Last week it was reported that Joss Whedon is being recruited to write and direct DC's first-ever Batgirl movie, and the fan anticipation is already palpable. Whedon is better known for his longstanding relationship with Marvel Comics; he wrote a wildly successful volume of Astonishing X-Men (2004–2008) before writing and directing The Avengers in 2012. He then went on make Avengers: Age of Ultron, after which he stepped down from the MCU, displeased with the work.
This sordid history with Marvel makes his potential move to the #DCEU all the more intriguing, but it won't be his first rodeo. Whedon actually wrote issue #26 of DC's Superman/Batman back in 2006. And yet, even with this mature comic book resume, it's Buffy the Vampire Slayer — his very first TV series — that we should look to for evidence that #Batgirl is full of promise.
Without a doubt, penning Batgirl will give Whedon an opportunity to return to some of the most prominent themes of Buffy — you know, the stuff that made him a household name among fans and critics alike.
Themes To Look Out For In 'Batgirl'
Assuming that a Whedon-headed Batgirl film will draw inspiration from the Batgirl of Burnside comics, we can expect a college-aged #BarbaraGordon to serve as our hero. Burnside focuses on Barbara not only as Batgirl, but as a young and intelligent woman eager to balance college life with her superhero duties. Sound familiar? Looking back to literally any episode of Buffy will make clear to you that this is Whedon's bread and butter. The girl/superhero dynamic was always the driving force behind the show, used as a platform to discuss a variety of coming-of-age themes that we should fully expect from Batgirl, as well.
The Ups And Downs Of Life On Campus
There are two sides to the typical college life: the social and the educational. Learning to balance them is tricky. For Buffy, whose story began in high school but moved to college (Sunnydale U) in Season 4, the balancing act was made exponentially more difficult by her separate duties as the Chosen One. Buffy's entrance into college life was portrayed as overwhelming, with some insurmountable problems that eventually led to her failing out. But, let's face it: Buffy wasn't exactly book smart. This is not the case for Barbara.
In Burnside, Barbara is introduced as being awarded a prestigious research grant based on her development of a special algorithm that is going to change the face of tech. Barbara and her new roommate celebrate this new stage of life by throwing a wild party, and even though Barbara is unbelievably hungover the next day, she doesn't hesitate to chase down a thief she encounters at the coffee shop the next morning. Immediately, we are told that Barbara has it all (smarts, sense of fun, sense of responsibility) and she's in complete control. If Whedon takes on this character, we can probably expect to see a little more struggle in terms of her trying to find her footing. It should be a little grittier and a little easier for the audience to relate to.
Secret Identities And Duality
Admittedly, Buffy was never too keen on the secret identity part of being a superhero. She happily surrounded herself with friends (affectionately self-titled "The Scoobies"), and eventually "came out" to her mother. However, having to be and understand two Buffy's was never easy for her. Whedon played with the theme of duality in more than one way throughout the series, utilizing contradictory natures, mirror images, body swaps, doubles and doppelgängers. The point was to constantly remind us how complex the concept of identity is, and how important it is for us to learn how to balance who we are with who we want to be.
Burnside addresses the theme of the secret identity head on, merging it with concepts of celebrity. When a Batgirl imposter takes social media by storm, Barbara has to fight to protect her image. This malicious hijacking of her identity puts Barbara in a precarious position — how can she retain control over her image without sharing her identity in this age of hyper-technology? Whedon can definitely use this as an opportunity to once again discuss the complicated nature of forming the self.
Technology And The Unnatural Informing Reality
Buffy used the horror genre basis to speak metaphorically about real life. The fantastical and supernatural elements of the show paradoxically highlighted the realism of life as a teen/young adult. And though magic became increasingly prevalent throughout the series, technology initially played a large role in this, as well. Earlier seasons referred to techno-paganism and focused on the "magic" of computers. Tech was a way for The Scoobies to help fight monsters, but eventually it became a monster itself. A demon used it to infiltrate Buffy's operation through Willow in Season 1, and in Season 4 the Big Bad was created by the technology of the Initiative, a group that was itself portrayed as morally corrupt.
Returning to these themes would be especially easy within the Burnside narrative. Although Barbara is a tech genius, many story arcs demonize the power of technology. From a hacker villain, Riot Black, to the prediction that tech developed for good reasons will be stolen and used for evil, tech is depicted as having the power to make or break entire social structures. Without the presence of magic, this may be a theme that Whedon can really expand upon to create more of his much-appreciated monster metaphors.
Sexuality, Romance And Friendship
At the heart of it, Buffy was always about relationships. Like any other coming-of-age narrative, it was about exploring one's sexuality, dating, finding love and building friendships. On the topic of sexuality, the show warned that sometimes after having sex with a guy, he can turn into a monster, that sex can be a great distraction/release, and that exploring your sexuality can help you find yourself. It was also the first network TV show to feature a main character as a lesbian. As Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson recently pointed out, it was so important that the relationship between Willow and Tara was shown to be accepted by their peers; that it was a non-issue.
Romance was always tricky on Buffy, and at the end of the day, the most solid relationships always turned out to be friendships. The Scoobies were the most powerful force on Earth, and the foundation of that strength was their unbreakable bond. Slayer lore be damned, Buffy was never truly alone in the fight against evil.
Burnside does a pretty good job at developing similar themes. Barbara's roommate is bisexual and we see multiple gay characters early on, all of whom are presented with an admirable sense of normalcy. There's no suggestion that Barbara is a virgin, though she is not in a relationship. Some dating factors into the narrative, but it certainly doesn't hold primary significance. Instead, we see Barbara developing friendships, and these bonds are set up to be something special. For instance, when her roommate discovers she is Batgirl, she is immediately on board to join in the fight using her own special skill: coding. Clearly, there's simply no shying away from the importance interpersonal relationships would play in Whedon's Batgirl.
Obviously, this is the big one. It is almost impossible to discuss images of female empowerment in pop culture without referencing Buffy. The premise was created out of Whedon's own frustration with the persistent victimization of the blonde party girl within the horror genre. Buffy became the embodiment of a statement against that: She would be the thing monsters feared.
Taking this a step further, Buffy's best friend Willow, began as a timid, brainy type and developed into an incredibly powerful witch. As these girls came into themselves and found their power, the feminist message was difficult to ignore. By the end of the series, Buffy and Willow worked together to mastermind a way for the power of the Slayer to be shared among girls all over the world. Can you say, Girl Power?
Batgirl is yet another girl turned superhero; all Whedon has to do is bring to the narrative his particular brand of female empowerment. Whedon's feminism may not be perfect, but it is fresh and fun in the way it celebrates girlhood, womanhood and heroics. This could be all the more interesting within a traditional superhero story, because Batgirl isn't about destiny or fate — it's about having a burning desire to do what's right, even when it's morally grey.
Check out some of that Buffy sass that we may see in Batgirl. Check out Movie Pilot Video for more!
What other influences from Whedon's other works do you hope to see in the Batgirl movie?