‘Supergirl’, ‘Batwoman’, and the False Feminism of Replacement

I’ve seen a ton of comments about how the Supergirl movie that’s supposedly in development won’t work without Clark, and they frustrate me a lot, because I both agree with the idea that Kara and Clark need and play off each other in interesting ways and disagree with the idea that either of them is necessary for the other to have a story. Here’s the thing: as confused as her backstory is and as many different versions of her there are, Supergirl is not nor will she ever be Batgirl. It was Batgirl that was inspired by Batman, Batgirl who might have been a hero in a world without Batman, but certainly not one that went by a bat theme, Batgirl whose story cannot exist without Batman preceding her. That same principle doesn’t apply to Supergirl and Superman. Supergirl doesn’t need Superman to exist. He doesn’t matter for her origin story. The symbol is part of her family just as much as his. So a Supergirl movie can most certainly exist without needing Clark there as a character for Kara to look up to and want to emulate. The problem that actually exists is if any story tries to replace Clark with Kara because they’re both Supers. That’s a problem because they’re different people that fill different roles, their stories aren’t interchangeable, and whenever people try to substitute her in for him, they’ll get a pale imitation. That’s a large part of what’s wrong with the show.

Comics Kara Zor El knew both that she was Kryptonian and what it meant to be Kryptonian because she spent more of her life on Krypton than on Earth! She was a genius by the standards of this hugely technologically advanced society that was on track to join the science guild. She was a teenager that had lost everything she knew – her planet, her species, her culture – and landed on a planet so different from her own that she had to learn everything from scratch. What did the Supergirl show do with that? Why, it completely ignored her scientific background, added a bunch of original characters to give the scientific knowledge to so they could erase her intelligence, and aged her up so they could make her a reporter for no actual reason.

I stopped watching the show somewhere in season two. But from what I remember, this erasing of Kara’s scientific background was a large part of the reason why it felt like CW Kara was pretty much just female Clark, rather than actually Kara. She has his job. She has the same personality. There’s very little that distinguishes her as Kara. And since they aged her up, there’s not even any reason for her to be called Supergirl. So much of her show-verse background was so ill-conceived, it ended up seeming like the people responsible for the show didn’t actually want to be making a show about Kara.

Batwoman looks like it’s going to be similar. As controversial an opinion as this might be, Kate is not a member of the Batfamily in the comics. She’s Bruce’s cousin, sure, but that does not mean they were ever close (for all that it was revealed that she comforted him at his parents’ funeral, that closeness had never been brought up before or since). She operates alone, with her own supporting cast and own villains. She didn’t even know Bruce was Batman. She is absolutely not the person Bruce calls when he needs help or that takes responsibility for Gotham in his absence. But in the show, she’s apparently going to be facing off against multiple Batman villains, including Thomas Elliot – you know, the guy whose whole schtick revolves around being obsessed with Bruce.

I’ve seen attempts at justifying this by saying things like, “of course Bruce’s villains didn’t just leave when he vanished! It makes sense with the premise of the show that she’s fighting them!” To that, I kind of have to say…well, yeah! That’s the problem! This isn’t a Batwoman show! They’re making her replacement Batman, and there’s frankly no point in doing that. Taking an existing character and turning her into female Batman defeats the purpose. Doing that will always get you a pale imitation of a character, not a real one. With Kate, it ends up seeming even worse than with Kara. With Kara, the missteps and verging into Clark territory come across as accidental, as people that did genuinely want to write about Kara, but didn’t spend much time considering what makes her unique. The Batwoman writers – judging by what we know about the show before the release – aren’t actually interested in Kate. They like the bat image, they like the idea of tapping into the idea of feminism as a part of the cultural zeitgeist rather than actual feminist themes, they like Gotham. Kate as Kate? Not so much.

