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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Panel Vision - 14 DC Women Who Deserve A Movie

Edited by Robert Beach 

It’s International Women’s Day. The holiday that was started as a celebration of women leaving behind the world of domestic servitude to unite as a work force of laborers with disposable income of their own.  Yeah, I’m not a terribly huge fan of these whole “celebrate diversity for a day” type holidays, but I’m also a topical content producer, so today we celebrate the women of DC comics who deserve a movie of their own. 

Why DC and not Marvel? Because I already talked about the Marvel women who deserve a standalone film, and given that none of those movies have materialized yet, I’ve decided to give DC/WB a shout in hopes of better results. Also, DC has always had the better roster of female character. That’s just an unfortunate truth.  With that said, let’s dive in to the top 14 DC women who deserve a movie. 

I’ve spoken at length about the awesomeness of Batwoman before, but if you missed that, here’s a primer. Kate Kane was in training for the military, following her father’s footsteps, when she was kicked out of the service for being gay. Reminder: this was in the time before the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell. Rudderless, she eventually settled on using her training and wealth to become a superhero in Gotham city with her father’s help for logistics and former military contacts. Now, Batwoman stands as one of the premiere queer characters in comics and a force to be reckon with on the streets of Gotham. She usually goes up against the more technologically advanced or supernatural aspects of Gotham’s underworld.

Aside from just being an awesome lady who routinely beats up creepy urban legends and the minions of alien Gods like it wasn’t a big deal, Batwoman is also a really neat reclamation of a character.  The original Batwoman, Kathy Kane, was conceived of in response to allegations that Batman and Robin were a gay couple by the inflammatory 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent. Taking a character meant to original assuage fears of the gay and turning them into a standard barer for queer characters is one of the most glorious comic book ironies there is. In the current climate of emphasizing diversity and WB still pushing Batman above all else, a Batwoman movie could be a major win for them, speaking of which.

Oracle/Birds of Prey
Another female character that also represents a seconded marginalized aspect of society, Oracle is, hands down, the best differently-abled superhero ever conceived. Formerly Batgirl till she was shot and paralyzed from the waist down by the Joker, Barbara Gordon fights crime online providing logistics and tech aid to her team of fellow heroes, the Birds of Prey.  

The Birds of Prey actually had a pretty fun show back in the early 2000s when we were all still reeling from the awesomeness of Buffy, but before Smallville came in to be the dominant superhero response. The show is a pretty interesting realization of a series based around Oracle, Huntress, and Black Canary. It showed how well these characters lend themselves to live-action adaptation.  Even now, Huntress and Black Canary have already been added to the "CWniverse" on Arrow, so it’s clear there’s still interest in these women. 

Even with the team emphasis though, Oracle really is the heart of this particular team, and the standout female hero of the group. She represents the spirit of the Batman mythos better than any other hero, even Batman himself. She’s a character defined by turning tragedy into strength and rising above the type of incident that would destroy a normal person. Only her strength doesn’t come from a billionaire playboy beating up the under classes. Even without the Birds of Prey, I think Oracle could hold down her own movie really well.

Power Girl
First things first, let’s all get our collective giggles out over Power Girl’s cup size and boob window. I’ve heard all the jokes and critiques. While I agree with some of them in principal, I’ve never been comfortable with the weird idea that the way to “fix” a female character is to make her as unsexy as possible. That seems like swapping one brand of sexism for another. 

Regardless, Power Girl is an awesome character in her own right even without the question of her costume or sex appeal.  She’s as strong as Superman, and despite the male gaze that often infects her appearances, her body is built like a bruiser. Seriously, during Geoff Johns' Justice Society run, she would often throw down with massive citywide destruction that puts the action in the Superman series to shame. 

Given that both Supergirl and Jessica Jones are uncompromised smash hits, Power Girl would be the perfect sweet spot between the two extremes.  The super powers and colorful designs of Supergirl combined with the abrasive and “screw you, I do what I want” attitude of Jessica Jones is a winning combination. And Power Girl is the hero to provide that combination. 

What’s more, her connection to the Justice Society gives her a unique corner of the DC universe to draw from. Given that WB is still struggling with Superman’s nature as a paragon of goodness on screen, maybe switching over to someone more flawed and human like Power Girl would be the best move. 

Crimson Avenger
Fair warning: I’m going to be trumpeting the Jill Carlyle Crimson Avenger for as long as I run this website. Jill Carlyle was once an ordinary person before she became possessed by a spirit of vengeance in the form of two sentient handguns. The handguns allow her to hear the voices of the recently murdered and gain access to their knowledge and skills using them to fight for vengeance in an unjust world as the Crimson Avenger. Even though her time in the role was criminally brief she remains an all time favorite of mine, she is one of the most interesting and underexplored characters this side of the Phantom Stranger. 

Aside from occupying the unique genre blend of urban crimefighter and supernatural warrior, Crimson Avenger is also notable as one of the few well-realized women of color in comics. There are a handful of others, most of whom also made this list, but aside from Amanda Waller and Vixen, Crimson Avenger is the most kick-ass black woman of the DC universe. In addition to Blade still holding up as a pretty well-liked franchise and Deadpool proving R-rated superhero movies make money, now is the perfect time to push a gritty and gory Crimson Avenger feature into production. 

