The latest Bat-event “Gothtopia” rolls along in bright and sunny fashion with its first full-length chapter in Gail Simone and Robert Gill’s “Batgirl” #27, after its kickoff last week as part of the mammoth “Detective Comics” #27. In “Gothtopia,” Gotham has inexplicably transformed into a happy, safe and idyllic opposite of the grimy, crime ridden, urban hellhole that everyone knows, and both Simone and Gill effectively take every opportunity to show it, even as underneath it all something seems a little off, before an unthinkable threat emerges.
There’s no mistaking the mood here. Gill’s Gotham is not only bright and sunny, but sweet and sugary. Tall, shiny skyscrapers glisten in the morning sun, and flowers grow in planters around the gargoyle statues that adorn them. Colorist Blond plays the game well too, with no shortage of blue skies above, green grass beneath them, and soft pastels all around. Simone’s Barbara Gordon doesn’t prowl the dark alleys at night as Batgirl; instead she takes morning patrols as Bluebelle. Yes, Bluebelle, in her dazzling white costume, but only after waking up to the smell of bacon cooking for breakfast, cooked by none other than her own father, with no sign of the troubles that exist between them from the events of recent storylines.
Despite the saturation of sweetness, Simone and Gill don’t overplay this idea by going too far with this Pleasantville-style incarnation of Gotham. They can’t, really, because the notion is actually fascinating. In a medium full of dark and dystopian alternate realities, this one is refreshing in the simplicity of the idea alone, but captivating by way of its exploration. Criticism of a Gotham so impossibly perfect can’t really be made, at least any more than it could be for the usual impossibly despondent, downtrodden, and filthy version that’s been seen every month for decades. The latter has been a backdrop for so long that it’s practically beyond notice, but Simone and Gill’s one issue tour ends way too soon; they leave readers wanting more, and in fact probably could have gotten away without any real story.
This single issue story, though, is almost as fascinating as the backdrop. For all of the ice cream trucks on the loose in this “Leave It To Beaver” version of the city, pretty much any reader can guess that any product named Joker Ice Cream isn’t going to bode well for anyone who consumes it, even in this seeming utopia. That’s part of the uneasiness that continuously swims just below the surface of this story; elements like The Joker, as well as Barbara’s constant sense of conflict, keep readers grounded with the sense that while everything seems just hunky-dory, there’s actually something very, very wrong.
The story’s villain, and her twisted and disturbing scheme, would seem like a travesty even in the traditional confines of a normal Gotham. Here, though, the dichotomy is even more vividly brutal, and Simone effectively uses the super sparkly environment to contrast Mother Mercy’s atrocious misdeeds. And perhaps even more surprisingly, Simone delivers an emotional ending to the conflict that brings forth an ironic and poetic similarity between the two characters.
There’s an incredible synergy between Simone, Gill and Blond that makes “Batgirl” #27 beautiful, fascinating, refreshing, and disturbing all at once. “Gothtopia” is off to an impressive start, and this decidedly different issue is another amazing story in this superbly written and drawn title.