Writer: Michael J. Straczynski
Artists: Cliff Chiang(p), Trish Mulvihill(c)
If you want to read a comic book where Batgirl isn’t doomed to be crippled, look elsewhere. By the end of “Ladies’ Night,” in which Wonder Woman and Zatanna take Batgirl out on a night on the town, ostensibly her last, Barbara Gordon answers the door and gets waylaid by the Joker. Killing Joke literally replays.
“Ladies’ Night” is set in the past. The Brave and the Bold is not like Legends of the Dark Knight. It takes place in what DC laughingly calls a continuity. Don’t bother pointing to quotes where The Powers That Be say or suggest otherwise. They’re a pack of liars. You should not believe anything they say. The Brave and the Bold is a continuity book relating retrofitted missing adventures. It’s the equivalent to Batman Confidential. The Brave and the Bold‘s cast is simply broader.
“Ladies’ Night” has only one purpose. The Powers That Be and J. Michael Straczynski wish to take Wonder Woman and Zatanna out of the healing Barbara Gordon equation. They only make matters worse. I knew there would be another shoe. I just didn’t think it would be this size or drop so heavily.
Why didn’t Batman call Wonder Woman or Zatanna on his Justice League signal device after Barbara Gordon was crippled? In reality, the answer’s simple.
The Batman of The Killing Joke may have been in the Justice League, and he may not have been a member. No other heroes, except for Robin, the original Batwoman, Bat-Girl and Ace the Bathound, existed in the context of The Killing Joke. The Barbara Gordon seen in The Killing Joke may not have been the same Barbara Gordon that was Batgirl. I’m not referring to multiple earth incarnations of the characters or even to gleeful corporate shouts of “cripple the bitch.” I’m referring to the writer’s intent.
Alan Moore wrote The Killing Joke as a story. He was not thinking, “Gee, if Batman knows Bat-Mite. Couldn’t Batman get the little imp to heal her spine with a snap of his fingers?” Alan Moore did not create Oracle, DC’s Ironside. Alan Moore wrote a story where Barbara Gordon is shot by the Joker, crippled, disrobed and humiliated–possibly raped–for the sake of making Commissioner Gordon lose his sanity. Barbara Gordon was a pawn in Alan Moore’s story. Her purpose was to be the Commissioner’s loved one and nothing more than a sacrifice with sufficient enough resonance for her fate to carry impact. If the Commissioner’s wife had ever played a significant part in the Batman stories, she probably would have taken Barbara’s place in The Killing Joke.
All well and good, but the Powers That Be incorporated Barbara Gordon’s crippling in the DCU proper. Given the lack of white magic and super science in the early post-Crisis DCU, even if you didn’t like Barbara Gordon being crippled, you could accept the inclusion. Believe it, or not, I did accept the crippling. I even referred to Barbara as disabled and paralyzed, to acknowledge the realism DC was trying to foster. In those crisp first eye-blinks of the post-Crisis, there really was no way to help Barbara.
Jon Ostrander and John Byrne reintroduced Wonder Woman as a new character lacking pre-Crisis history in Legends. She never originally served in the Justice League. Batman did not know her. Batman in fact meets Wonder Woman for the “first time” in a throwaway scene during Millennium, better known as “When Manhunters Attack.”
I believe Zatanna’s first major post-Crisis appearance occurred in a mid-nineties issue of Superman. In that story, Zatanna used the willpower of Metropolis’ entire populace and her own magical mastery to supernaturally rebuild the city from the rubble. I forget exactly why the city was devastated; possibly Luthor. Regardless, since little was set in stone after the Crisis, Zatanna may not have ever been in the Justice League either. So, Batman may not have known Zatanna.
That all changed.
Writers, both good and bad, with the blessing of the Powers That Be, readjusted the timeline of the DCU. Wonder Woman, with pre-Crisis history intact including the Purple Healing Ray, now shares a longer history with Batman, serving with him as a founder of the Justice League. As revealed in Detective Comics, Zatanna has known Batman since he was eight to twelve. It wasn’t even good enough for Batman and Zatanna simply to serve on the Justice League together, evinced in Identity Crisis. Paul Dini prostituted the relationship they had in Batman: The Animated Series for DC’s Etch-a-Sketch Continuity.
What this all means is that in the context of the DCU, Batman knew Wonder Woman and Zatanna during The Killing Joke. That means Batman would have immediately contacted either of them after Barbara Gordon was crippled by the Joker. Else, Batman’s a prick. Now, I know Batman. I have read Batman’s adventures since I was about ten. I know this character. I know how he thinks. I know how he feels. I know that he’s not a prick. Batman would have done everything possible to heal Barbara Gordon. The Powers That Be, the fictional character’s custodians, never will.
The Brave and the Bold now retroactively adds more information that cannot be true. Straczynski reveals that Wonder Woman, Zatanna and Batgirl were colleagues. Worst of all, he confirms that the trio were friends. Furthermore, they were friendly enough for Diana and Zatanna to know that Batgirl is really Barbara Gordon.
