Joker returns to the door of Batgirl for 'Joker War' - but she's ready this time

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Since taking over the Batgirl title with #37, writer Cecil Castellucci has been putting Barabara Gordon through the ringer. Babs has had to deal with a trio of power-hungry goons, a robot that knows her every thought, and most recently, a mysterious infection that turns Gotham citizens into statues. But soon, her problems are going to get a lot worse when 'The Joker War' breaks out in Gotham, and alongside it, the Clown Prince of Crime returns to her life - in what Castellucci has called "a response to Killing Joke," the 1998 graphic novel where Joker shot and paralyzed Batgirl.

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On the eve of Batgirl #47's release this week (which will be the final arc of the series (opens in new tab)), Castellucci spoke with Newsarama about Babs once again meeting the Joker, how the past 10 issues have been building up to this moment, and also what will come next.

Newsarama spoke with Castellucci about the upcoming Batgirl #47, the official beginning of Barabara's Joker War storyline. Read on to find out what Castellucci had to say about Batgirl's next encounter with the Joker, how the past ten issues will inform it, and what (also who!) will come after it. Once you do, be sure to check out Batgirl #47, on sale July 21st.

Newsarama: We're heading into Joker War, and there are few characters with as much history with the Joker than Barbara. Before this issue, what are her feelings on the Joker? How often is this character on her mind?

Cecil Castellucci: I think that when you have had a trauma at the hands of a person who keeps coming back and messing with your city and your friends over and over and over again, he's going to be on your mind. 

But I think that what we all know about Barbara is that she deals with her stuff and she is very resilient and has the emotional resources to and capacity to handle what he is in the world. I would wager that right after he shot her, he was on her mind a lot. But I think with time and a lot of work, he occupies less of a spot. 

Basically, I don't think she's obsessed with him or anything. She doesn't need to give him that kind of emotional energy or power over her. What I can say is that she has worked very hard in her life to be ready for him. 

Nrama: This is hardly the first time in your run Batgirl has had to confront her past. What allows her to handle that? When she gets knocked down, what keeps her fighting?

Castellucci: Like I said, I think that Batgirl is resilient. In fact, I think she's the most resilient person in the whole Batfamily. She faces things head on. 

I think her being a woman helps her a lot because, as a woman, she has to work twice as hard. 

She also remembers everything, so she has a great source of knowledge at her fingertips and that allows for self-reflection. She's always been a gal who values the mind and intelligence, and I think that gives her an edge. She thinks things through.

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Also, being a librarian, she's a big reader. Books open up your world, smash down the walls around you, and help you to see other ways forward. 

Basically, what keeps her fighting is that she is pretty awesome. When she became Oracle, it was her way of completely owning herself.  

Nrama: What has Babs learned in her battles with Oracle and the Terrible Trio (not to mention her tumultuous personal life) that she'll be bringing into this fight with the Joker?

Castellucci: The thing that made that robot a great foe for Batgirl is that it knew all of her go to moves and strategies. So one thing that Batgirl really had to think about to defeat that robot (In my mind, Babs is Oracle, the robot is the robot) was to do things differently than she normally would. 

We all get into ruts, and have our patterns that we fall back on. Batgirl had to say yes to things she would normally say no to in order to win that fight, and that was a great lesson for her. In my mind, this is Barbara/Batgirl's "year of yes." She's trying to think outside of her own box and feel things and fight things in different ways. 

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So, I feel she's loose and ready to meet the Joker under wholly new circumstances, because she's ready to do things differently now. Not just in her fighting but in her personal life. That gives her a new kind of strength.

Nrama: How does Babs fit into Joker's overall plan for Gotham?

Castellucci: Well, I don't think it's a spoiler to say that the Joker has all of their numbers. So as she is the emotional heart of the Batfamily, you know that he's going to be using her for emotional leverage. 

Also, she has something that he needs to get what he wants. Isn't that always the case?  

Nrama: Switching gears a bit, what's it like writing a solo series during a company-wide event such as 'The Joker War'? What do the conversations between you and the other writers look like?

Castellucci: In a way, while it fits into 'The Joker War,' I feel that Batgirl #47 stands on its own. 

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So I never talked to any of the other writers. I talked with my editor Jessica Chen (who also edits Nightwing) and with artist Robbi Rodriguez. I knew that the Joker was going to come over and knock on her door looking for something. And I thought that was a real opportunity to address Batgirl and Joker's history. So for me, it was more important to keep it insular and really make sure that the Batgirl team was directly referencing Batman: The Killing Joke, but from an empowered point of view.

Nrama: For this whole run, you've been joined by Eisner-winning colorist Jordie Bellaire. What's working with Jordie like? 

Castellucci: Jordie's colors are so gorgeous. What I loved is that when Robbi came on, she decided to go for a more painterly approach. Her colors stun.

Nrama: Issue #47 marks the beginning of your collaboration with Robbi. What does Robbi bring to the book? Why does he fit it?

Castellucci: It was a delight to work with Robbi. He really brought so much pathos to the book. 

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It really makes a difference when the artist knows and loves the character well. Robbi really brought a deep knowledge and a real understanding of storytelling to the story. Issue 47 is tricky because of the history between Joker and Batgirl, and Robbi was such a great collaborator in terms of bringing things to the story with pacing.  

Nrama: Does bringing a new artist onto a book change your writing?

Castellucci: You know, it's my first time experiencing that on Batgirl. All my other comics have been with the same artist through and through, but yes, it does change my writing because each artist is different and has a different way that they communicate and execute story. 

It's my job as the writer to give them the scaffolding to tell the story that we want to tell together. Sometimes it just clicks with someone; they might change a thing here or there from what you wrote, but it's for the better. Working with an artist is like being on a trapeze team together. You have to have a lot of trust. 

Robbi was really great at asking me questions when he needed information and he was able to save my butt when I left something out. 

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Nrama: This issue also kicks off Batgirl's next storyline, 'The Last Joke,' which will bring James Gordon Jr. back to Gotham. What has Barbara's murderous brother been up to since we last saw him?

Castellucci: Well, James Jr. has been in Gotham. Living his life. Dealing with the infected. Trying out a new method of treatment for his sociopathy. I think once you've managed to confront the Joker, who is your worst nightmare, you can totally handle whatever your annoying evil brother is up to. 

And remember, Babs is trying to do and deal with things differently, which is a good thing in the long run, but might still cause her grief.

Nrama: Is James Jr. Batgirl's arch nemesis?

Castellucci: I wouldn't say that James Jr. is in Batgirl's rogues gallery, nor would I say that he's her arch nemesis. He is her brother, who is very complicated, and complicates her life both professionally and personally. Families are like that. And James Jr. is the bad egg. 

But I see Barbara and James as similar, as in, they are both smart and capable but they were dealt such different mental cards in life that they are attached by blood but forever divided in mind.

Grant DeArmitt
Freelance writer

Grant DeArmitt is a NYC-based writer and editor who regularly contributes bylines to Newsarama. Grant is a horror aficionado, writing about the genre for Nightmare on Film Street, and has written features, reviews, and interviews for the likes of PanelxPanel and Monkeys Fighting Robots. Grant says he probably isn't a werewolf… but you can never be too careful.