Zatana has always occupied a weird place in the DC pantheon.  She’s the DC universe’s resident sorcerer; the magic woman that most people come to with any number of problems, but that prevalence has proved to be somewhat undermining. She’s constantly popping up as a supporting character in other people’s comics, though as a character in her own right, she’s never been able to really hold down much of a comic. It could be that her wizarding ways are just too powerful as she has the ability to pretty much do anything as long as she speaks backwards, yet that’s never held down fellow mages like Dr. Fate or Dr. Strange. 

As such, I wasn’t going to include Zatana on this list until I remembered the absolutely awesome Seven Soldiers mini-series that starred her. In that comic, Zatana was played as a sort of burnt-out traveling mage, road tripping through the West Coast taking on the strange and the supernatural in a world of magic punctuated by medieval aesthetics blended with spooky horror iconography. It’s a delightful series that describes itself as Thelma and Louis meets Bewitched. If that’s not a winning combination, I don’t know what is. What’s more, it casts Zatana as a more flawed and identifiable person who falls more on the Jessica Jones end of the superhero spectrum and that seems to really appeal to people these days. 

Even though I’m not Vixen’s biggest fan, I can’t deny that she’s important as a character.There’s more than enough material in her basic conception to support a really good mini-series at the very least. Her recent appearance on Arrow also shows off just how easy it would be to adapt her to the screen and how cool her powers can look when realized in live action. As far as adventures go, her ties to Africa and the supernatural could make for some very compelling stories. But there’s really nothing confining where you can tell a Vixen story.  

The biggest challenge for a film would be needing to flesh out more of the character’s identity and mythos as a person. That’s the thing about Vixen: she’s got cool powers and holds a major place now as the most visible black female superhero in DC. For the longest time, no one was that interested in telling Vixen stories.  This has left the character with a bit of an open-ended back-story and identity. With the right writer/director team, someone hungry to make their mark and expand a character, that can be turned from a weakness into a major strength. 

The Whip
Another obscure hero who also happens to be cribbed from the Seven Soldiers series. The Whip was a newspaper reporter who became a superhero to research a tell-all novel about life fighting crime. Even though she only ever appeared in one comic, it’s a dynamite appearance and a brilliant concept that really deserves greater exploration than was afforded. The Whip’s whole thing was dawning a colorful costume that bordered on fetish gear and jumping off buildings as a way to beat the 21st century malaise.

It’s a weird concept, but an intriguing one and really zeroes in on that sweet spot between being a crazy person with a death wish and actually becoming a superhero. There’s a lot of humanity inherent to her character, a kind of honesty about why she’s a superhero. That idea often lacks from more idealistic characters. What’s more, there’s a great tradition of superhero reporters, so it’s not like the idea hasn’t been tested already. 

This one is a bit of a cheat as Katana is already set to appear in Suicide Squad later this year. However, Katana’s only recently been a part of the Squad, and unlike fellow member Amanda Waller, there are Katana stories to be told that don’t require the inclusion of the Suicide Squad. Specifically, I’d love to see a Katana film or show that emphasized the martial arts and samurai drama aspects of her character and history. 

We already know that Netflix can make great martial arts flicks as seen with Sword of Destiny, so it wouldn’t be too hard to just reuse the sets and props to hash out a dope Katana flick. What’s more, Katana’s mystic elements would help her movie stand out among other Samurai fair, especially if the film dug into some of the other weird and magical elements of the DC universe.   

Another entry with a bit of a caveat: while I don’t mind the version of Raven in the comic books, I’d be lying if I said she was the most compelling or original character. Like a lot of the comic, Teen Titans Raven tends to get bogged down in a little too much drama and angst to be all that memorable or engaging. Drama around how her dad is a demon that never feels balanced with a true appreciation of how incredibly powerful that makes her. That’s why the Raven I’d like to see get her own show or movie would be more in line with Raven from Teen Titans Go.

I know a lot of folks don’t like Teen Titans Go, but a lot of people like blood sausage so that’s a metric of taste I don’t put much stock in. Teen Titans Go’s vision of Raven as just dripping in apathetic sarcasm and smug dismissal is a riot and, unlike her comic book counterpart, she’s actually shown to enjoy her powers and has cracked a smile at least once in her life. Characters who just sit in their own drama and angst are extremely taxing. Swapping out those elements for a demonic super-girl with an overbearing demon father and an outward personality somewhere along the lines of Daria sounds way more appealing than just showcasing how angsty Raven could be about her dad being evil.

Yep, another Teen Titan and, again, I think taking inspiration from the vision of her in Teen Titans Go would be for the best.  However, I will admit that there have been some fun and interesting visions of Starfire in the comics, most notably her time in 52 traveling through space with Animal Man, Adam Strange, and Lobo. Much like Raven, the majorly interesting aspect of Starfire is her place as an outsider.  She’s a space princess that was trained to be the sole savior of her people only for her homeworld to be destroyed and her villainous sister to assume control of the throne. That’s a crazy emotional situation and fertile ground for a great, Shakespearian-style space opera. 