There was a time in comics where the next generation was leading the Justice League. Dick was Batman. Donna and Kara had replaced Diana and Clark respectively. And you know what? It most certainly wasn’t that they were just acting as the symbols, because what mattered was the Dick, Donna, and Kara of it. It was a very deliberate writing choice to have a Bat, a Wonder, and a Super on the team. It was an even more deliberate choice to have them succeed by being themselves. That was a cool exploration of what it means to step up to fill your mentor’s shoes, to represent a symbol that means a lot to a lot of people, and it worked as it did because it let characters that had an important relationship with their predecessors and the symbols they wore embrace those symbols on their own terms. None of that holds true for Kate.

Kara and Kate are both amazing characters with a lot to love about them. Kara has decades of deeply, deeply confusing material that can be pulled from, including a different but just as valid understanding of what the symbol she wears means to her. Kate doesn’t have as much history or as many stories, but she has her own set of villains and a supporting cast and a rich backstory featuring a healthy amount of her own motivation that has nothing to do with Gotham as a city or bats as a specific motif. Those are all things that can be drawn upon to create great stories about women becoming heroes. Having Kate and Kara replace Clark and Bruce, though? That doesn’t a great story make. That fails to understand who these characters are and pretends as if the only thing separating Superman from Supergirl or Batman from Batwoman is gender. That’s untrue and does an enormous disservice to all four characters. Writers…you can do better than that.

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Six Gotham-Based Characters That Should Show Up In the DC Extended Universe

We’ve been introduced to a lot of the DC Extended Universe’s interpretations of DC characters, and we have confirmation that there are plans for several more, but DC has been publishing comics since 1934, and it has a lot of characters. Knowing that there are plans for Batman, Batgirl, and Nightwing movies in the works, I started thinking about characters specifically tied to Gotham and the Bats. Here are some of the ones I want to see most of all in a future Batman related movie.

1. Cassandra Cain (Batgirl/Black Bat)

I’m a huge fan of the Bat family. When the still from Batman v Superman where Bruce looks at the case containing Jason’s Robin suit, with the Joker’s writing still covering it, first came out, my heart broke into a million pieces. When I first heard that Nightwing will get his own movie, I completely freaked out and spent the next few days alternating between joy that my favourite character is going to get his own solo and terror over how if it’s not good, I’ll cry for years to come. So, naturally, I want Bruce’s daughter to join the party as well.

Cass is the most skilled fighter in DC. That’s completely canon. No non-meta can beat her because she knows what everyone’s going to do before they do it, and she’s in peak physical fitness. She was trained from birth to be an assassin. She’s also incredibly compassionate, unable to effectively express herself, and oftentimes, very conflicted. She’d be a beautifully human edition to the cast of characters – hers would be a story of self discovery, of family and kindness and growing past abuse and a poor upbringing.

My ideal scenario would be Cass as Batgirl in the upcoming Batgirl solo, as I mentioned here, potentially with a brief character introduction in the Batman solo. However, as I strongly doubt that Cass will be introduced so soon and the Batgirl movie will probably be centred around Barbara, I’m instead hoping for her to show up in a future Batfamily team up movie.

2. Katherine Kane (Batwoman)

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Batwoman in ‘Batman: Bad Blood’. Credit: Warner Bros.

Kate Kane, the soldier kicked out of the military for refusing to lie about her relationship with another woman, fits very well with the already established characters in the DCEU because of her strong sense of ethics. The DCEU is all about hope, love, and justice in dark times. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell may have been repealed, but it’s far from a distant memory, and Kate will almost certainly be about Bruce’s age in the DCEU, meaning she would have absolutely been affected by military prohibitions on same sex relationships. Her going on to fight crime and protect civilians after her poor treatment at the hands of the military for her sexuality would be a beautiful parallel to Clark still fighting for humanity after being rejected and ostracized for what he is.

Kate is one of the members of the Batfamily that’s most often forgotten. She’s still well known, of course, especially as DC’s most high profile LGBT character, but since she mostly does her own thing, it’s easy for her to slip under the radar when compared to the core members of the Gotham heroes – Batman, Robin, Batgirl. That’s a shame, because Kate is an excellent character. She’s not my favourite member of the Batfamily, but she’s a solid character that would continue to present themes that have been present in the DCEU from the beginning, and by being a Jewish lesbian hero, would contribute to building a more diverse cast.

