Batman: The Killing Joke adds a prologue about Batgirl and Batman that isn’t seen in the comics, should we applaud the extra storyline or condemn its representation of Batgirl?
*SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers from the recent DC animated film, Batman: The Killing Joke and may also include comic book canon outside of the source material.*
It is arguable by some that many female comic book characters are sexist, but many others justify this by the times in which they were published or individual character traits themselves. The big issue is representation and when characters are changed to portray sexist ideals. Female characters are built up with traits that are a common representation of women, thus perpetuating a certain idea of “femininity”. However, we would argue that the latter problem is more infuriating, when female characters are fundamentally changed to create an image of submission that is out of character, especially with the case of Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl) in The Killing Joke film.
Now, let’s make a distinction between the comic book source material that we saw in the second half of the film (which was excellent and true to the story), and this prologue that was created seemingly out of nowhere for the first 30 minutes of the film. We know that atrocious things happen to Barbara in The Killing Joke, she is shot through the spine and The Joker assaults her by taking compromising photos of her while she is incapacitated and sending them to her father, Jim Gordon. As awful as that is, it is a justifiable storyline based upon the characters in question. The Killing Joke serves as away to see The Joker in two lights; in sympathy and in disgust. We see both his backstory and motivation, the reason he is the way he is, but we also see that he is evil and an all-around bad person. The point of the story is that he wants to “prove a point” to Batman and Jim Gordon, that all people snap and do awful things when the world is unfair to them. This is possibly the worst thing about him, as he justifies his cruelty and thinks of revenge as something wholly human.
However, Barbara’s injuries lay the groundwork in her becoming Oracle, giving outside intel to Batman from her lair when she can no longer go out and be Batgirl due to her paralysis. This gives her power despite her disability and is truly empowering to see and in-keeping with what we know and love about Batgirl. She is a strong female character, a trait she is showcasing constantly, yet in the prologue of the film, she’s seen in a completely different light.
It is appreciated that the creators wanted to add extra content to the film, but it felt like the first half was unnecessary and it ruins Batgirl. This story shows a relationship between Batman and Batgirl, painting Batgirl as a subservient character to the will of The Almighty Batman™. Of course, romantic love is not the problem here at all, love is amazing, but the fact that love is always used to weaken women while it builds up men is frankly quite preposterous. This added with the notion that every woman needs a romantic relationship while men do not, makes for an unbalanced and unfair representation of women.
This is frustrating for many reasons and the list keeps getting longer as you carry on watching. As mentioned earlier, it shows a completely out of character Batgirl, but also, Batman and Batgirl are never together in the comic books; this relationship was pretty much entirely fabricated. At times Batgirl has been seen as the love interest of Nightwing, not Batman, so it’s not even like this can be justified by the fact that they are in a relationship, if you could even call it that. Barbara spends 30 minutes of the film pining after Batman, something she just would not do. Ms Gordon is the kind of woman who would assert her feelings. She does not pine.
Furthermore, this seemingly one-sided love affair escalates into Batman and Batgirl having sex, right after an argument about Batman being controlling (because obviously even though she is a strong independent woman, she secretly likes the fact that Batman is a domineering d***head). And if this wasn’t enough to make you cringe, after their encounter Barbara Gordon gives up her role as Batgirl just because she and Batman are on different pages. She literally gives up her power and individuality because of a man.
If you still think this is all absolutely fine and in character, note the period joke (yes, there is a “time of the month” joke and it is completely tasteless), the complete lack of any sort of character from Batgirl except the overwhelmingly strong “I love Batman sooooo much, I want him to be mine and I’ll give up everything just for him to notice me!” vibe, but most importantly, please note that this entire backstory has NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH THE KILLING JOKE.
Yes, that’s right, this 30 minutes of pining after an out of date yoghurt (Batman is great but sometimes he’s basically a dairy product past its sell-by date) is irrelevant and adds nothing to the actual story. It’s awful to write such a one-sided article when the actual Killing Joke content was brilliant, but there was just nothing redeemable about that story, and that’s not even breaking into the extra sexualisation of Batgirl through another character’s obsession with her. If you can overlook these discrepancies and focus on the second half then Batman: The Killing Joke is a genius addition to the line of DC animated films. If you can’t get over this, then Batman: The Killing Joke is just one huge joke.
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