It's always nice to have a chance to talk about Batgirl. While she's had some great stories over the years, she's long been overshadowed by her male counterparts, which is a sadly normal state of affairs in the comics space. But now she's getting a chance to shine in her own story in Arkham Knight, albeit as part of a $40 DLC package that will include a host of other content, some of it story-focused.
The news was greeted warmly around the Internet when it hit over the weekend, with Kotaku's Mike Fahey writing that his interest in Arkham Knight "skyrocketed" after the announcement. Other reactions were similarly positive. Batgirl is much-loved in certain segments of the comics space, and she's been sorely missed in the Arkham series to this point.
It's a welcome contrast to Marvel's recent fumbling of the marketing for Avengers: Age of Ultron, which opened this past weekend. First, everyone noticed that there was no Black Widow tie-in merchandise, disappointing her fans and reminding everyone of the short shrift given to female heroes in the midst of the current superhero renaissance. Then Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans, who play Hawkeye and Captain America respectively, landed themselves in hot water when they joking referred to Black Widow as a "slut" and a "whore," for which they later apologized.
Apart from the controversy surrounding Age of Ultron, Black Widow is also worth mentioning because she has yet to receive her own film — a matter of some frustration among her fans (of whom I know several). In fact, until Marvel announced Captain Marvel last year, none of their movies featured a female lead. And things haven't been much better on the DC side of the fence, where Wonder Woman spent years being passed over before finally getting a movie of her own (which has had production problems).
Of course, as anyone will tell you, a lack of female leads isn't a problem in just the comics industry. It's an epidemic in movies and television, with actresses of all ages forced to fight for a dwindling number of roles. And in games, it's tough to get so much as a female avatar, let alone a full-blown female lead.
In that, seeing Batgirl get her own DLC episode is very welcome. Though not much more than a supporting character in the grand scheme of things, her various incarnations have generally flourished of late, and she has picked up quite a few fans. The controversy over its villain notwithstanding, her most recent run was praised for its outstanding art, its spirit of fun, and its clever examination of social media. You could say that the time was ripe for Batgirl to make an appearance in the Arkham games.
From a personal perspective, Batgirl is one of a handful of heroes that I genuinely really like, along with Kitty Pryde, Black Widow and Iron Man. Too often female heroes are written as stoic badasses, the only hint of their femininity being in their obvious physical traits. While Batgirl's portrayal can vary wildly by writer, and also by who is wearing the costume, I generally associate her with a kind of sunniness that can be hard to find in the DC universe. Basically, she's someone that I could see myself being friends with, only she wears a bat costume and fights crime. Though there are indications that Arkham Knight's variant of Batgirl will be darker than others, I have some hope that those traits will filter into her video game characterization.
For Rocksteady, who last attempted something similar with Catwoman in Arkham City, Batgirl's story is a chance to make amends. At the risk of delving too deeply into a four-year old controversy, it's fair to say that parts of it were kind of tasteless, even if most of the more questionable comments could be attributed to the villains. That dialogue, along with the actual design of Catwoman, overshadowed what was a really meaty piece of content for Batman's most intriguing female characters.
Happily, Rocksteady seems to have learned their lesson. The new Batgirl's costume is both cool and undeniably sexy, but without being gratuitous. I'd be lying if I said that I don't like her more recent costume better, but Arkham Knight look fits well with the series' darker aesthetic. Poised and ready to strike with a batarang in her hand, she looks every inch the badass hero.
With precious few details so far — all we know is that Batgirl's story is a prequel — speculation has centered on it being about Barbara Gordon's journey from being Batgirl to becoming The Oracle. If so, it could be an interesting retelling of The Killing Joke, which remains contentious even now for the way that it basically turned Batgirl into a prop, using the extreme violence committed against her to drive the action and not much else. In the years since, DC has done a fine job of continuing to evolve the character of Barbara Gordon, sparing her the fate of so many other women in refrigerators. But The Killing Joke remains controversial, with even its writer Alan Moore admitting that he feels he went too far. So if this is indeed where Rocksteady is going, they are heading into challenging, but potentially very interesting, territory. More likely, though, if the The Killing Joke comes up at all, it'll come up at the end of the story, rather than serving as the story iteslf.
In any case, Batgirl is one of a handful of comic book characters that I actually really like, and I'm with Mike Fahey in being exponentially more interested in Arkham Knight knowing that she'll be in it in some capacity (even if I pay extra to get to her story). Hopefully A Matter of Family will be a success, and other creators can see that stories starring female heroes aren't total anathema to the viewing audience. Well, okay, maybe that's being a little optimistic at this point, but I'm not going to complain. Every little bit helps.