BY RICHARD SUPLEE GEEK SPACE CORRESPONDENT After the ensuing critical shitstorms that greeted the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad last year, Warner Bros. is trying to salvage the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) which includes the following superhero franchises: the newest Superman and Suicide Squad and upcoming Wonder Woman, along with Aquaman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Shazam, and Cyborg. Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) — which includes Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, plus TV and Netflix shows and too many films in development to list — is still leading the superhero genre. The DCEU is hoping to change that this year with next month’s Wonder Woman followed by The Justice League. Their short term plan is solo films for each member of The Justice League through 2020’s Green Lantern Corps. However, recently Warner Bros. revealed their long term plans with announcements for a Nightwing (a grown up Dick Grayson/Robin) and a Joss Whedon written/directed Batgirl film1-8.
Right away, Batgirl caught my attention. From the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show (1997-2003) to the first two Avengers films (2012, 2015) to the lesser known Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2007), Joss Whedon proved he can handle superheroes. He also proved he can handle funny superheroes. While Batgirl is not a comic relief character, the DCEU as a whole has a serious and gritty tone. A change of pace is what the franchise needs. Batgirl probably won’t be a comedy, but it should be lighter than Batman v Superman.
But what else should Batgirl be? Besides Joss Whedon we only know this Batgirl’s name. Barbara Gordon, the daughter/niece of Police Commissioner James Gordon (their exact relationship changes with writers) is probably the most known of Batman’s female sidekicks (from the Adam West how and most Batman cartoons). Personally, I am not a fan of a Barbara Gordon as Batgirl anymore. I grew up with a Barbara Gordon who wasn’t Batgirl. My only comic book experience with her was Oracle. For those unfamiliar, Barbara Gordon was shot in the spine by The Joker (as part of his attempt to drive Commissioner Gordon insane by giving him “one bad day”) and paralyzed9. While this is one of the worse examples of “women in refrigerators” (a trope where female characters are brutally killed or maimed so a male character can have character development) in comic books, it led to a new identity. Barbara became the super hacker Oracle who organized all the superheroes in Gotham. Despite being confined to a wheelchair she was helping people. She became such an asset to Batman that storylines had to be written around her. She proved that even the disabled can help out in the superhero world without any magic or alien technology to fix her spine. 6 years ago, DC did just that and made Barbara Gordon Batgirl again. This felt like a demotion to me. Barbara was Batgirl when Dick Grayson was Robin and yet Dick moved on to Nightwing for good. She wasn’t even Batwoman. It also took away DC’s strongest and most prominent handicapped character. Oracle could easily be a supporting character in Batgirl with someone else under the cowl.
Barbara Gordon was not the only Batgirl. She wasn’t even the first. My personal choice for a Batgirl film is Cassandra Cain. Cain was bred and raised by the League of Assassins (adapted by the Dark Knight Trilogy as The League of Shadows) to be a weapon. She was never taught how to speak, only to fight. This made her “native language” body language. She can perfectly predict anyone’s fighting style. She will notice your breath quicken and your arm muscles clench before a punch is thrown. She became a hero after her first assassination. Cassandra saw life leave her victim’s body. She saw all the ticks and movements a body does just end. She read death. She vowed to never kill again and eventually met Batman. A Cassandra Cain film will be a martial arts superhero film where the main character needs to carry the emotion with few words. The action must be part of the story like in Old Man Logan (2016). It can even include Barbara Gordon as the mentor/tech support Oracle. Also, Cassandra Cain (along with a handicapped Barbara Gordon) will add more diversity to the DCEU and the genre in general. I cannot name any Asian superhero with a film in development. And yes, that does matter. Representation is important even in a fictional universe with Martians and mermaids. And not just so minorities can see themselves in comics or film. Pop culture is an exaggerated self-portait of society and it paints a telling picture when the majority of main characters all look the same. Fans are excited for Wonder Woman next month partly because of the lack of female characters and the same can be applied to all underrepresented groups. But Cassandra Cain is the unsafe choice. A general audience doesn’t know her. They know Barbara Gordon. The DCEU always made the safe choices. Warner Bros. should be looking for the most interesting characters, not the most popular.