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COMIC BOOK REVIEW

BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL #21

Author: John Bierly
Saturday, September 20, 2008

FROM DC COMICS: "'The Bat and the Cat' Part 5! The tale concludes as Batgirl finds out who sent Catwoman after Commissioner Gordon's notebook and why! But to do so she will have to spend the night in Arkham Asylum!"

And so another arc of BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL comes to a close with the fifth and final chapter of "The Bat and the Cat," or "The Cat and the Bat," depending on whether you read the title on the cover or on the first page. (Edit these books DC, EDIT them!)

When last we saw our intrepid Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, she'd chased a notebook belonging to her dad -- that's Commissioner Jim Gordon to you and me -- into Arkham Asylum, where she's now trapped by The Riddler, who's planning to make her run the gauntlet through Gotham's worst.

On the first page, she laments that her shredded costume shows more skin than she's comfortable with, when just a few issues ago writer Fabian Nicieza had her running around naked and embarrassed at a fetish club trying to capture a similarly naked Selina Kyle, who had stolen Jim Gordon's notebook in the first place.

On pages two and three, she encounters three of the most twisted, terrifying, and utterly despicable denizens of Arkham: Catman, The Cavalier, and The Signalman.

What?

Are you serious?

I was expecting Toaster Tom and Swiss Cheese McGee to join the fight any second, but alas.

More fighting ensues with Blockbuster as The Riddler begins broadcasting riddles over the asylum's loud speakers. And as riddles go, they aren't very good ones. Barbara has an encounter with Two-Face that ends on a bittersweet note, and then an entirely underwhelming run-in with Dr. Jonathan "Scarecrow" Crane, and then another close call that I won't ruin even though it's pretty predictable.

But the one page she shares with The Joker is probably the single best page of the entire five-part arc. It's utterly terrifying, especially when The Joker says three little words from his cell as he watches Barbara tussle with one of The Riddler's brain-teasers. "____ ___ ____, Eddie. "____. ___. ____."

I won't tell you what they are. I will tell you that you'll never forget them.

As the story resolves in a way that I found to be pretty satisfying, we get another good scene between Barbara and Catwoman and a good scene with Batman. The last four panels of the issue are classic.

Looking back, I don't think this needed to be five issues. And I was bothered by lots of tonal inconsistencies, particularly in the story's treatment of women. The first two issues treated Selina and Barbara as sex objects for laughs by trying to titillate in the name of humor, but watching Barbara run around naked and embarrassed was anything but funny. It just felt really wrong. But then subsequent issues played up the sexual slavery angle via Selina's friend who'd been captured and sexually abused by Russian mobsters, and it seemed really wrong to me for Nicieza to portray something so vile and cruel when just pages before he was trying to serve up chuckles with some naked slap-and-tickle.

There were some very good dialogue moments and many honest laughs throughout these five issues, all of them between Catwoman and Batgirl. Ultimately, the inconsistencies in tone and some out-of-character actions (for the sake of the story, which in turn only hurt the story) left me feeling pretty ambivalent about the whole thing.

I did enjoy Kevin Maguire's art throughout; his faces in particular are dynamic and expressive, and he's obviously having a lot of fun on the page. It shows. And I like that he doesn't draw his women like sticks. They look like real, healthy women, and I appreciate that.

Another Joker arc begins next issue, and it had better be better than the last Joker story in these pages. Because after THE DARK KNIGHT, let's just say that not just any old Joker story will do.

Thanks for reading! See you next issue. - John Bierly

Indiana native John Bierly started writing for publications when he was 17 and never stopped.
His favorite things in life are family and friends, concerts, burgers, Mountain Dew, and, of course...
...THE BATMAN!
You can read his blog at JOHNBIERLY.COM.

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