The latest issue (#10) of Frank Miller’s comic book The Goddamn Batman All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder was recently pulled from shelves because of adult language which wasn’t quite censored well enough for powers that be at parent company DC, and because quite possibly, a lot of the foul language revolved around teenage heroine Batgirl…
Clearly, as you can see above, Batgirl takes care of business. The little black bars over the offensive words (as you can also see above) weren’t printed dark enough, so you could also make out comments from the crowd such as “little jail bait CUNT’s making us look bad… we cut her, come on…” and “…sweet little piece in sweet slices… tasty sliced booty the little CUNT…” (Miller is obsessed with throwing certain words into all caps for crazy amounts of emphasis.) So far (the fact that there’s actually been ten issues of this full blown off the rails crazy ass trainwreck amazes me), this is the best part of the comic which was depicted Batman as a borderline psychotic (which may be a fair assessment) doing a bad Clint Eastwood impression, especially since he’s abducted a 13 year old boy and subjected him to some rather bizarre things, then had sex with Black Canary right after beating up a gang of thugs (“We leave the masks on. It’s better that way”), and shown heroes like Superman and Green Lantern as spineless morons. In fact, one of the few things I do like about this series (besides Jim lee’s overdrawn but occasionally beautiful art), is the depiction of Wonder Woman as an incredibly tough Amazon who’s disgusted by the lack of balls and inaction of the ubermensch in man’s world.
Oh, and shoehorned into this great big mess is Batgirl, too.
The purpose of the All-Star line of comics was to present to the reader a purer version of their favorite iconic characters, without all the hassle of continuity and paying lip service to all that’s come before. You could distill a simple story down to it’s basic and most essential elements, as delivered to you by the best and the brightest in the industry. It’s part of the reason why All-Star Superman (which just ended) is one of the greatest fucking things you’ll ever read, making Superman not only relevant again, but perhaps making Krypton’s last son actually interesting to this generation for the first time. But those same guidelines are what makes Frank Miller’s bat shit crazy, women hating serial so fascinating in a bizarre sort of way.
There was talk a while back of doing an All-Star Batgirl, which I would’ve enjoyed seeing because I’ve realized from how bad Frank Miller’s comic is that I really like the character. In fact, if my love of the teenage heroines of Neal Stephenson’s work and of stuff like Buffy proves anything, I like seeing teenage girls as lead characters in stories. Maybe I just like looking at attractive young women kicking ass? Well… yeah, but who doesn’t? But I also just prefer female characters (I should add “well written female characters” there, because that is something of a rare commodity), just because women tend to be more rational and logical, and possibly at times more emotional, which frankly makes for better storytelling. Especially in the teenager years, when all the pain and frustration and curiosity and excitement of growing up beings to crystallize. For guys during that period of their lives, it’s nothing but sex fantasies and getting high in their rooms with Bruce Springsteen albums, but as pop culture has shown us in the last few years, for girls it’s all about going out into the night, taking on impossible odds with nothing but a reliance on one’s self, a limited arsenal of weapons and and deadly puns, and making the world a better place.
And that’s the kind of thing I can get behind.
The Batgirl used in the Miller’s comic is the classic and best known: Barbara Gordon, daughter of Batman’s ally on the police force, Commissioner James Gordon. Here she’s only about 15, but in other iterations she’s been adult (head of the Gotham City Public Library at one point). She’s not the first version of the character, but she’s by far the most popular.
The original Batwoman, whom the original Batgirl was copied off of, seemed to be to be exactly what the critics called her: A cheap imitation of Batman, an attempt to pander towards women. The Sarah Palin of comic book heroines, if you will. The two of them were retconned out and in came the new version, the Barbara Gordon Batgirl. Inspired to action by her hero, the Batman, Babs took the Bat motif as her own and instantly made it her own. For a long time she was on her own, with no support or acknowledgement from Batman, but soon her skillz and efforts had to be appreciated and she was welcomed into the Bat family with open arms (especially by the Robin of the time, whom developed a life long crush on young Babs). The Bat family, it should also be pointed out, was an attempt to prove Wertham’s Seduction Of The Innocent wrong and show that something much more wholesome and American was going on in the Batcave.
The nice thing about DC comics over it’s rivals out there is that the characters are allowed to grow and mature and change, even if it is only glacially. Whatever demons and inner drive that Barbara Gordon felt that compelled to her put on a mask and costume and those fancy boots and risk her life day in and out, she eventually was able to work through it and move past it. She didn’t have that certain crazy that Batman and his teenage wards had. It wasn’t a junkie thrill or unbeatable obsession for her, like it was for them, and eventually she retired from the costumed vigilante game, deciding to be a normal young woman with a normal young life. It was a nice ending for the character. Or, at least, it should’ve been. Of course, this is back before we had a name for the woman in refrigerators syndrome.
