Are they really canceling Batgirl? Who does, given the troubled history of Barbara Gordon’s Gotham vigilante in comics and on the big screen?
These are the questions DC fans will be asking this week after it was reported that Warner Bros is refusing to release a near-completed film by Ms Marvel directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, and starring Leslie Grace in the title role, despite the film being in post production. Apparently it’s all part of a massive tax write-off.
Ahem, seriously? This is the same superhero who has been crippled and (almost certainly) raped in the comics, and whose only big-screen appearances have been either bland and underwritten (Alicia Silverstone in 1997’s hideous Batman and Robin), or semi-apologetic. Remember Rosario Dawson’s Gordon’s response to the caped crusader in The Lego Batman Movie when he labeled her “Batgirl”? Yep, it’s “Can I Call You Batboy?”
Then there was the controversy surrounding the terrible 2016 animated film of Alan Moore’s iconic but deeply suspect 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke. Not content with adapting a comic book known for its infamous depiction of The Joker shooting and paralyzing Gordon, the film added a misogynistic 30-minute opening in which Batgirl is schooled by Batman for her superhero flaws, impulsively has sex with him, and basically ticks off. every trope you can think of to suggest that women should leave crime-fighting to the men.
Warner might also want to remember the history of women in comic book movies, because the optics of this decision are terrible. Until fairly recently, studios were afraid to put a woman’s name on a superhero movie, thanks in large part to the famously terrible box office and critical return of 2004’s Catwoman, starring Halle Berry. Never mind that it had nothing whatsoever to do with the svelte cartoon burglar invented by Bill Finger and Bob Kane (Berry plays Patience Phillips instead of Selina Kyle), and was made by someone, the French director Pitof, without previous Hollywood experience. There wasn’t a new DC movie on the big screen with a female superhero as the title character until 2017’s Wonder Woman.
Most outrageously, Batgirl experienced a headline-grabbing renaissance in the comics as late as the early 2010s, when Gail Simone’s nuanced and refreshingly modern run introduced a version of the character who has survivor’s guilt and PTSD after recovering from the injuries that was applied. on her by the Joker after experimental surgery in South Africa. Some fans were concerned that Gordon’s return to Batgirl’s persona—she had been known as Oracle during her time in a wheelchair, taking on a more background role as an information broker for the superhero community—effectively removed one of DC’s rare disabled characters. Nevertheless, the race was incredibly popular and broke new ground. It even featured one of the first major transgender characters in mainstream comics: Barbara’s friend Alysia Yeoh, who would be portrayed by Ivory Aquino on the big screen.
We’ll likely never know if the abandoned film was shelved because it was terrible — as the studio suits have apparently briefed The Hollywood Reporter — or simply fell victim to a new regime at Warner Bros. But its disappearance from the DC slate will only serve to heighten the clamor for the studio to finally get Batgirl right.
Simone revealed in 2021 that during her time writing the comics, the DC powers that be refused to allow the superhero her own secret superhero base – despite this being a staple among many DC costumed titans. Coupled with all the other struggles Gordon has faced during her five decades in the spotlight, it’s starting to look like Batgirl just doesn’t have the confidence it takes for her to truly flourish amidst a crowded superhero space. It’s boring for long-term fans of the character. Unfortunately, only DC and Warner Bros are able to explain why the superhero never gets his moment to fight through the streets of Gotham.