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'Batman: The Killing Joke': Killing Female Representation


In the recently released DC animated film, Batman: The Killing Joke, one of the most controversial graphic novels in history is brought to life on the silver screen. At its world premiere at San Diego Comic Con this past Saturday, it was met with mixed responses primarily due to the additional thirty minutes of new story added to the front of the film in order to supposedly give the audience more of a chance to care for one of the central characters, Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl (voiced by Tara Strong). The additional story only served to provide additional controversy to an already troubling film as well as clearly illustrate that DC has absolutely no idea how to create a strong female character let alone represent women well in their franchises. Be aware spoilers are ahead for the film, however electing to watch the film may result in critical levels of fuming and steaming of the ears at the pure idiocy of the writers.
Batman, Batgirl's not a child. She's a totally
capable woman who fully understands
what she is involved in. 
Let's start at the beginning of this film in exploring how it literally destroyed the character of Barbara Gordon and stole her initiative. At the start, we are shown that Batgirl is fully capable of defending herself and taking down criminals as well as Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy). She has been partners in crime fighting with Batman for approximately three years and clearly has come into her own over that time. However, when a misogynistic criminal, Paris Franz (wish I was joking on that name) sets his sights on her, Batman attempts to throw her off the case in order to protect her. He even feels the need to explain what misogyny and objectification is to Batgirl, not to mention that he tells her flat out she is not his equal and that his word is law. As if Batgirl needs protection, your explanations, or your rules! She can handle her own and that was illustrated in the first two fights of the film, not to mention she clearly understood Franz's objectification and was possibly even using it to her advantage to bring the guy down. The second fight with Franz culminates with her being knocked out by gas by the aforementioned villain, to which Batman blames on the fact that she didn't wait for him. Um, I'm sorry? You probably would have been gassed out too, Mr. Emotionless Broodypants.

Would have much preferred a Batgirl driven by her own
volition rather than being portrayed as someone
driven by her schoolgirl crush on Batman.
One of the most deprecating elements of this so-called character building side story is the fact that Batgirl has a crush on Batman. That'd be all fine and dandy if it wasn't treated as the sole notion that drives her choices as well as the only topic that she wants to talk about at her day job. The part that really made headlines and added further controversy to an already messed up storyline is one particular scene. After taking down Franz, Batman and Batgirl get into an argument leading to a physical altercation between the two with Batgirl besting Batman. That should have been the end of it, but oh ho no! Batgirl suddenly kisses Batman and then rips her top off culminating in the two of them having sex on top of a building. Um WHAT?! First off, clearly fan service as we don't see Batman get half naked not to mention it felt somewhat incestuous as Batman tends to have a father/mentor relationship with the Batgirls/Robins of canon. Afterwards, Batman doesn't contact Batgirl and doesn't bring her along on missions because again, he has to protect her. HA!

In the end, Batgirl gives up her superheroine identity and decides to simply be Barbara Gordon for primarily two reasons. The first is that she doesn't want Batman to feel like he has to protect her, and the second being that she doesn't want to fall into the same dark place that Batman has gone to. Her second reason is perfectly fair, but the first? Come on girl!

Not only is Barbara Gordon harmed for the sake of Batman's
storyline, the Joker's wife pre-villain days is killed off solely
for his storyline and development. Women are better
than this! 
This whole thirty-minute mess finally leads into the canon of the graphic novel, and that's even more of a disaster for female representation. The impetus of the primary conflict of the film is the Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill) shooting Barbara and paralyzing her, causing Batman to suddenly show that he cares about her and seek out vengeance since y'know, he now has a reason and all. It's the whole harming/killing a woman in order to give a man purpose. The story is rehashed in the Joker's backstory where it is revealed that his wife and unborn child were killed in a freak accident, which then led to him having a psychotic break after a failed heist.

It's not enough that Barbara was shot and paralyzed,
she also had her body violated too. Thanks male writers!
The harm to Barbara Gordon didn't stop at the paralysis though, oh no siree. While Barbara lay helpless on the floor, the Joker undresses her completely and takes photos of her naked, blood splattered body. 'Cause he's evil and hey let's cause more harm to give our male heroes extra reasons to get angry and come save the day. Please. Since the fact that Barbara was shot in cold blood and paralyzed for life from the waist down was clearly not enough, the writers of the film decided that her body should be violated as well. Even though it is canon from the graphic novel, it could have easily been discarded. Thanks for keeping it, you fantastic male writers! Great job guys! Please note that those previous two lines are dripping with fully intentional sarcasm.

Clearly in DC's world, women are only good for furthering
male storylines. Really feeling the love here.


The major problem with all of this is that the writers of this film are somehow convinced that they created a strong female character in Barbara Gordon by tacking on that additional story to the start of the film. Do they even know what a strong female character is?! In my own view, the definition of a strong female character is one who has her own initiative, makes decisions of her own volition and not because of some man, and who's sole purpose in a story is not just to further a male counterpart's story line. It's really not that difficult to do, so why does DC constantly struggle with female representation in their films?

Lois Lane is willing to do whatever it takes to bring the story
to the people in 'The Flashpoint Paradox'. 

DC does have a few examples of well written female characters in their animated canon. Take for instance Lois Lane in The Flashpoint Paradox, who is a guerrilla reporter on the front lines of the conflict between Aquaman and Wonder Woman willing to risk her life for the sake of getting the story. Another excellent example is Carol Sparks from Green Lantern: The Animated Series (which is full of amazing female characters and is a rare gem in the DC animation) who continues to run a major jet company even in the absence of Hal Jordan not to mention declines the chance to join the Star Sapphires because it's not what she personally wants.

Barbara Gordon/Batgirl deserved better writing.


Overall, DC has a great deal of work ahead of them if they truly want to rectify their issues in female representation of their women characters. Only time and a great deal of continued constructive criticism directed their way will tell if they are able to make the necessary growth and changes.
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