With the recent news that Joss Whedon is in the works to do a (potentially amazing, if arguably problematic) Batgirl movie, I’ve been thinking about Barbara Gordon a lot. I mean, more than usual. BG’s always been a personal favorite and perhaps the first example I remember from my childhood of not only a real “strong female character” but a superhero I actually connected with. Babs has been a hero to many and while she has been used in incredibly problematic ways over the years, she remains one of the most prominent female superheroes to the average geek.
This shade of purple was forever associated with Batgirl in my brain. (image via Batman Wiki)
As different artists have taken a crack at Batgirl over the years, she has gone through a few phases, as have most of the other major players in the Batman canon. Many of those different versions of BG have been used in exploitative ways. Despite this, many have made her a feminist icon and often a source of inspiration to fans of all genders. In looking back at some of these incarnations, I also hope to highlight a few things that will be crucial to the Batgirl film not ending up horrible.
TW: Discussion of themes related to sexual violence and ableism.
Occasionally in the 90s we’d get a cartoon that would dedicate at least one episode to feminism or at least some vague notion of female empowerment. Batman: The Animated Series is no exception, and the episode “Harley and Ivy” is definitely one of my all-time favorites—after all, it introduced me to my absolute favorite femslash pairing. The episode in general does some great things, but it’s also still pretty problematic. At the heart of these problems is how we get feminism promoted to us through two female villains, causing it to look more like straw feminism than actual feminism. Despite that, though, this episode addresses everything from sexism to abusive relationships, street harassment, and female friendships.
A couple weeks ago, when I found myself in another Batman craze, I decided, what the hell? Let’s give Gotham’s second season a watch. I had heard from other people that Season 2 was better than Season 1, but to be honest, I had no expectations going into it. After all, literally anything could be better than Season 1. Gotham’s first season felt long, drawn out, and boring—it didn’t help that it had no direction whatsoeverand relied on offensive tropeswith its characterizations. I am thankful to say, though, that Season 2 was much better, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I actually binge-watched the whole thing in two days and now find myself somewhat excited for a third season. That said, being enjoyable is far from being good, and Gotham still has a ways to go.
The 1997 movie Batman & Robin is quite possibly one of the strangest movies I have ever watched. The last time I watched it, I noticed that the story liked to switch back and forth between two different things—being completely awful and being completely awful. It does literally nothing else. At any given time Batman & Robin is so awful it’s boring, and during all the other times, it’s so awful it’s baffling. Nevertheless, it’s a movie that has stuck with me over time—not because I particularly want to remember it, but because my traitorous mind won’t let me forget it in the slightest.
Recently, for whatever reason, I decided to go ahead and give Gotham Season 2 a watch. Regardless of my feelings on the show as a whole, the experience nevertheless left me in yet another mood to seek out more Riddler. As such, I set out to revisit some of my favorite fanfics, and so I bring to you Human Decency by crowsnest.
The easy answer is, of course, to lay the blame at George R. R. Martin and the copious bloodletting which reverberates throughout A Song of Ice and Fire. HBO generated a hit with his story when they put it on TV, and everyone else is trying to imitate him. If they got ratings with Ned Stark’s head on a pike, then goddamn it, the rest of us are going to keep putting heads on pikes until we get an Entertainment Weekly cover of our own.
Violence, death, and despair add a level of gravitas, which is clearly being craved in the newly-prestigious realms of television and superhero movies. But it’s increasingly little more than meaningless trend-following, with story and character sacrificed to appeal to some marketing executive’s belief of what audiences want. It’s destructive and it needs to end.