Comics on Film: Joss Whedon Jumps Ship, and the Story of Batgirl

Comics on Film: Joss Whedon Jumps Ship, and the Story of Batgirl

Mar 31, 2017

Right now, a big perception among the devoted fanbase of comic book cinema is that the offerings from Warner Bros. based on the characters from DC Comics are a little...haphazard. 2013's Man of Steel proved to be an extremely polarizing effort as a modern reintroduction for Superman, last year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice failed to make a very positive impression with critics while, inconceivably, managing to divide fans even more, and Suicide Squad similarly didn't catch on in a way that many likely hoped it would, though it had its defenders.

As we get ever closer to the June theatrical release of Wonder Woman, it's been hard to keep up with the slew of news related to possible future entries in the so-called DC Extended Universe of movies. A film about the Flash seems to be starting as much as it's stopping, we may be getting both a sequel to Suicide Squad and a spin-off featuring its most talked-about character, a new director recently took over the project featuring the Dark Knight's next solo adventure, and we may be getting yet another new movie that focuses on Batman's grown-up original protégé. That's also not a complete list when you think of further unconfirmed rumors that have varying degrees of validity to them, on top of other movies we know we're getting like Aquaman and a second Justice League film.

Then, yesterday, we got what can likely be characterized as kind of a shocking news item: a director that shepherded Marvel Studios' original billion dollar blockbuster has now jumped ship to Warner Bros., to tell the story of yet another of Batman's protégés, but one who has an undisputed amount of iconography in her own right: Joss Whedon, director of The AVengersAvengers: Age of Ultron, and contributor to the Marvel Cinematic Universe's braintrust, will now write and possibly direct a film featuring Batgirl.

What a surprise, right? Or...is it?

First Rumblings of Joss Whedon at DC

By this point, it's pretty well known that around the time Warner Bros. was preparing to release Batman Begins in 2005, Joss Whedon was actively developing a film based on Wonder Woman with producer Joel Silver. Citing a disinct lack of enthuiasm on the part of both the production company and the studio, Whedon unceremoniously left the project behind. We've even seen the teaser poster (or what it may have looked like) in the past, but it ultimately didn't work out, and we had to wait an additional seven years to see Whedon make his first big cinematic superhero splash with the original Avengers film in May of 2012.

The then-unprecedented level of success enjoyed by that film led Whedon and Marvel Studios to co-develop a direct sequel, which was released in 2015 in the form of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Not as much of a critical darling as the original film (and not without its share of controversy), Whedon had still made clear during the promotional period that both Avengers films and the limited autonomy he enjoyed on both projects gave him an innate desire to create something of his own, and take a bit of a break from the blockbuster adventures of comics' modern myths.

Still, in an interview with IGN published a few days before the theatrical release of Age of Ultron, Whedon was asked about the possibility of, someday, going to Marvel's "Distinguished Competition" to make a film based on DC Comics characters at Warner Bros. While you might think that the director of the not-yet-released Avengers sequel may have blown such a proposition off out of hand, instead he...didn't. In fact, he seemed both interested and curious about the prospect (while poking fun at the somber tone seen in Man of Steel) when he said,

"Sure. I’d be like ‘I have all these joke ideas.’ And they’d be like ‘No, we don’t do that here.’ I desperately wanted to do a Batman film – who doesn’t? And I wanted to do Wonder Woman. I was a Marvel kid growing up, but I was always DC-curious. And I see myself on the spectrum in between."

In the same interview, Whedon lamented the ultimate fizzling out of his Wonder Woman project while making clear that he certainly has a love for the characters who live in the house that Superman built. While it was nice to hear that the director of the mega-popular Avengers films had nice things to say about Marvel's competition, most fans likely thought that the actual possibility of his joining a DC Comics-based project at Warner Bros. was kind of a longshot.

Then, this week happened.

Batgirl

A film based off of the adventures of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl is an interesting prospect right out of the gate. The fact that Warner Bros. sees an opportunity for another female-led superhero tentpole is definitely encouraging, and Batgirl herself has a rich legacy in the source material dating back to her first appearance in 1967. More modern comics fans have actually seen Barbara Gordon in a different role for most of the last 30 years. In 1988's Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (controversially adapted in an animated film last year), the Joker shot Barbara through the spine and paralyzed her from the waist down. Rather than abandon her innate sense of duty and responsibility to the cause of heroism, though, she instead reformed herself as the DC Universe's information broker, a cyber specialist and master strategist under a new alias: Oracle.

From 1989 - 2011, Barbara primarily served the DC Universe's heroes as Oracle, becoming an unmatched digital ally with occasional stories flashing back to her time in the field as Batgirl. She formed and led the team of superheroines known as the "Birds of Prey," in addition to having connections at different points to the Suicide Squad, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, Young Justice, Batman Incorporated, and the Justice League. In 2011, when DC relaunched their universe under the "New 52" initiative, a mysterious event cured Barbara's paralysis and she began operating once more as Batgirl.

In other media, Barbara was played by Yvonne Craig soon after her first comic book appearance and joined Adam West and Burt Ward as a regular character on the original Batman television series for its final season. She also regularly appeared in other animated efforts up to and including the 1990's Batman: The Animated Series, and a...different take on the character (this time related to Alfred) appeared as played by actress Alicia Silverstone in Joel Schumacher's ill-fated 1997 franchise killer, Batman & Robin.

That was the last time that Batgirl appeared in a major live-action motion picture, but she's still appeared prolifically in other places like animation, video games, and of course, comics. Her fanbase is as passonate as it is dedicated, and for very good reason: Barbara Gordon combines the pragmatism of Dick Grayson with an unmatched and unique resourcefulness that mainfests itself both on the streets of Gotham as a crimefighter and in cyberspace, and that makes her a unique character that can absolutely support her own movie.

 

Joss Whedon and Batgirl

Though the biggest story to come out of the big news this week is likely more on the fact that Joss Whedon will now be making at least one DC Comics movie, reaction to the news of his taking on Batgirl has been mixed in some circles. Whedon attracted a level of controversy with some character choices he made to Black Widow in Avengers: Age of Ultron, which has led a sect of Batgirl's devoted fans to lament Whedon's choice in directing a solo film with another female superhero.

However, Whedon himself has publicly acknowledged the controversial choices made with Black Widow as a mistake the movie makes overall, so it seems like that's the kind of sticking point he wouldn't be particularly keen to repeat. From a purely functonal perspective, the DC Extended Universe can likely make use of his demonstrated talents in bringing iconic comics characters to life, since our Senior Editor Peter Hall rightfully pointed out in his newsbreaking piece yesterday that DC's films seem to be in a "constant state of flux." Whedon may be someone who can help bring some much-needed focus to a slate that seems all over the place, even for fans of the characters.

 

But, what do you think? Is Joss Whedon the right choice to bring an iconic Batman family character to the big screen for her first solo adventure? Or, do you have another pick for director if Whedon ends up sticking with it strictly as a screenwriter? What do you want to see from Batgirl on film?

Sound off in the comments below, and we'll see you again with a new Comics on Film next week.


Chris Clow is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, as well as a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and Batman-On-Film.com, as well as host of the Comics on Consoles podcast. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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