One night, while enjoying a quiet evening in with her father, there was a knock on the door. And at the door was The Killing Joke, the classic 1988 Batman tale by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland that changed everything forever for Barbara Gordon. The Joker, wanting to prove to Batman and the Commissioner that all it took for someone to end up as crazy as him was just one bad day. And he made Barbara Gordon, unaware that she was ever Batgirl, the subject of that bad day by shooting her through the spine, crippling her, and then sexually assaulting her and photographing it to show her father later. The story is good on it’s own terms, and was one of the many research pieces used in preparing for The Dark Knight, even while it steps on the characters that many fans loved. It also manages to end both on both a very emotionally true ending that also manages to feel incredibly false as the Joker and Batman share a good hearty laugh.
Somehow the Joker survives all of this, as a testament to Batman staying true to his own morals and not resorting to murder, despite what the Joker did to Batgirl or that he killed one of Batman’s partners. And the story, while good, proves one of the major points of the women in refrigerators syndrome: Big events such as these in a male character’s story are something that usually easily reversed, but for female characters, they’re permanent. In Bab’s case, that’s (sadly since she’s been put in this position) probably a good thing because of how callous it would be to see her suddenly overcome being handicapped.
But instead, she became very handicapable, and possibly became one of the most realistically powerful characters in the DC universe of comics. She, still in her wheelchair, adopted the moniker Oracle, letting her intellect take center stage (while still being very capable in a form of martial arts called eskrima despite her paralysis) and became a sort of information broker to the heroes. She backed up the Justice League with her super computer skills and eventually formed a group called the Birds Of Prey, made up of other female heroines that, as written by Gail Simone, who started the Women In Refrigerators website, provided a shining example of female characters done right in comic books.
In the mainstream DC universe, that’s still where she essentially is, until something new and horrible is planned to have happen to her (current editor-in-chief Dan Didio seems to be on a personal mission to kill all the pretty girls). And the Birds Of Prey concept briefly became a TV show on the CW (well, WB back then) in the kind of watered down Smallville format (thankfully they didn’t go with the young Bruce Wayne show). I’ve seen bits and pieces of a handful of episodes and wasn’t really impressed despite the fact that I thought Barbara Gordon was played well by Dina Meyer. They even did a flashback episode to her days as Batgirl:
But when you think of Batgirl on TV (more so than the excellent 90s Paul Dini Batman cartoons)(or I guess the more recent cartoon The Batman, whose only saving grace seems to be the theme song by The Edge), you think of Yvonne Craig…
…who was brought in towards the end of the 60s Batman show with Adam West and Burt Ward as an infusion of fresh blood to hopefully stave off the declining ratings. She represents everything that you remember fondling and despise about that show: It’s bright, ludicrous campiness, it’s purely bubble gum attitudes towards everything, and it’s pop sexism. While not having as much impact as maybe Julie Newmar as Catwoman (or Eartha Kitt for that matter), I’d definitely say that Craig’s Batgirl caught my eye since she was my first introduction to the character. I mean, even though it was fake in that particular series, who doesn’t love a red-headed superheroine? No one, that’s who. Enjoy this incredibly ridiculous theme song they gave her:
“What is your scene, baby? We just gotta know!” Amazing stuff right there. “Yeaaahh, who’s baby are you?” Since Barbara Gordon hung up her yellow cape and boots in the comics, there’s been at least three more women to wear some form of the outfit and name, with one of them being an incredibly good match (despite her initially not being allowed to speak, seriously) for the title, but has been since turned evil (under Didio’s edict that if we can’t kill off the pretty girls, then by God, we can ruin them!), but that move proved both awful and absurd, so they’ve been working to slowly counter it. Something similar was done to one of my favorite teen heroines, but it’s been clear that as they attempt to restore them to status quo there’s just no editorial emphasis on doing it right or making the characters interesting again, just on minimizing complaints. Sigh.
It’s a shame. And while I don’t expect to, or really want to for that matter, see an incarnation of the Batgirl character in the current film direction, I would like to suggest that Warner Bros. consider that they do have a small goldmine in this character. A smart, cute girl who can be strong and fragile, dressed in black leather, swinging from the rooftops at night, kicking ass and cracking wise? That’s a license to print money right there. Or, at least slutty Halloween costumes:
The last comment I’ll make is about those who would say that Wonder Woman is the ultimate feminist super hero icon…
Normally I’d agree with you people. Especially back when it looked like Joss Whedon might be handling the movie, because at least then you knew you’d get a character treated with some class and dignity who’d be taken seriously and that there’s probably be a pretty decent movie coming out of the whole thing.
But does she have to wear that outfit? Whenever I see her in that getup, I can’t stop thinking about patriotic porn… which is cool.
Apparently the poorly censored isues of All Star Batman #10 are going for outrageous prices on Ebay.
I’d really like to kick Frank Miller in the balls.
A physicist has proven that The Dark Knight is not real.
Here’s Wikipedia’s page on alternate versions of Barbara Gordon, and their page on her various adapations in different media. And this is, naturally, a link to some Batgirl fan fiction. Enjoy yourself. This one goes out to the cute chicks in leather!