3. Artemis Crock (Artemis/Tigress)

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Credit: Cartoon Network.

While Artemis does exist in the comics, Young Justice remade her as a new character bearing almost no resemblance to her original incarnation, one that’s a much more fully realized character and extremely interesting to watch. I think the Young Justice version deserves to shine in live action.

She’s not a meta-human. She’s the daughter of two supervillains, one of whom is retired and paralyzed. She’s an archer that’s also highly skilled in hand to hand combat. She started off on her own, without a partner or a mentor. Her own hero, no one’s sidekick or protege. And she did that without the money that most non-meta heroes have. Batman, Green Arrow, the Ted Kord Blue Beetle – they all have the advantage of billions of dollars to help them out. Artemis didn’t. She had a bow, great aim, and determination.

She’s the type of character that would fit in very well with the DCEU’s brand of realism if handled properly. Affleck’s Bruce can handle himself in this universe, whereas Bale’s Bruce would be completely outclassed. The focus that these movies so far have had is on the political, philosophical, religious impact of people with superpowers making themselves known to the world. It’s a realistic take on what the world with these heroes would be like. Having Artemis in there would be fascinating, because, like Bruce, she’s also a human – in a world with Superman and Wonder Woman, she’s breakable. Being an archer makes so much sense for a human with no powers in this world – she can fight at a distance, which would be much more effective than hand to hand with people that have super strength. Her constant awareness of all of this would make for some great internal conflict.

The season one episode Homefront of Young Justice explored a lot of Artemis’s insecurities as one of the only two regular humans on a team of people with superpowers and as the last person to join. In this episode, she demonstrated just why she belongs, and how good she is at what she does. It would be great to have that in live action – a further demonstration of why it’s not superpowers or money that makes the hero, but tenacity and a desire to make the world a better place. And it’s more than just wanting to help people – being a hero is who she is, what she does. She loves it. After leaving the team to go to college, she came back the instant Dick asked for her help.

Having Artemis around would also further develop Gotham as a city, as well as the heroes protecting it, because while she’s another of the many characters that call it home, she isn’t a bat. She doesn’t wear the symbol or work regularly with Batman. She doesn’t come from money. She doesn’t have powers. She’s something else – an average Gothamite that wants to protect people and not follow in her family’s footsteps. Through her, the audience could gain a greater understanding of what Gotham is, what it’s really like to live there, and why the heroes that do are so dedicated to protecting it.

Her relationship with Dick was one of the more interesting dynamics in Young Justice. They were both nonpowered humans on a team of metas. They were both from Gotham. Their parental figures had both started training them from a young age – Bruce training Dick to be a hero and Lawrence training Artemis to be a criminal. They have a lot of similarities, as well as vastly different ways of thinking, and a deep level of trust. It would be fascinating to see her appear, perhaps not in a Batman movie, but in a Nightwing one.

4. Edward Nygma (The Riddler)

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Credit: Fox.

I’m a little hesitant on this one, because I sincerely love the Gotham incarnation of the character, and it’ll be hard to imagine someone else in the role at the same time. Having the TV version is probably enough for me right now. But the Riddler is a great character, and I’m so tired of just seeing the Joker in all Batman media when there are so many Batman villains that I find much more interesting.

Gotham, has, in a lot of ways, spoiled me for Batman related media. It’s over the top and ridiculous and the timeline is kind of weird, but it’s so much fun to watch, none of it matters. It’s black comedy at its finest, while also managing to pull off the emotional scenes well. Best of all, it has incredible casting. Its version of Bruce is one of my top two live-action Bruces and top three if we include animation. It took the Riddler and made him absolutely terrifying.

Nygma has so much flair. He’s very, very smart, which is both his strength and his weakness. He’s Lex with even more flamboyance. He’s an entertaining character to watch, and he hasn’t been overused. The Riddler would be a wonderful villain to use to show off Bruce’s detective skills.

