Posted on Thursday, April 6th, 2017 by Jamie Righetti
It’s not exactly a done deal just yet, but news that Joss Whedon is in talks to write, direct and produce a solo Batgirl film definitely took everyone by surprise late last week. Of course, Whedon is no stranger to superhero films, having already directed both The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but this film would see Whedon crossing over to the other side of the comics aisle and would mark his first film in the DCEU. Beyond this, Whedon made his name helming the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, which just celebrated its twentieth anniversary, as well as the female-led series Dollhouse and the hugely popular and criminally short-lived Firefly. While many, including myself, paused at the idea of a man writing and directing such an important female character in the DC universe, Whedon does have a track record of success when it comes to portraying complex and strong female characters, which makes the news promising for fans.
But what comic book storylines could and should serve as influences on the new film’s story? That’s why I’m here today.
Setting the Stage
Since the character debuted in 1961, a number of women have donned the Batgirl cowl including Betty Kane (the very first Batgirl and niece of Batwoman Kathy Kane), Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown. But perhaps the most famous Batgirl is Barbara Gordon, the daughter (or sometimes niece) of Batman ally Commission Jim Gordon, most famously portrayed on-screen by Yvonne Craig in the third season of the Batman television series. Craig’s Batgirl was hugely influential on young girls at the time who were finally able to see a version of themselves fighting alongside male superheroes. Decades later, I discovered Batgirl while the show was in syndication and the effect was not lost on me either. Here was a woman doing the very things I was told only boys could do, while maintaining a fierce sense of loyalty, empathy and justice. Barbara Gordon was one of my first role models and there isn’t a Halloween that goes by where I don’t linger on a link for that sparkly purple and yellow costume that I have dreamt about donning since childhood.
Recent reports claim that the film will be based on the introduction of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, which took place in the 1967 comic “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!”, and would also use the Gail Simone’s run during DC’s The New 52 as an inspiration. But in the spirit of this exciting news, we thought it might be interesting to explore some of the best storylines from Babs’ long history in the comics and propose some ideas for this solo Batgirl film and beyond.
Batgirl: Year One (2003)
Writers: Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon
Art: Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez
When it comes to exploring the origins of Barbara Gordon’s transformation into Batgirl, this 2003 mini-series – which is an updated take on the origin offered in “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!” – seems like one of the best starting points. What makes Year One so interesting is how Babs uses her experiences with sexism as her motivation to make a difference by blazing her own trail. Despite being extremely intelligent, finishing college while she is still in her teens, Barbara finds her hope to pursue a career in law enforcement shut down at every avenue. Her father’s overprotectiveness forbids her from joining Gotham PD and she is also dismissed by the FBI as too young and petite to be an agent. She then turns to the Justice League to try and join as an apprentice and is similarly turned down.
Although she initially creates the Batgirl costume for a masquerade ball as a dig at her father’s unconventional relationship with Batman, Barbara springs into action when Killer Moth attempts to kidnap Bruce Wayne, allowing him to escape and (unknown to her) change into his Batman costume and call Robin to his aid. Barbara stands her ground against Batman, challenging his declaration that she didn’t ask for permission to use his symbol by telling him he never asked for permission to become Batman. Throughout the mini-series, Barbara never backs down from the challenges thrown her way, deftly passing two of Batman’s tests (obstacle courses and simulations of some of his enemies) and refusing to change her mind about her drive to keep Gotham safe despite the danger.
The Barbara we encounter in Year One is brave, loyal (Batman reveals his identity to her), intelligent and driven. She spurns the uninvited advances of Robin, showing us that her motivation in joining the Bat Family isn’t one rooted in idealistic romance. Instead, Barbara successfully blazes her own path despite being given a multitude of excuses as to why her sex is a setback. While the actual plot is muddied a bit by doppleganger villains, the core of this comic would be a solid start to a Batgirl film franchise and an excellent introduction for the character into the DCEU.
Batgirl Vol. 4: Wanted (2014)
Writer: Gail Simone
Art: Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion
One of The New 52’s best Batgirl storylines comes courtesy of Gail Simone, who does a great job of establishing Barbara outside of the Batgirl persona. In the issues collected in Wanted, you see civilian Barbara a lot, which helps establish her personality and her sense of humor but you also see how incredibly smart and confident she is and how one day this could translate into her Oracle persona (though preferably not at the hands of The Joker). While this isn’t an origin story, there’s so much insight into Barbara that this could potentially work as a first film, perhaps with an establishing flashback early on.
Wanted centers on a conflict between Batgirl and Commissioner Gordon akin to The Fugitive, as Commissioner Gordon believes Batgirl to be responsible for the death of his son, James, not knowing that Batgirl is his own daughter. Wanted also deals with the wear and tear of crime fighting as Barbara, who is nursing an injury, finds herself withdrawing from her civilian life as a result. While shopping with her roommate, Alysia Yeoh, Barbara becomes enraged by a pair of men who are catcalling the two women and loses control, confronting the men with shards of broken glass, which reminds her of the Batarang that was implicit in her brother’s death. Eventually, although she is estranged from her father, Barbara must come to his rescue when Commissioner Gordon is kidnapped by the villain Knightfall.
Similar to Batman’s own self-examinations in The Dark Knight, Wanted digs into the guilt that comes with the pursuit of justice. There’s Barbara’s guilt over her brother’s death and the collateral damage that comes with crime fighting, but there’s also the examination of human error when Commissioner Gordon shoots Ricky, a young man Barbara has been seeing. What also makes Wanted, or truthfully any of Simone’s Batgirl run, so appealing is her inclusion of Yeoh, who was the first major transgender character introduced in the comics. Seeing the character on screen would be great chance to introduce more diversity into the DCEU (Yeoh is also of Singaporean descent). Yeoh is a character Simone herself has said she would love Whedon to include in the film and re-tooling Wanted to include some origin explanation could make for a taught and exciting thriller.