I’ll start with Birds of Prey: Catwoman/Batgirl/Oracle. I’d never read this story before, and was pretty pleasantly surprised by it. I think it was a nice touch to set the first issue during Babs’ Batgirl career and then jump ahead a number of years for her Oracle phase in issue #2. The first issue also really resonated with my recent obsession with Netflix serial killer documentaries. There was a sinister atmosphere to the background of the plot that really hooked me in the same way as those documentaries.
For a two issue series, there was also a surprising amount of depth for the minor characters. Erich Blaque could have been some generic henchman, but his vampiric delusions and obsession with a singer gave him dimensions that most minor villains in a limited series usually don’t have. I would agree with @Razzzcat and @Jay_Kay that this series could have been improved with more issues. They did a great job with two, but there could have been quite a story told with six. All in all, a fun little read and I loved seeing Babs get the better of Selina in the end.
Moving on to Suicide Squad #48-49! As I’ve mentioned before, this is still my favorite volume of Suicide Squad. These issues are firmly in the Kim Yale phase of the volume. When Yale became part of the creative team, there was a shift in that Amanda Waller became the main character of the book and started to seem more sympathetic than she had before. I think that definitely comes across in these issues with Amanda’s struggles to defy the temptations of The Thinker’s helmet and the fact that The Wall ultimately saves the day. All that and you still don’t find Waller less intimidating. That probably makes this era of the volume the most nuanced portrayal of Amanda Waller’s character (that I’ve read so far, anyway).
Also, just to make a brief note as @Razzzcat and I were discussing these issues in the last BoP discussion, there was not one but two potentially problematic street gang scenes in these issues! This volume of the Squad was a cornerstone of the grim, gritty drive DC had in the late 80’s. Things like this do pop up in it regularly. But…I’ve mentioned this trend in the era before, so 'nuff said for now.
Now to move on to Barbara’s role in the story, and please indulge me because I’m going to mention The Story That Shall Not Be Named (TKJ) a bit. Like many, many comic fans my age, I’m an Alan Moore fan. Reading Moore as an awkward, disenfranchised teenager was almost this rite of passage/spiritual awakening. However, when you are that angry, nerdy teenager, you tend to focus on the grim and “mature” elements of Moore’s work. You get distracted by the violence and “mature” themes and almost believe that’s what makes the stories great.
Luckily, now that I’m older I recognize the structural complexities and the humanistic moments in most of Moore’s work (Watchmen, Promethea, Supreme…) that actually make it great. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much to that for The Story That Shall Not Be Named. It’s a story that is driven by its violence and “maturity.” And, as @Razzzcat mentioned last discussion, it’s a story where Babs’ suffering is a plot device for Batman and the Joker’s dynamic.
TKJ is essentially a story for that angry, awkward teenager within many of us comics fans that thinks violence and horror in and of themselves make for a good story.
That’s why, I find the choice of villain for these two Suicide Squad issues perfect. Cliff Carmichael was an awkward, disenfranchised nerd who lashed out by tormenting Ronnie Raymond (Firestorm) in high school. Essentially, Cliff was the kind of guy who would have really enjoyed The Story That Shall Not Be Named. Again, this is just my reading of it and it’s a meta, personal reading of it that is informed by the embarrassment I have over my own history with grim and gritty comic stories. I cannot say this was the actual intention. But… by overcoming Cliff and the urge to kill him… I would argue that Barbara is not just overcoming her own PTSD but is also overcoming the elements and dark, misguided forces in comics that put her in that wheel chair in the first place.
Probably not the true intention behind the story. Still, I could not stop thinking about it after I made the connection…