Conversely, Starfire’s unique blend of cheerful optimism and fish-out-of-water nature has always made her misadventures on Earth an absolute delight. She can basically work as an adjacent character to Supergirl, an alien on Earth. In Starfire's case, she has to try a lot harder to acclimate to our culture because she didn’t grow up here and can’t hide anywhere. There have been plenty of hilarious comedies based around aliens trying to hide among humans, so just adding a dose of superhero to one of those scripts would be a winning esthetic. 

Cassandra Cain
Awhile back, the Internet went into a frenzy over the announcement that Netflix’s Iron Fist would be some random white guy instead of an Asian American as many had hoped. While most of that’s a conversation for another day, it did get me thinking about how rare Asian American heroes are in comics; that’s where Cassandra Cain comes in. Daughter of assassins David Cain and Lady Shiva, Cas grew up trained by her father in the arts of murder, spending several years of her life with violence as her only language. She eventually careened into the Batman universe during the No Man’s Land event and bounded into the hearts of fans everywhere.  She would go on to serve as Batgirl for a time but I think her time as Black Bat, the Batman of Hong Kong, would be more fertile ground for a film. 

Cassandra’s upbringing as both an Asian American and her duel childhoods as both an assassin and being integrated into society by the Bat family leave her in a unique position in relation to her Chinese ancestry. Throwing her head first into a foreign land that’s allegedly the land of her people would be very fertile ground for some interesting storytelling about family, upbringing, and legacy.  Add in the fact that she’s a better martial artist than Batman and you could make a gnarly crime thriller revolving her take down of the Triads. 

One last hero from the pages of Seven Soldiers, Bulleteer was a reworking of a Silver Age hero originally owned by DC competitor and Shazam creator Fawcette comics.  The original heroes were a husband and wife pair named Bulletman and Bulletgirl with their sidekick Bulletdog.  The new Bulleteer was created when her husband, an obsessive scientist with an addiction to superhero porn, tried to created a metal skin alloy.  The experiment killed the scientist but his wife Alix survived, now covered in metal skin and forced into the life of a quasi-superhero as the Bulleteer.

What I love so much about the Bulleteer is that, like a lot of the Seven Soldiers characters, she’s so quintessentially human in her characterization.  She didn’t want to become a superhero and in fact only falls into it as part of a spiral of depression that follows the accident that killed her husband.  It’s a big dramatic personal story that just happens to involve superheroes and crazy science and all manner of other elements that are uniquely comic booky as filtered through the comedic elements of real life.  Even the stuff after Alix has herself more together is a pretty great exploration of life on the superhero Z-list going to conventions and meeting other heroes and such.  As I write this NBC is working on a superhero office comedy so I feel there really is a market for this unique blend of real situations and superhero weirdness. 

Lois Lane
Okay yes, Lois Lane isn’t exactly a superhero but saying she doesn’t deserve a full on show or film of her own is pretty ludicrous when her comic was one of the first major female lead books of the ‘60s.  That’s right, Lois Lane had her own comic as part of the roster of Superman books and it was pretty great, mainly revolving around Lois diving head first into all kinds of weird antics in pursuit of headline stories or Superman’s secret identity.  I’m not sure that would sustain a full film but given that just last year there was a movie about hardnosed investigative journalists that won the Oscar for best picture you could easily rework the character for a more contemporary journalism approach. 

Actually, I think a Lois Lane TV show would be even better than a movie as most characters construction is based around episodic storytelling.  What’s more, Lois’ job as reporter would facilitate multiple self-contained stories rather than one, big, stakes-heavy story like that of a film.  Additionally, a show would allow the character to explore more weird elements of the DC universe as she keeps on chasing that headline and looking to scoop her fellow Planet reporters.  We’ve already seen that a Lois & Clark show will draw audiences and that shows about Superman’s supporting cast can be big hits, let’s give Lois Lane the headline she so rightly deserves. 

Launching in the mid-80s, Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld was a fantasy comic about a lost princess from the real world returning to her home in the fantasy dimension of Gemworld.  There she discovers her family, the house amethyst, have been overthrown by the Machiavellian machinations of rival gem houses and it falls to her to reassert her family’s dominance and bring peace and order back to gem world.  If that description sounded at all similar to Harry Potter or Game of Thrones then congratulations: you have more sense than the WB executives who aren’t rushing an Amethyst movie into production. 

Seriously, WB puts a major premium on fantasy blockbusters after spending a decade just owning the whole genre with Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter so it’s shocking they haven’t dipped into this incredibly adaptable IP.  Compressing Amethyst’s journey to free her homeworld into a compact trilogy would be an easy writing job and selling the world on the same magic chosen one narrative gets a lot easier when working with a female lead.  Throw in the blend of high fantasy magic action with realistic fantasy skullduggery and this series has “slam dunk” written all over it. 

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