The Killing Joke : Batgirl's Efficiency (2100 words)
This article is not going to be an analysis on the same level as the others, I’d just like to point out Batgirl’s simple efficiency in the animated film because a lot of people seem to have missed it.
In my article Killing the Bad Joke, I explored all the elements which, if misinterpreted, could give the impression that Batgirl is incompetent. But I didn’t simply talk about all the things she did that put her on the same level as Batman.
Her introduction in the film, on its own, places her right there next to him. She glides in the sky, lands perfectly on a roof and takes an iconic pose with the Batsign in the background. This establishes her as the perfect female version of Batman. And from that point of view, her prominent chest is not cheap titillation for the male audience, but a strong signifier of her femininity. Why wishing that she had smaller, less noticeable breasts if not to suggest that being a woman makes you less deserving, that you should look more like a man in order to be taken seriously (I'm here answering some criticism I've seen on the oversexualization of the character). The desire that she had a less voluminous chest is based on the assumption that her female distinctive features are only there in order to obtain things from men. It already puts her in the position of a submitted individual. And yeah, I like her breasts leave me alone. :(
So, her not too big, but clearly impossible-to-ignore-bosom puts her in an unapologetic position. Her costume is skin-tight for practical reason, just like Batman’s, it doesn’t exactly aim at making her look sexy, but if it does, why should she refrain from wearing it for all that? She is not going to blame anyone who’s looking at her nor is she going to constantly draw attention to her body on purpose. To me, the writers treaded a very thin line between too much and not enough.
This introduction is accompanied with a peaceful music that would totally suit a yoga session. Roaming around as Batgirl soothes Barbara.
After this nice pose, she starts running and shoots her grappling iron without even aiming, just like Batman, it’s a very confident gesture which suggests a lot of experience and practice. She catches a ladder, which represents a very precise target that could have been missed but wasn’t, and eventually only turns her head, she doesn’t even have to climb one more rung, she landed exactly on the spot where she wanted to land.
So, this introduction of the character presents Batgirl as in perfect harmony with her environment and role as a vigilante.
Then comes the bank robbery intervention.
The bad guys get rid of two police cars by bumping into them. Batman appears with the batmobile as a gradation of deployed means to stop the criminals. The cops are “the law” (Patriarchal order), Batman is more. The Batmobile is a metal armour which suggests a confrontational approach to the situation: “If I catch you, you’re gonna suffer.”
Batgirl appears directly on the hood of the truck. Chasing the bad guys is not an option for her. There's no idea of "catching," no manly confrontation, no rivalry. She is “naked,” she doesn't need a technological outgrowth to signify her superior manliness. On the contrary she is all curves and flesh, there isn’t any promise of pain in her attitude, she even smiles to her opponents. And appearing on the hood resembles a lot to paying respects, saying hello.
These two approaches are more traditionally gender oriented than Batgirl's introduction. I could understand the desire of women to see an aggressive approach on the side of Batgirl, instead of being the nice one. My problem with this is that I prefer a less-confrontational approach to the stupid “bad-ass” manly one. So many people are obsessed with male domination nowadays that they miss the fact that the traditional female approach is more humane and intelligent. Her attitude says “Hello guys, I’m going to stop you” and it is exempt of any rivalry or judgement, it leaves room for peace, for discussion, it's not a "You're gonna have to kill me if you wanna carry on what you're doing !"
This is also Michelangelo’s approach in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and what is Michelangelo for the group ? The clumsy idiot... when he actually has the smartest approach. AND, intriguingly enough the episode that puts Michelangelo’s approach forward the best in the nickelodeon serie, is the only episode which was written by a woman ("Target April O’Neil"). Also, it is certainly one of the best episodes when it comes to character development and emotional involvement of the audience… which too me is what should matter most.
Anyway, Batgirl climbs on the roof of the truck and runs without betraying any sign of instability. She knows what she is doing, and goes straight for it. She sticks a bomb in the backdoors of the trailer, runs away, makes a joke and dives to protect herself. All of this is depicted in three shots. One shot for each action, it underlines their preciseness and efficiency.
Batman shoots a grapple removes the content of the trailer, the bad guys detach it. Contrary to Batgirl's previous action, her jump from the trailer to the roof of the truck is depicted in many shots in order to build up a momentum and underline how impressive it is:
She realises the trailer is lose. We are given the possibility to measure how far she is from the truck and how un-obvious the feasibility of the jump is. The truck turns and it seems too late for Batgirl to attempt the jump but she does anyway.
The way she's shot frontally when she runs on the top of the trailer makes her look still, whereas the lateral movement of the truck underlines that it is escaping. This streches the gap between Batgirl and the roof as much as possible in the public's head.
Not only does she make it, but she’s managed to pull out a batarang to stick it in the metal roof and have a hold as she lands. The absence of any shot showing her taking the batarang out conveys the feeling that this action is natural and underlines, just like the grappling iron shot, her skill and experience. Paris Franz shoots at her, and she simply rolls away from the impacts, letting herself fall from the roof without the hesitation or fear which might costs her her life. And she still manages to grab the f*****g rear-view mirror to be confronted to the first pivotal element of the prologue which necessarily is an obstacle that she can’t yet overcome.
