Comic Book Review: "Batman #12: Ghost In The Machine"
The dark world of The Narrows of Gotham City and the lives of those poor Gothamites who live there are explored through the eyes of Harper Row in Batman, issue 7. “Ghost In The Machine”, written by Scott Snyder with guest artist Becky Cloonan, showcases the lives of Gotham City electrician Harper Row (the girl who helped revive Batman, at the beginning of #7, after his ordeal with the Court of Owls), and her brother, Cullen. This is the story of how Harper first met Batman and how she actually helps him in the sewers against an adversary; whether he wanted her assistance or not.
“Ghost in the Machine” begins with Harper Row is down in the sewers of Gotham repairing cable when she gets a call from her brother, Cullen, who is angry. Several weeks early, at their apartment, Cullen is trying to get Harper to dress up pretty for the Wayne gala that she’s been invited to. She’s a tomboy and doesn’t what to wear a stupid red dress and long white gloves. She says that she’s only been invited as a formality because they are tearing down their building.
Cullen reminds her that she worry too much about everything. She notices a cut on his arm and demands to know who hurt Cullen. He says it’s nothing. She needs to get going (the limo’s been waiting for 20 minutes). He finally gets Harper out the door and tells her he’ll order a pizza and try to catch her on TV.
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At the gala, while Bruce Wayne is speaking, Harper is at the buffet table filling her backpack with cupcakes and treats. Alfred catches her and tells that she making a mistake if she doesn’t taste the brownies. She’s asks him if there is an easy way out of the mansion, she needs to get back home. Alfred offers to show her out.
As they walk out, Alfred asks her what she thinks of Bruce’s plan for the rebuilding of her old building in The Narrows. She says that she doesn’t care, because rich guys like Bruce Wayne have never been to her part of town; he doesn’t know the real city that she and her brother have to live it. Just because he says he’s going to fix it up doesn’t get her too excited.
She thanks Alfred as she leaves. When she gets home she finds Cullen bloodied and beaten up. Some punks beat him up because he is a homosexual. She promises she’ll fix things.
She remembers that she was always fixing things; especially the things that their father kept breaking. She learned at an early age how to fix electrical wires and cables. And as soon as she could get emancipated, she got a job working in the Gotham City power grid as an electrical engineer.
One night Harper and Cullen are attacked by the same group of thugs who beat up Cullen. She defends him with a homemade Taser. But there is a larger group of thugs than she thought. The thugs begin beating up Harper and Cullen. Suddenly, a smoke bomb goes off and Batman shows up and beats up every one of the thugs. He tells one of the thugs that if they every hurt them again he’ll be back. The thug runs off, and Batman quickly zip-lines away.
Harper is suddenly in love / infatuated with Batman; looking up every single video she can find of him online. She figures out that all the video of him is from cellphones and not the city’s surveillance cameras. She looks deeper into it and finds out that Batman, somehow, turned the city camera off, so there is no video of him for the police to track him and catch him (being a vigilante and all that).
Harper figures out that Batman has created a ghost mainframe throughout the city’s power grid. He saps power from Wayne Industries to power his private grid and help power the run-down parts of the city; he’s like a modern day electrical Robin Hood. She wants to thank him for his help that night, so she makes a stronger antenna relay for him. She plans to install it so that if one of the city antennas goes down, he’ll still have power to turn off the cameras.
Harper can see from her computer where Batman is right now. She’s suddenly noticed that one of the relays went down and if she repairs it, he’ll stay invisible to the police. She runs off to the station under the city (in the sewers) that is closest to her and tries to fix the relay.
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Down the waterway, a sewer boat speeds towards Harper. She can see Batman fighting Tiger Shark on the deck (he’s demanding to know how the Talon got into Wayne Tower; see Batman #3). Tiger Shark releases a real tiger to attack Batman. Harper sees this and tries to help Batman by turning on the run-off valve of the sewer. Doing so grounds the boat and knocks off the tiger and knocks out Tiger Shark. Batman notices that the run-off valve was turned on, but Harper is gone.
She runs home excited that she helped save Batman. The next day, Harper is down in the sewer repairing cables (secretly installing her “gift” for Batman).
Suddenly, The Dark Knight appears behind her and tells her that whatever she’s doing—she’s finished. Harper replies that she’s just trying to help. He rebukes her. Suddenly, she realizes that Batman wanted the relay to go down (he actually turned it off) so that the police would converge on the area and capture Tiger Shark.
He tells her it’s not up for debate: She’s finished. She tells Batman that she had to do something to thank him for standing up for her and her brother. Batman quickly vanishes. She decides to help Batman whenever she can, regardless if Batman doesn’t welcome it.
Harper Row is one those fourth wall characters in comic books. She allows the reader to identify with the world outside of superheroes; the outsider looking in. With a character like Batman, the reader is usually on the inside of the situation. They are always with Batman: at his side and inside his head. With this issue, and with Harper, one gets to see how the people of Gotham City see Batman: as both a heroes and a vigilante; an enigmatic mystery man. This is the second time Harper Row has appeared in the New 52 (1st being Batman #7); it will be interesting to see how her “helping” Batman will make life easier (or more difficult) for both the Dark Knight and herself.