Should There be a Female Robin in Batman vs Superman?
There has been a lot of speculation surrounding Zack Snyder’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice surrounding handfuls of characters, regarding who will play them, who will appear and how long will they appear on-screen. One such piece of speculation involves Batman’s sidekick Robin. There have been stories circulating and rumours flying around that Jena Malone (perhaps best known for playing Johanna Mason in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) will take up the mantle, but would this actually be a good idea?. There have been several comic incarnations of the Boy Wonder, but very few “Girl Wonders” and the is a more than likely chance that Robin in the upcoming Batman vs Superman, or in another DC film, will be female.
Since the superhero film market had a rebirth back in 2000 with X-Men, there has been a startlingly low number of female superheroes to this date and an alarmingly small number that have had their own film. Two films that have had a female superhero protagonist, Catwoman and Elektra, are not the greatest examples to set. These two films had their title characters in tight, skimpy outfits, clearly to accentuate their bodies in a sexual manner. This might have been swept aside if the films had any hint of a good narrative or character development. But they did not, the films were terrible in every imaginable way. The acting was atrocious to a point where the otherwise generally good Halle Bery (who played Storm very well) received a Golden Raspberry for her acting in the film.
Many other female superheroes have not been treated as well as they could have. Storm (Halle Berry) in the X-Men franchise was given very little back story or character development through the franchise and has been used less and less, for varying reasons. The X-Men film franchise has perhaps been one of the better films dealing with portrayals of female superheroes, especially in their earlier films. Anna Paquin’s Rogue was given a particularly interesting story for the first film regarding her powers; she is able to absorb the powers of other mutants and drain the life-force of human beings. This leaves her unable to touch anyone skin-on-skin and she even leaves her boyfriend in a coma after she kisses him, which drives her to run away. This power is incredibly alienating for Rogue and very reflective of how mutants must feel to the “normal” world. While this alienation (and prejudices against the mutants) is a social commentary on the alienation of homosexuals, it can also be seen as women being felt as the alienated party.
But X-Men can equally be blamed for using the plot device “women in refrigerators”, a term coined by Gail Simone, where a female comic book character (whether a superhero or not) is killed, tortured, raped or hurt in any other way to act as a driving force for a male characters story arc. Simone first used the example of a girlfriend of Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, literally finds her dead in a refrigerator after she was murdered by the villain Major Force. Other examples that immediately sprig to mind are the murder of Gwen Stacey at the hands of the Green Goblin in the Spider-Man comics (and in The Amazing Spider-Man film, although the fall out that is going to be very small after Marvel bought back the rights to Spider-Man) and Barbara Gordon was paralysed by the Joker and acted as a plot device for both Batman and James Gordon.
The “woman in the refrigerator” in the X-Men films is Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who not only dies once, but twice. She first sacrifices herself in X2, saving the rest of the X-men team. Although Jean comes back to life as the Phoenix in X-Men: Last Stand she is again killed, but this time at the hands of Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and both of her deaths are used to influence Logan’s storyline. This is actually visually seen in The Wolverine when Logan dreams of Jean; her death haunts Logan throughout the film and acts as something that he must overcome and his actions and motives are inherently linked to his killing of her in X-Men: Last Stand.
Although not part of the “woman in the refrigerator” trope, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in the Marvel cinematic universe has also received some criticism (some unwarranted) for her character development. Widow does offer something to The Avengers; She can hold her own in a fight, one can’t help but feel she is only there for sexual objectification. Like Berry’s Catwoman, she too wears a skin-tight leather costume that highlights her body. On the filp side Black Widow was given some sort of a back story in the same film, although the strengths of Widow’s story lines were somewhat undercut by her romantic arc with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner.
Female superheroes are beginning to receive their own films, with the announcement of Wonder Woman getting her own film starring Gal Gadot. There was also the portrayal of Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) in Avengers: Age of Ultron which was particularly good example of a character over-coming several hardships and her and her brother, Quick Silver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) were given a compelling story. But this still shows the potential that female superheroes have to offer.
But there still has to be more movement to introduce female superheroes to film audiences and they cannot continually be given ridiculously revealing outfits. There must be something more to them than just their bodies.