A few seconds later, she is faced with a criminal who holds her at gunpoint. She is calm and tries to talk him out of “making a mistake.” She is honestly giving him a chance, as she is holding a batarang in her hand and it doesn’t seem hard to believe that she could take the guy out or disarm him before he even realises it. (We should notice here how Batgirl is not the Barbara who passively gets shot by the Joker because she was vanquished psychologically beforehand).
After that, we find Batgirl in a storehouse “on the hunt” where Paris Franz is stealing some works of art. She is in “stealth mode” and is only noticed because she throws a batarang (which reaches its target AFTER a ricochet) and opens her mouth to make a funny entrance. No unnoticed branch that cracks or knocked over empty can that gets her discovered.
Again, she is not judgmental or aggressive; she is only stating the fact that she is going to prevent them from doing what they are here to do. “No withdrawals today, boys.”
She creates a diversion (The head of the statue of a man, she is growing independent from Batman? Or is it the result of her “he’s not my boyfriend”) and manages to suspend one of her assailant by the foot. Then she attacks the second one from behind and knocks him down in two beautifully executed punches.
She knocks down a gorilla in two punches without flinching. How come nobody noticed that she was impressive ?
It is important to note this number: two guys. After that Paris Franz finds a way to incapacitate her which is related to the evolution of her character. Again, she is stopped by the narrative more than anything.
The first time I thought “Wahou, how could people thought her not impressive?” while watching the film was actually when she performs the “minor” stunt of landing on the molding of the building. I think it comes from the fact that she appears from nowhere as if it was a casual way of travelling and lands one floor lower than the shot makes you expect at first.
A few seconds later, she is chased by the henchmen of the assassinated boss. She takes down the first two by jumping on one and slamming his head against the floor, and throwing a chair at the other.
Doors open and reveal another henchman in front of her in the corridor, she jumps in the stairs to the floor below and quickly finds herself confronted to two other huge guys. She disables them very efficiently with two impressive holds and without losing a second.
She tries to take the elevator but it’s not on her floor. Three men arrive and shoot at her.
So, until now, we’ve seen that she could take out two men with bare hands, and was stopped by just one man with a gun shooting from a distance. Here, there are three men shooting at her. She pulls out a batarang. In the storehouse she took out two armed guys shooting from a distance, thanks to this weapon. So, the situation is more threatening than anything we’ve seen her being confronted to until now but not disproportionately threatening, only a step higher.
The elevator eventually arrives, Batman emerges from it and kicks everybody’s butt. How many guys in the elevator? Two.
So, Batgirl beats down two guys in the storehouse, then in the boss’ office, then in the corridor, then she flees from three guys, and when finally the late elevator-because-batman-made-it-stop-to-get-on-it arrives, there are two guys in it. I’m really not sure that it was done on purpose, but it seems to suggest that without Batman, the elevator would have arrived on time for her to take it and that the two guys inside wouldn’t have represented a problem for Batgirl.
Then obviously, another thing that shows how skilled she is, is that she kicks Batman’s ass. Of course, he certainly wasn’t ready to beat the crap out of her, still, he is taken aback by her attack.
And finally you have her intervention with the bike when she is not “having fun” anymore. Just like Batman at the beginning she hides behind mechanical stuff and a dirty weapon, a big hook.
She completely destroys Paris Franz in one second that which underlines how much she didn’t win earlier only because she wasn’t interested in winning yet.
So yeah, that’s everything you can find in the 30 minutes prologue.
I’m so frustrated now that I’ve written these three articles because I’ve spotted so much more things worth of analysis.
For example, I found strange the way she spreads her legs so much when discovering the dead body. And I found it even stranger that she should open her legs even more, precisely in the following shot. Why putting these two side by side? And why has the biggest boss in Gotham (Patriarchy) one pierced eye? I could have understood two eyes to mean that she’s grown totally independent from the male influence. But one? Gaze in the story has a strong meaning. She looks at Paris Franz a lot, this guy is half-blind (and dead) and her dad will have to look at the pictures of her naked wounded body.
I think that the scavenger hunt goes wrong on a metaphorical level (sexual experiment with Paris Franz) because it makes a “slut” out of her (in the eyes of both Batman and Paris, she spread her legs for everyman) and she is scared of Batman’s judgment. Is it what makes him win in the end? Is it what makes her lose the fight; the fact that Batman cannot understand her sexual behaviour? His intrusive judgment? I don’t know.
OH I get it. She loses because, they both think women have a "sleeping beauty" sexuality which is specifically triggered by a guy, not only always there as a driving force. So, Paris Franz as an arrogant idiot, thinks himself irresistible because he experiences sex as a magical power he has over normally asexual women and which transforms them into sexual beings. And Batman, on the other hand, thinks that if he gets rid of Paris Franz, he'll get rid of Batgirl's sexual urges and thus will be able to keep her for himself. What makes Batgirl lose, is that these two are just going to tear each other appart because they don't want to see that they're wrong about her. She loses because she is surrounded by blind men traumatized by their gender roles.
Anyway, I like the way she rides her bike, another thing that shows her under a great light.