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DC’s female characters deserve better

DC’s female characters deserve better

DC’s female characters deserve better
September 04
14:30 2020

DC Comics has one of the most impressive rosters of female characters in the comics world. From Batgirl and Zatanna to Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, DC has a slew of characters that can range from hero to villain and all the way to antihero. What makes their roster of female characters so instantly iconic — aside from all of their brilliant costumes — are the multi-faceted layers that make up these characters. Many of them do not subscribe to one side of the coin in how they identify their status as hero or villain. They are layered and three-dimensional, as all characters should be. They all have their individual motives and reasonings that make sense for who they are and can all confidently go up against Batman’s own personal motives (and demons) in intriguing ways.

So, why does it seem DC wants to constantly sideline and ignore these characters or, even worse, erase them and everything they stand for?

While this is less obvious in some instances (looking at you, Wonder Woman), recently, this seems to be the case with quite a bit of their very popular female characters. One of the most disgraceful examples of this comes in the form of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Harley and Ivy have a long relationship history in DC comics. These two characters have appeared together in numerous series together, always playing off one another and always very close. It was not until Harley Quinn’s solo comic series in 2017 and more specifically, in issue #25 of said series, that Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy shared their first main-universe, in-canon kiss. This was a huge moment for the characters as it finally solidified they were more than just really close friends and the obvious buildup to this exact moment was earned in every way. It also signified important representation in the comic book world, which is commonly known for severely lacking proper, inclusive representation.

This was an important moment for the characters and fans who have wanted nothing more than exactly this, so when DC turned around and told Sam Humphries, the writer who took on Harley Quinn’s now-canceled solo series, that he could not use Poison Ivy in Harley’s own series, it came as a punch in the face to Harley and Ivy fans, who have deemed themselves the ‘Harlivy’ fandom. To make matters worse, in the “Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy” comic miniseries that debuted this year, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are on the run “Thelma and Louise” style when in the final issue the two share a passionate kiss…on the forehead? While it may not be much to gripe about to some, this miniseries is considered in the main continuity storyline, so having them never interact overtly romantic in the series and then to end it with a simple kiss on the forehead between the two only further pushes the idea that DC does not want these two together in a healthy, monogamous and romantic way.

Another example of this comes in the form of Batgirl and her current ongoing series. In Batgirl #47, Barbara Gordon has another run-in with the Joker. Sounds familiar, sure, but this time Joker appears at her own apartment, harkening back to 1988 in Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” where the Joker knocks on Barbara’s door and shoots her right as she opens the door, paralyzing her. In Batgirl #47 in her current run now, Joker is back at Barbara’s apartment with more ill-intentions towards the hero. In this run, the events of “The Killing Joke” are canon here, so Barbara is paralyzed but has an implant in the back of her spine that allows her to use her legs.

SPOILERS FOR BATGIRL #47: Joker has broken into Barbara’s apartment hoping to hack the implant in her spine, consequentially not allowing Barbara to use her legs again. Instead of allowing Joker to do this, she forcefully removes the implant herself, paralyzing her again but this time on her own accord. While she manages to take back her own suffering this time, she is still forced to relive her own trauma when Joker places photographs of her previous suffering around her apartment to remind her what exactly he is capable of doing.

This Batgirl series and the aforementioned Harley Quinn series have now been canceled at DC after issue #50 and #75 respectively, despite these two characters continuously popping up in Batman’s current ongoing series along with other series as well. In Gail Simone’s essay “Women in the Refrigerator,” she notes that Batgirl was used and further abused merely as a plot device in “The Killing Joke” to further the plot of the male character’s motivation which happens once again in Batgirl #47. Then, for DC to cancel her and Harley Quinn’s own ongoing series that focused on their own adventures only to keep putting them in separate series such as “Batman” and “Nightwing” only further proves what DC really wants to do with these characters and others like them.

One more example of this, but certainly not the last, is how DC is handling the new Batman foe, Punchline. Punchline first appeared in a single panel in Batman #89 and was coined as “Joker’s new girlfriend” and “Harley Quinn’s replacement” or the “anti-Harley Quinn.” Before she even had a full appearance or an official origin story, DC painted her simply as the new girlfriend to Joker and the one who would replace Harley Quinn, who had already broken away from Joker’s abuse at the very beginning of her solo series. Instead, Punchline coins herself as Joker’s “partner” in Batman #93 who is much more brutal than Harley Quinn herself and only wants to help Joker realize his plans for his “Joker War.”

There seems to be a disconnect from current “Batman” writer James Tynion IV and DC because Tynion is painting Punchline almost as a worthy prodigy to the Joker, while DC is painting her simply as a love interest to the Joker, despite it being stated directly that she is anything but. I feel DC did a disservice to Punchline by introducing her first as the Joker’s “new girlfriend” because that almost immediately put out the comparison to Harley Quinn right off the bat when it certainly did not need to happen since they are two distinct characters wanting different things in terms of their own personal goals and the Joker himself.

DC certainly can do right by their female characters here and there, but when you are in the business of constantly comparing them to one another, erasing their relationships with each other, and just outright canceling their own stories whilst still pushing them into other male-led stories, that certainly paints a picture for fans of these characters. DC needs to do better with their female characters, especially when they usually pride themselves on having these strong characters when it is time to utilize them for sales and other things.

Featured image: Courtesy DC Comics

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Spencer Kain

Spencer Kain

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