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Well, call me Captain “I told you so.” Granted I didn’t predict Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and director of Avengers, would walk into WB and pitch a Batgirl film but on the topic of the DCEU transitioning to more of a Batman shared universe my predictions have been well documented. Hell, I’m the guy who pitched a Batman-centric shared universe back in June of last year, before Suicide Squad had a chance to come out and thoroughly cement the irredeemable nature of the DCEU. Even then, the clues were there for anyone to see so long as they were looking.
Regardless of your own opinions on the DCEU thus far it can’t be denied that Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad have resoundingly failed at their respective tasks of launching a popular new Superman brand, starting the DCEU, and continuing interest in the DCEU. Given that failure, it makes sense DC/WB would start drawing down the scale and cost in these superhero ventures and low and behold, before Batgirl, of the 5 announced DC films with actual directors 3 of them were Batman-centric. Now that number’s jumped up to 4 making it 2/3rds of DC’s upcoming projects that are likely to actually happen so let’s dive into this announcement and see what it could add to the blossoming Batmaniverse.
So the first big thing of interest relating to Batgirl is that Joss Whedon has cited Gail Simone’s New 52 Batgirl run as an influence on the film. I’m not really a huge Barbara Gordon Batgirl fan so I only have a passing familiarity with that run, but I mainly remember it being annoyingly peppered with event tie-ins.
That’s a struggle that DC has only recently started to emerge from though I’m not sure if Whedon means to draw elements from the likes of Court of Owls or Death of the Family as they were Bat Family-centric events. Still, I know from others that there was a lot of good in that run and Gail Simone didn’t become THE face of women in superhero comics by accident. This was the era that briefly gave us Lucha Libre Batgirl and where she was forced to marry the Joker, so I do hope we get some adaptation of those elements.
Speaking of the Joker, he’s part of the big question that’s hovering over this whole proceeding currently, namely how it will fit into DC’s pre-established universe stuff, both tone and content. So far, the DCEU has been crafted to worship at the alter of grim and gritty hardcore comics from the mid-'80s and ‘90s like Dark Knight Returns, Death in the Family, Death of Superman, and Killing Joke.
That last one is very much the big issue for people as despite being hailed as an unassailable classic of the Batman mythos it’s never been a good Batgirl story. However, Killing Joke is absolutely the kind of high selling graphic novel with pretensions of adulthood that the DCEU of Dawn of Justice would try and crowbar a Batgirl film out of, especially given the recent crop of hard R action movie hits.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think that Joss Whedon would be foolish enough to go anywhere near Killing Joke and by the same token, I don’t think WB want to have anything more to do with the Joker for a bit. Again propping up the disclaimer of “regardless of what you personally think,” Jared Leto’s Joker was easily the biggest failure of the many failures that peppered Suicide Squad, so I really doubt we’ll be seeing him again in the near future.
What’s more, I feel like if they wanted to have Killing Joke already have happened in this world as a back-story, much the same way they did with Death in the Family, we would’ve seen some of Barbara Gordon in Dawn of Justice. Though, given how much Killing Joke served as the back-story of New 52 Batgirl, if they were trying to fit it into this movie flashback is where I’d imagine it would be.
Still, though, I hope WB/DC don’t try to crowd or crowbar any of their house style or inter-film continuity into Whedon’s Batgirl. Partly because the very idea of a “house style” is self-defeating to a shared universe as the whole appeal is that you can explore various unique genres and styles without needing to create an entirely new world and characters. More pertinent here, the actual appeal of Batgirl has never been mired in the grimy dirt pallet of DC’s previous offerings or the ultra-violence that’s informed recent low budget superhero moneymakers like Deadpool or Logan.
Incidentally, Logan seems like it was probably a significant impact on making this movie happen as the people at WB no doubt saw “little girl superhero = money” and immediately decided “us too!” As you can probably tell, I’m framing this entire analysis as very “man vs. studio” regarding the WB executive board in charge of DC properties being driven solely by balance sheets and trend chasing, but that’s only because that’s what they’ve done over the past 4 years consistently. I mean, this is the same studio that drove 2 directors away from The Flash allegedly over the lightness of tone while continually giving Zack Snyder a blank check so long as everything was oppressive and grim, casting them as the Goofus to Joss Whedon’s Gallant is hardly a stretch.
As for Joss’ impact on the film, I’d imagine his take on Batgirl wouldn’t look that impressively different from Buffy or even Black Widow. I know we’re all supposed to think Black Widow’s Age of Ultron arc was sexist because the character felt being the victim of non-consensual surgery made her a monster, but the idea of redefining your own worth and strength through a tragic origin is pretty basic to the Batman mythos.
What’s more we at least know J.K. Simmons will be in this as Batgirl’s dad, which is possibly the biggest thing it has in its favor. Also in the plus column is that Batgirl’s origin is incredibly easy- she wants to help Gotham, so she puts on a costume to do it. Granted, this could still go wrong ala Amazing Spider-Man completely missing the point of Spider-Man’s origin, but it would be nice to just have a hero who wears a costume and fights crime because they want to.
As to the villain, well the great thing about making a Batmaniverse is that you have literally every Batman villain ever to choose from as a bad guy. There are a few I really hope we don’t have to deal with like Killer Croc and we probably won’t see Black Mask, Poison Ivy, or the other Gotham Sirens, they’ll be in their own movie.
If I were guessing I’d expect somebody solidly B level, a medium tier villain who might threaten the city but won’t require the FX budget of a gas balloon parade or a terrorist army, maybe the Riddler or Two-Face. I still think WB is going to nudge along a Red Hood story in the background of its 4 upcoming Batmaniverse films so I’d keep an eye out for Ras Al Ghul, Lazarus Pits, Jason Todd references, or even the Arkham Knight when promotional media for this starts trickling through.
Overall, despite the various threats I’ve mentioned throughout this article I find myself seriously looking forward to Batgirl. I think in recent years the vibrancy, quality, and appeal of the Batman family and attendant universe so I’m genuinely intrigued by the promise of stuff like this or Nightwing, especially after how fun the LEGO Batman Movie was. So, if WB wants to back away from the hot garbage its put out so far and just focus on Batman’s vast mythos with a sporadic peppering of other films I’m hardly one to complain.
I’ll certainly agree with people that I’d rather they’d gotten a woman to direct this film; most especially because I think part of Batgirl’s appeal is that teen girl adventure that provides context to the super heroics. Actually, considering that part of the film should be the real meat and potatoes and is the hardest part to pass off to a more technically minded second unit, perhaps a director with experience in girl-centric teen drama would’ve been a stronger choice like Kelly Fremon Craig, director of Edge of 17. However, by the same token, in a world with Max Landis, David Ayer, Mel Gibson, Colin Trevorrow, Brett Ratner, McGee, and Josh Trank I’ll take Joss Whedon as a win by default if nothing else.
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