Making Robin a female may just be a step in the right direction, but this shouldn’t just be done the sake of having a female being cast, the character of Robin must be just as interesting as any other superhero. Now Robin, whether male or female, would not get anywhere near the same amount of limelight as Batman or Superman in the upcoming film, but it’s important that the character be written strongly and is not just there as a piece of eye candy or for a pointless cameo and should definitely not adhere, once again, to the “women in refrigerator” character type.
This may seem too much to ask for Batman vs Superman as the two titular characters are going to be at the heart of things, but it would be a step in the right direction at least. Batman is supposed to be in retirement so it would be a good idea if they made use of Robin in these ways:
- As the protector of Gotham, at the request of Batman, during the Dark Knight’s retirement.
- In a similar role but Batman asks her to be the main protector of Gotham while he goes in search for Superman.
- Or, finally, as someone who could help Batman fight Superman and/ or potentially a bigger threat in the film, which could potentially be Doomsday.
These three situations could all just be short sequences within the film. For Batman to ask Robin to be apart of these things would be an honour for the character regardless of gender, but if Robin were to be played by a female it would have so much more significance than if it was a Boy Wonder.
With the amount of characters and superhero characters expected in the film, excluding those rumoured to be involved, it is perhaps best that Robin be shown as having a great amount of power, skill and the respect of Batman in a small way and to expand the character in a solo Batman film. One of the few female Robins to appear in the comics is Stephanie Brown and she does not lack in interesting stories. To name a few plot points that could be used for her there is: her love for and relationship with Tim Drake (the third Robin), her as a crime fighter in her own right, a teenage pregnancy and her torture and death at the hands of Black Mask during a gang war she started unintentionally. Her death is actually another example of the “women in the refrigerator” trope, acting to influence the stories of Tim Drake and Batman. Although Brown was given a reprieve after the revelation that her death was faked, this does not wipe out the fact that her (apparent) death was still used as a way to propel a males narrative forward. Brown’s time as Robin (and all the other Robins) is summed up brilliantly in the article The History of Robin: The Significance of Superhero Sidekicks. Her character would be a great addition plot wise to the DC film universe and her tragic stories would fit in with the dark approach the films appear to be taking.
The male versions of Robin seem to be the most popular within the Batman universe, with the exception of Jason Todd, who was in fact killed off by a fan vote. Although Todd would return as various incarnations of anti-heroes (Red Hood and Red Robin) he is also heavily thought to be the Arkham Knight, in the next-gen game of the same name. Dick Grayson was the very first Robin and perhaps the most famous version of the character. Grayson was a ward of Bruce Wayne’s and like his mentor his parents were murdered while performing their “Flying Grayson’s” act. The two characters share a certain duality in their lives and go on to have a father-son like bond. Dick Grayson also goes on to become a vigilante in his own right, Nightwing. Actors such as Burt Ward (in the ’60s television series) and Chris O’Donnell (Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin) have played the character of Dick Grayson as Robin in live-action appearances that were more comedic and camp. But the direction DC seems to be taking with their films seems to be following a darker atmosphere set by Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
Two other Robins that a very unlikely to be used in the near future are Tim Drake and Damien Wayne. Drake was smart enough to deduce Batman’s identity as being Bruce Wayne and he was tasked with protecting Gotham for a while during the infamous Knightfall storyline, in which Bane broke Batman’s back. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has perhaps been the closest to portraying Drake on film in The Dark Knight Rises and the character has also appeared in Rocksteady’s Arkham games; both being much darker manifestations of the character.
Damien, is also a dark character and the son of Bruce and Talia al Ghul. Damien was eager to impress his father and to take on the mantle of Robin, but he did so in a more lethal way, killing villains that Batman was going after. Damien was originally meant to be used as a body by Ra’s al Ghul to take host in and did start to go along the right path thanks to Dick Grayson and his father, but he was killed by a clone of himself that Talia created. But Bruce did eventually found a way to resurrect his son, which resulted in giving him powers such as flight and invulnerability too. Damien has a tragic story and one that would be great to see it unfold on the big screen, although this is unlikely to happen any time soon.
