You Don’t Need Trauma to Be a Superhero, Joss

Look, I’m going to do my best not to flip out every time a reporter gets Joss Whedon to talk about his Batgirl film but I feel like some things need to be said before we go any further.

Batgirl is not Batman. Batgirl is Batgirl.

By now you’ve heard Whedon is writing and directing a Batgirl solo film for Warner Bros. At this point we have no clue which direction they’ll go. Like most superheroes, Batgirl has many iterations. There’s a lot to be hopeful for but also a lot to be worried about. The DC movie universe is not the most cheerful at the moment and thinking of a Batgirl in that world just doesn’t work for me.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Whedon this week on the red carpet for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. They asked him about Batgirl and this is what he told them:

“She came up, and I started getting obsessed with how a young woman could get hardcore enough to need to put on the cowl. Like, What’s her damage?” he told Heat Vision.

He noted unlike Batman, Batgirl has no childhood tragedy that forced her into a life of crime fighting.

“She didn’t have her parents killed in an alley. Who is this person, who decides — rather than being forced to by their childhood trauma — decides to pick up this life?” he said. “How intense and driven that person is … I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

Here’s the thing: you don’t need to be damaged to be a superhero. “My Parents Are Dead” is an overused trope to spur on a hero but it’s not the only (or right) way to write a good superhero story. Barbara Gordon didn’t need a trauma to want to save people, she wanted to do it because she could. Is it out of the ordinary for a superhero origin? Yes, but that’s good! How many times have you seen Bruce Wayne’s parents killed in comics and on screen? It gets old.

Way back in 2010 I participated in a fun series for DC Women Kicking Ass, “the Most Memorable Moments in DC History for Women.” My moment centered on a Batgirl story called “Flawed Gems” from Secret Origins #20. It was written by Barbara Randall with art by Rick Leonardi (the origin of the photo at the top of this post). Allow me to quote myself a bit here:

After being adopted by her Uncle Jim Gordon following her parents’ deaths, Babs found herself drawn to her new father’s crime reports. While previously idolizing Supergirl, she became obsessed with her new locale hero, Batman. As if she needed much urging on, an actual run-in with Batman while hiding in her father’s office one night cemented the deal. And Batman himself was the impetus. Knowing she was concealing herself, he slyly (and I must say here, Gordon is a terrible detective for not noticing) writes a note and drops it on the ground for her to find. “Don’t get caught – he’ll get angry!” Again, it was almost as if Babs was being dared to take this path. “He was the most amazing man I’d ever seen,” she said, “I think he liked me.”

Barbara took inspiration from other people doing good in the world and realized she could make a difference. When she saved someone for the first time, she was proud of her achievement. I wrote, “She didn’t have to be a superhero. No one was telling her to. She merely liked doing good and was determined, no matter what anyone else said, to do the most good she could.” That is a classic hero. It’s your every day hero. Your police officer, your firefighter, your good samaritan. And Batgirl goes on to become an inspiration herself for several other superheroes in time (not to mention people in the real world).

Again, we don’t know which direction this new film will go, we don’t know how much freedom Warner Bros. is giving Whedon to branch off from the status quote of the DC movie universe but I do hope they take a lot into consideration before moving ahead. A Batgirl film is long overdue (Supergirl too), she hasn’t even gotten her own animated film!

If you’ve followed my work for a while you know I find Oracle to be a much more interesting character than Batgirl, but if Warner Bros. and Whedon intend on glossing over that period in her life as a flashback of trauma (which we have no indication of yet), I think it’s a huge disservice to everyone. Batgirl is a beacon of light in the DC Universe and that’s something desperately needed in the world right now. Barbara Gordon can be intense and she is driven, she’s a genius, and she’s happy to do what she does. Don’t look for darkness where there is none.

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  • MisterShoebox

    There was a scene in Marvel Adventures where – and I legitimately applauded at this – It turns out the reason that Wasp became a superheroine was not to avenge her mother “Who was at tennis practice. She’s fine. No, Janet just wanted to help people.” And I’m like…YES! DO THAT! MORE OF THAT!

  • That Which Dreams

    *cough*Supergirl*cough*

  • Killer Moth “What is your damage?”
    Batgirl “I see spots & Elvis tells me to do things.”

  • Steven Moye

    I think I just love that there’s an open discussion about that aspect of the character that I really love – it’s a significant part of why I like Barbara Gordon so much. She’s driven as hell, but not by tragedy. I like the answer he gave. The “what’s her damage?” line seems less like him thinking she needs trauma than him trying to understand her drive.

  • I really hope they use Batgirl Year One as a template. That comic is so good.

  • …it sounds like not only is he aware of what you’re talking about but that it’s that very detail that drew him to the character?

    • I don’t know, “What’s her damage?” seems to indicate there must be something wrong with her.

      • VindicaSean

        I really, really hope he just cynically means a character foible that would drive her to tights and cape life. But his phrasing makes me pray to every nerd god imaginable he never gets near The Flash, with that attitude.

      • Maybe. I read that with the following as a hypothetical, like:

        His immediate thought was, “What’s her damage?”

        And then he went on to discover: “She didn’t have her parents killed in an alley. Who is this person, who decides — rather than being forced to by their childhood trauma — decides to pick up this life?” he said. “How intense and driven that person is … I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

        So, he had to reconcile…she didn’t have a “damage”. He had to consider this teenager…who had everything going for…and decided to do this incredibly dangerous/selfless thing. Even though what it stereotypically takes from a superhero is trauma.

        I kinda assume she’s one of the inspirations for Buffy.

        Dammit all, we gotta be optimistic for SOME of the future or what’s the point?

        https://68.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lv2e5mcN8Z1qe2bw7o1_500.gif

        • lol, i’m TRYING to be optimistic, I really am. This isn’t so much of a direct response as much as a, please don’t make trauma where there really doesn’t have to be.

          • Two weeks from now, a paparazzi photo of Joss carrying a copy of The Killing Joke blu-ray and a handwritten note on a coffee napkin, “Batman + Batgirl = Jennifer Garner available?”