She Can Fly: This Joke isn’t Funny

The Killing Joke has never not been surrounded by controversy. The almost 30 year old graphic novel by infamous author Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland attempted to portray the Joker as a sympathetic character, a man who had one bad day, but, in foil to Batman, it took him over the edge to insanity. Of course, the Joker’s backstory isn’t what made The Killing Joke the buzzword that it has been since its publication in 1988; the crippling, sexualization, and (possibly) implied rape of Batgirl.

But, in the nature of the comics industry, the stand-alone comic was considered a huge success, winning an Eisner, often being referred to as “the greatest Batman story ever told,” and being one of the few comics (of a certain age) that has never gone out of print.

In the original, the physical and sexual violence towards Babs was meant as a motivation for her father, James Gordon; it was the Joker’s tool to break him as a man, and the supposed illustration of Gordon’s moral superiority over both Batman and the Joker. However, in retrospect, Moore denounced the story as “[not] very interesting,” and later directly blamed DC editorial for poor decisions, including what happened to Batgirl, in a 2006 interview with Wizard magazine:

I asked DC if they had any problem with me crippling Barbara Gordon – who was Batgirl at the time – and if I remember, I spoke to Len Wein, who was our editor on the project … [He] said, ‘Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch.’ It was probably one of the areas where they should’ve reined me in, but they didn’t.

So when DC announced in 2015 that they would be producing (what ultimately turned out to be an R-rated) animated feature of The Killing Joke, reaction was mixed. Fans of the original, and of Bruce Timm-produced DC features, were ecstatic, while others were skeptical, considering the subject matter.

Immediately prior to the release of the film, right around the time of San Diego Comic-Con 2016, leaks began to slip out.

First there was a bordering on explicit sex scene between Batgirl and Batman.

This decision was apparently made because the filmmakers felt they needed to have the audience become move invested and Batgirl, and create a “deeper emotional tie” between her and Batman. Instead of a mentoring or student-teacher relationship, instead of a coworker relationship, or a friendship, or even a familial relationship, Batgirl becomes, at best, a sexual object to ultimately motivate the male characters. “It’s her decision to engage in this relationship,” the creators state. However, Batgirl was canonically, and is likely, between 16 and 19 in The Killing Joke, so the sexual nature of her relationship with Batman becomes one of Batman abusing his age, status, and power over her, even unintentionally (also, Batgirl is a fictional character with no actual agency beyond what the writers write her doing). Brian Azzarello even later stated, “The thing about this is that it’s controversial, so we added more controversy.”

At Comic-Con, it was revealed that, after the sex scene, Batman spurns Batgirl, and the film leaves her to pine alone before being shot, kidnapped, and…well, you probably know the story.

Fans at Comic-Con reacted negatively in The Killing Joke film panel, including Bleeding Cool’s Jeremy Konrad shouting his response to the panel saying that Babs was written as a strong female character in the movie (“Yeah, by using sex and then pining for Bruce.”). Brian Azzarello responded in a way that really emphasizes his feelings on the presentation of female characters and fan reaction: “Wanna say that again? Pussy?”

Finally, it was recently revealed that the implicit nature of the Joker’s possible rape of Barbara Gordon is made much less implied, with a scene where a prostitute says the Joker has sex with prostitutes every time he breaks out of Arkham Asylum, but that he did not come visit her after his most recent breakout, saying “maybe he found himself another girl.”

Bruce Timm attempted to refute the assertion that Batgirl is raped by the Joker in an interview with Vulture, saying:

I don’t think that [he raped her], actually. I did not think of it as supporting that. If I had, I probably would have changed the line. I never, ever thought that he actually raped her. Even in my first read of the comic, I never thought that. It just seemed like he shot her and then took her clothes off and took pictures of her to freak out her dad. I never thought that it was anything more than that.

Here’s the thing: Whether he [raped her] or not, it’s still sexual violence. It’s still a horrible thing. So in my own head, I was already self-censoring the moment. Maybe just to make it a little more easier to get through. But it’s still a very horrible, horrible thing.

Honestly, all these snippets of information about The Killing Joke, which was just released digitally, makes me feel like we’re just living through this scene from BoJack Horseman:

Screenwriter Brian Azzarello and co-producers Alan Burnett and Bruce Timm are, at their core, three white guys writing a story about the destruction of a woman; a.k.a. something they have no singular, personal experience with.

That’s what The Killing Joke is at its core: the destruction of a young woman, barely in her prime, and the defacing of her body, her spirit, and her self-identity. It also uses this destruction purely to motivate male characters. Barbara is given no happy ending, no moral resolution.

The Killing Joke did not create Oracle, Oracle came over a year later, and only at the hands of editor and writer Kim Yale and her husband, fellow writer, John Ostrander. Kim Yale was notably disgusted by the treatment of the character Barbara Gordon, and ultimately made it her mission to prevent the character from listing in obscurity by turning her into an even more powerful hero, despite, and also because of, her disability.

I don’t own The Killing Joke–book, film, or memorabilia–and I never will. I won’t see The Killing Joke, and I never was going to, but with the treatment of Batgirl as a secondary character, taking the backseat to the men, in what could have been the story of her power, personal strength, and moral superiority over the Joker, I am verbally denouncing the film. And I’m not alone.

