Batman is one of those franchises that has captured the imaginations of countless fans over the years. The eponymous character has been reinterpreted on many occasions, and each time, the DC Universe superhero continues to inspire audiences. For an icon with no superpowers beyond his wits, it’s easy to see why Batman is so loved by his audiences. And yet, there’s a recurring criticism that can be leveled at the universe that hasn’t been rectified despite the many iterations of Gotham’s caped crusader.
It’s simple; there aren’t many, or rather enough, women in it. Not only that, but the ones who exist in Batman’s world have often been secondary characters, framed as romantic interests or helpless damsels in distress. Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, and Talia al Ghul are all typically ‘strong’ characters, but sadly, rarely enjoy the spotlight.
A big issue has been poor execution of female-led Batman movies in the past. The character of Batgirl was met with derision due to her poorly thought-out character arc and impossibly cheesy lines in the critically panned Batman & Robin. This led to some ambivalence to reprise her role. Equally, attempts to promote standalone films for women characters like Harley Quinn have been met with mild reactions, perhaps due to a perceived saturation of Joker-related content in recent years. But none of this is the female character’s fault directly, so, what gives? Will we ever see a fresh female lead in the Batman, or wider DC universe?
All About Identity
Identity plays a major role in Batman. It’s surprising how underwhelming the attempts have been to commercialize a female character, given the push to improve the representation of women and minorities in film over the past decade. The wrestling of dual identities that so many Batman villains and Bruce Wayne himself struggle with is the lifeblood of what makes Batman’s battle against his foes so interesting. The separation, whether maintained through painstaking effort (in Batman’s case) or through a loss of sanity or persecution (like enemies such as the Joker or the Riddler) are as important a duality as the never-ending battle between good and evil that defines Gotham.
In a simple sense, the role of women in Batman has been reduced to victim or support act, without really exploring the experience of women in Gotham to a deeper level. It’s hardly for a lack of ideas, either. The DC comics have already created, but are yet to take full advantage of, a host of interesting female characters who would bring a much-needed refresher to the Batman universe.
Imagine the change of perspective a story told through Talia al Ghul would be. She’s the mother of Damian, Bruce Wayne’s only son – and related to R’as al Ghul, one of Batman’s sworn enemies. Or, how about Harper Rowe, aka Bluebird who has teamed up and fought alongside Batman many times in the comics? Lady Shiva, Barbara Gordon, and Kate Kane have all been depicted to some extent, but to nowhere near the same extent as male characters. What’s clear is that the lore is already there – it’s not a tokenistic move to create these stories, it’s a chance to further grow the fictional world Batman exists in.
An Audience Calling Out
It’s highly likely we’ll see a new Batman film with more of a female focus if the audience are really demanding it. The Marvel universe has had massive success with strong female leads such as Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, and Black Widow. The rivalry between the Marvel and DC universes is pretty well known, and yet so far DC has barely explored their female character options.
The success Marvel has already had proves the audience is there and primed for some new perspectives. The likeliest outcome for Batman and his array of supporting roles will be an increase in TV programs exploring new characters, as demonstrated by the confirmation of a Penguin spin-off series and the Batwoman series made popular on the CW Network. We can predict that the introduction of female leads in Batman is more of a ‘when’, rather than an ‘if’ question.
Filmmakers have some responsibility to represent their audiences with things that can be, to some extent, identified with. For the many fans of Batman, seeing and feeling the world of Gotham through alternative eyes could be the step they need to compete with Marvel and go further to bring the dark, gritty DC Universe to life.