5. Jonathan Crane (Scarecrow)

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Credit: DC Comics

Batman is a flawed, broken, traumatized character. I’d love to see a Batman movie take advantage of that by being a psychological drama. And what better villain to use for that than the one that’s weaponized fear even more than Batman himself has?

One of the most important things about Bruce in my view is that he’s a father. In this universe, he doesn’t have his entire family yet, but he has at least two sons, one of whom died violently and the other of whom he’s estranged with. He has a lot to be afraid of. A movie centred around fear and Bruce’s love for his children would be very different from any Batman movie we’ve seen before, and it would fit in perfectly with the more human, genre defying movies we’ve gotten so far. It would be an interesting lead in to movies about other members of the Batfamily in that it would show off just who the people are for whom Bruce is so afraid.

Bruce absolutely has not conquered his fear. He’s just learned to use it. And his biggest fears? They aren’t bad things happening to him. They’re bad things happening to other people that he can’t do anything to stop. Jason’s murder. Barbara’s paralysis. The deaths in Metropolis. That’s why he was so fixated on killing Clark in Batman v Superman. A movie completely revolving around all of these fears would be terrifying and heartbreaking to watch. It’d be fantastic.

6. Victor Fries (Mr. Freeze)

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Victor and Nora Fries in ‘Batman: The Animated Series’. Credit: Fox.

Bruce is a hugely compassionate character. We saw that in Batman v Superman – the man took a helicopter to Metropolis as soon as he heard what was happening, then ran straight into a disaster zone to rescue people. He hauled a fallen beam off his employee. He comforted a little girl that had just lost her mother. He took the time when rescuing Martha to reassure her and tell her he was a friend of her son’s. He paid for Clark’s funeral. Batman: The Animated Series is one of my favourite interpretations of Bruce in an adaptation, along with DCEU Bruce and Gotham Bruce, and it did did a great job with humanizing Bruce and giving its villains depth. It was the start of Victor Fries as the tragic villain he’s been in all media ever since, and I’d love to see that in the DCEU.

He’s an excellent character to have as part of the Batman mythos, because while he’s a villain that’s done indisputably terrible things and should be in prison, he’s also someone that it’s very easy to sympathize with – he just wants his wife back, and his love for her was the motivating factor for his crimes.  He’s one of the most sympathetic members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery.

The villains that Batman has interacted with so far haven’t been hugely sympathetic. Lex certainly wasn’t. Nuanced and complex, yes, but not redeemable or sympathetic. Deadshot and Harley may have had some redeeming qualities, and they – Deadshot, especially – were somewhat sympathetic, but they were definitely not as tragic characters as Mr. Freeze. I’d love to see more of Bruce’s compassion in a movie where he’s the main character, and I think Mr. Freeze would be the best of his villains to demonstrate that trait.

Harley and the Joker don’t deserve Bruce’s sympathy. A major trend in fandom is to woobify Harley as just a victim! And yes, the Joker is abusive, her relationship is very unhealthy, and she needs treatment. But that’s an explanation, not a justification. So she has moments of conscience. Doesn’t change the fact she’s still a murderer. In this universe, she was an accomplice to Jason’s murder. Bruce doesn’t owe her a thing, least of all his sympathy. He’s just a man –  he can understand mental illness, but he doesn’t have to forgive her for murdering his son in cold blood. But Mr. Freeze? He’s a villain, too, one that Bruce will fight against to protect the innocent, but his crimes were born of desperation, not any kind of malice. Bruce would find it much easier to sympathize with him, because it’s not personal there. He can understand that anger, and that desperation to protect a loved one.


Of course I’m excited to see Nightwing as I discussed in this post. And once I get past my apprehension about the way Barbara will be handled, I’m excited to see Batgirl, too. I’m certainly excited to see more Batman. But Gotham City is more than just Batman and his children, and I’m incredibly ready to see the world expanding with new characters, each of which could provide more insight into Bruce as well as being fantastic characters in their own right.