Don’t give The Killing Joke your time. It’s not worth it.

She Can Fly: Forever the First

Captain Marvel, 2018. Wonder Woman, 2017. Elektra, 2005. Catwoman, 2004. Tank Girl, 1995. Supergirl, 1984. Secrets of Isis, 1975-1976. Wonder Woman, 1975-1979. But before all of those women (and many others), there was Batgirl, played by the marvelous Yvonne Craig, who died this week at the age of 78.

Yvonne Craig is a pioneer. One of the first women to play a superheroine on screen, Craig’s Batgirl, who appeared in the last season of the cult classic 1960’s Batman television series, was a far cry from the damsels in distress of superhero-media-past. Instead of helplessly hoping for heroes to save her, Craig’s Barbara Gordon took matters into her own hands; donning cape and cowl to defeat villains just as handily on her own as with Batman and Robin.

Though some posited that the introduction of Batgirl was a desperate attempt by ABC to increase the show’s poor ratings, the character also subverted a number of traditional expectations, as Craig did herself. A trained dancer, the youngest member of her ballet company before she went into film; she did all her own stunts, and played a number of smart, strong, and unusual female characters, including assassins, femme fatals, and a very memorable Orion slave girl, Marta, in classic episode of Star Trek, whose aim was to kill Captain Kirk. She inspired young women and empowered them, being one of the first to prove that women could kick just as much butt as men.

Tripping (or, perhaps, dancing) into acting by accident, she started out as a romantic lead in a variety of films, costarring with a number of popular actors, from Patrick Wayne to Elvis Presley. Then, the opportunity to play Batgirl in a Batman short appeared, and Yvonne Craig was eager to seize the opportunity. In the short, smart librarian Barbara Gordon, daughter of Commissioner Gordon, reveals she has a secret of her own: she has created a Batcave of her very own, and uses it to become her secret, heroic identity Batgirl. In the short, she ultimately defeats the Killer Moth and his henchmen alongside Batman and Robin before leaving them to ponder the mystery of their new cape cohort.

This short, which is sometimes erroneously considered a pilot for a Batgirl tv series, is actually what helped Batman get the funding for its third, and final, season with ABC–although the show is now a cult classic, it was in constant danger of cancellation from the first season. Craig’s Batgirl appeared in all 26 episode of the season and remained enigmatic to the dynamic duo, with only the stalwart butler Alfred aware of her true identity as sweet, strong-minded Babs.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Craig said in an interview with CNN earlier in 2015. “The crew liked one another, the cast liked one another. It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, it’s a joy to go to work every day. I got to work with people that I would never have the chance to work with. We had Ethel Merman, I would never have met Milton Berle, I got to work with him, and he was a delight.”

Craig had also stated multiple times that she felt a close kinship with the character of Barbara Gordon, and even expressed displeasure in interviews about DC’s 1988 graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, which included the abuse and paralyzation of Babara at the hands of the Joker.

Creators and fans alike cite seeing Yvonne Craig as Batgirl as an inspiration; “my first real life hero,” Batgirl and Birds of Prey writer Gail Simone said of Craig.

Yvonne Craig wasn’t just an on-screen hero. Off-screen she supported women’s rights, wage equality, and healthcare such as mammograms for women who couldn’t afford them. She even wore the Batgirl costume one last time for a 1972 PSA about equal rights for women:

Craig passed away after a two year long battle with breast cancer, and is survived by her husband, her two sisters, and two nephews. Her family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the cancer research and treatment center, the Angeles Clinic Foundation.
Although Yvonne Craig has passed on, her legacy will forever be remember by budding superheroines everywhere. She is an icon, and her voice, her strength, and her energy will be sorely missed.

 

IMAGINE IF: Batman, Release Date 1943

Imagine if Hollywood had released tent-pole comic-book movies starring their iconic characters around the time of the source material’s release date. For the purposes of this experiment, we will say that a movie would be released 5 years after the introduction of the character, and only movies that have been made would be made.

e86c4d5dbf29920a970abcc91560f22e

Bruce Wayne/ Batman-Robert Mitchum

After Superman didn’t rake in the money as producers had hoped, they went a bit more edgy with this darker franchise. Mitchum, known mostly for noir, westerns, and villains was cast against type as the caped crusader. Cary Grant was also considered, but producers insisted on going a different direction.

vlcsnap-2013-02-24-20h26m38s4

Dick Jones-Robin

Dickie Jones (lest we avoid a Robocop quote) was a skilled trick rider and roper starring in western movies as a child, so his athleticism would be well known. He also provided the voice for Pinocchio.

352px-Milton_Berle_-_1943

The Joker-Milton Berle

A vaudeville and radio star, producers kept thinking outside the box.

 

 

 

640px-Mickey_Rooney_still

The Penguin-Mickey Rooney

A huge star known for his song and dance and all-American roles, producers were taking a gamble that American audiences would be able to see Rooney as the sinister Penguin.

 

 

Ralph Richardson The Fallen IdolAlfred-Sir Ralph Richardson

Noted Shakespearean actor and contemporary of Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir John Gielgud.