatcher. Instead, he chooses to use simple compositions but more detailed than the animated style with a strong sense of expressiveness. All of his characters exhibit a rounded depth bone structure and muscle. Only a few panels with respect to scale and point of view seem off.

"The Black and White" back-up feature will be appreciated by 60s Batman fans but not much anybody else. The campy tale did nothing for me, and the better artistic-themed stories can be found in the seventies one-hundred pagers depicting The Batman's fight against a skull-masked homicidal artist who first painted the deaths of his victims before dispatching them.


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