The Powers and Straczynski have no issues with retconning Batgirl retiring, which she did shortly before The Killing Joke. Serendipity or positioning her for the kill? You decide. They have absolutely no problem determining that this story occurs shortly after the last appearance of Batgirl in Batman Confidential, which exists for me only as art in which Batgirl is walking right now, and they seem to think that this issue will explain everything. Instead, the Powers and Straczynski in a stunning display of ignorance and ineptitude make Wonder Woman and Zatanna accessories in the crippling of Barbara Gordon:
“All the more reason to make time. I’ve always said. You can get another boyfriend, another lover, another husband, another Parent…But you only get one Mother and one Father. Invite him over to dinner some time. Even cops have to eat.”
That was Zatanna making damn sure that in the future Barbara will be in the Joker’s bull’s-eye.
“…And the greatest burden of all was to be an Oracle of prophecy, when there was nothing you could do to alter the course of the future because you had just enough information to know that something was going to happen but not enough information to stop it from happening.”
That was Wonder Woman saying I know something bad is going to happen to you. I can’t do anything to stop it like the Doctor did for Chang Lee in Doctor Who 1996, “Lee…Next year, take a vacation, and don’t be here.” Great show, by the way, but you know, what? Enough about you. Think about how I feel. Think about my pain. Think about my bff Zatanna’s troubles. Think about the weights on our shoulders. It’s not all about you, Cripple Girl. Sorry. I meant Batgirl. Batgirl. Cripple Girl? What was I thinking? Oh, and see you next Tuesday.
“Of course. They could see the future, but only imperfectly. And if they told you your future, and you did anything to change it. You’d only make things a thousand times worse.”
That was Barbara almost doping things out, not realizing that this was her next to last meal before the execution, which given the writing suggests she gladly accepts her fate of being crippled for life. No, Shondra Kinsolving for you.<br
It seems to me that the Powers and Straczynski are desperate to explain and preserve the conceit of non-powered costumed crimefighters experiencing life altering trauma while simultaneously still allowing for things like black guys with magic rings willing themselves out of wheelchairs, former male beaten-to-death-and-blown-up sidekicks getting better and of course former heroes from other universes punching time, but the writer of this manipulative drivel and the Powers That Be are missing the point.
The argument isn’t that Wonder Woman and Zatanna could have prevented Barbara’s crippling. Of course, that is another argument now. No. The argument is that in the context of the DCU, Batman would have called either Wonder Woman or Zatanna to heal Barbara after she had been shot. It turns out Wonder Woman and Zatanna thanks to this story are bitches of the lowest order. They not only fail to prevent Barbara from being shot, something that never was possible until now, the implication is that they refused to offer their healing services to a friend after she was shot.
Let’s imagine the scenarios possible.
After Barbara is shot, Batman calls Wonder Woman and Zatanna. He explains the situation. Wonder Woman and Zatanna demure and say that they just got out of the shower and their hair is drying. Babs is crippled forever. Sorry. Batman is dumbfounded and shouts expletives at them.
In scenario number two, the prick Batman doesn’t call Wonder Woman and Zatanna. However, they know full well that Barbara is shot thanks to various news reports. They collectively cover their ears and join in a chorus of “La-La-La-La.” They let Babs stay crippled.
This story makes no sense and did not need to be written. This is not a time travel story. Wonder Woman and Zatanna are not traveling back in time to prevent Barbara’s healing to preserve the time/space continuum, which is a preposterous argument given how the Powers consistently rejigger, rewrite and retcon the timeline. Wonder Woman and Zatanna simply know that Barbara will be shot and crippled in the near future. Fine. She’s shot. The Killing Joke happens, but that doesn’t explain why these heroes do not heal her in their respective presents. They wouldn’t be changing the future. They would be creating the future the same way real people do, by living their lives and interacting. I am flabbergasted.
One wonders if DC has any more empty-headed, Dystopian homilies up their sleeves to stupidly excuse their heroes from healing Barbara Gordon. Perhaps, Inza and Kent Nelson, sharing Zatanna’s nightmare, will stop time to take Babs to a barbecue held by Hal Jordan and the Atom. Maybe she’ll play Frisbee and Hacky Sack with John Stewart and Katma Tui. Don’t worry, honey, your barbecue is next week. Maybe later in the evening Batman will kidnap Babs and use his wealth to grant her an evening performing with Cirque du Soleil to “explain” why he and Babs never vacationed at a Lazarus Pit.
This story is meant to be a tender hearted tale where Wonder Woman and Zatanna do something special for Batgirl because they know that she’s about to lose all feeling below the waist. I suppose if this were a Vertigo title, they might have even hooked her up with somebody for an evening of debauchery. The reader is supposed to believe that Wonder Woman and Zatanna are great people, but if you look between the lines of condescending dialogue, if you try to place “Ladies’ Night” into context, this Z-Grade Afterschool Special is about the worst thing that could have been written with these three characters. I can’t think of a story more inappropriate and unnecessary than this one, and if you know me, you know, that’s saying a helluva lot.
On the other hand, maybe this story was all a dream. In the epilogue, reflecting the opening where Zatanna awakens from her nightmare, the crippled Barbara Gordon wakes up. This means that the writer and the Powers That Be didn’t even possess courage or conviction in their work. They decided to cover their asses just in case people saw through their patronizing exercise. I expected the limited budget imaginations of all involved which reinforces the theme that super-heroes are actually useless, but even I could not have grasped just how much contempt the Powers That Be and this writer have for the readers.