There is no reason why a female could not be cast as any one of these male characters, it is more likely that the character of Carrie Kelley will be used. As Robin she saved Batman on an early night out of retirement and she appeared in the comic The Dark Knight Returns, the comic on which the film is thought to be based. Along with this there is the actor thought to be playing Robin, Jena Malone, who dyed her hair red (much like Carrie Kelley) which caused even more rumours to fly around. It may be possible to combine the characters of Brown and Kelley in some way to incorporate both, but to have either expanded on in a film would be a welcome addition.
Amongst all of this a strong actor would need to be cast in the role and Jena Malone is the one name that has been constantly linked to the point of confusion as to whether she has been cast or if it still just a rumour. Malone would also be a good casting decision and it is not too out there to suggest that she will play Robin, having worked with director Zack Snyder before on Sucker Punch. The only thing would be that she would be a 3o year old playing a traditionally teenaged character. This could in fact give the character more presence, power and respect, especially if she is seen as her own superhero/ vigilante and why couldn’t Malone play the character of Nightwing? A role previously linked with Adam Driver, who isn’t thought to be in the film.
Robin is, of course, the sidekick to Batman. He/she plays second fiddle to the Caped Crusader, so there is the possibility that all the good reasoning for having cast a female Robin could be undercut by the fact that this female character is still considered “lesser”, because a male character out ranks her. This is not to say that Robin shouldn’t be a female character, but it would hold more significance if Malone was cast as Nightwing, Red Robin or Spoiler (a vigilante alter-ego of Stephanie Brown) or perhaps something a little darker and anti-hero esque, such as Red Hood. To be cast as a vigilante in her own right would give the character more power within the world; she is not below anyone, but a hero in her own right.
We are getting more films and television shows centred around female comic book characters (Wonder Woman is receiving a film and CBS’ Supergirl has aired it’s pilot), which could be the start of the female fight back in a much male dominated genre. Much how male superheroes are there for young boy to look up to, to idolise and have as role models, it is much the same for young girls. In a cinematic world where there a very few strong female characters for women in general to look up to and to relate to. It is becoming ever more important that women are represented by comics characters in a more substantial way and this should always be the case; a character should not just be there as a Bond girl or a damsel in distress, they need some sort of agency in their own right.
So the chance that Robin could be portrayed on-screen as a strong female character is one that shouldn’t be passed up, whether it’s in Batman vs Superman or in a later film in DC’s ever-growing roster and it could hopefully open up the chance for many more female superheroes to receive their own films.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
I can live with a female robin. I always thought the batman and robin relationship was a bit on the strange side.
I think that’s to do with the age gap a lot. Maybe why they left Robin out of the first two Nolan films and aged him up for Dark Knight Rises.
Turning Robin into a woman is utterly stupid. The boy wonder as a female is the dumbest idea ever.
How so? They’ve already done so in the comics, why not for the films? If they are taking from The Dark Knight Returns then surely Carrie Kelley would make sense.
I would like to ask you WHY you think that when in Frank Miller “The Dark Knight Returns” the Robin mantle was taken up by a female Robin. You should really keep up with your comics you know; if you are a comic book reader that is
In the Last Batman movie they had a Male Robin on his way to see Batman and that hinted at the next movie – and I thought that was great and couldn’t wait to see it. But I do not want to see a Woman in the traditional Male Role of Robin.
Each to their own, but I understand where you’re coming from. Kind of like havinga female James Bond (I wouldn’t be totally against that, although Idris Elba would be my next pick.).
But it’s not like its not been done before. As long as its a god character and relevant to the film, surely the gender doesn’t matter.
Regarding a good character relevant to the story, I completely agree.
Yes, James Bond is male, however, I see no reason why a well-written, competent James Bond story can’t have the character played by a woman.
Sticking to the thought that a woman can’t play a traditionally male character will only prevent us from reading new and fantastic story/character interpretations, and leave us with stale, rehashed franchise movies.
I may be wrong but I think there was a DC comic series that gender-swapped the characters in Batman’s mythology. I would love to see this done somehow. Maybe it could be introduced on The Flash tv show as it seems they’re introducing and going into multiverses.
I want you to Google frank millers the dark knight returns and then come back to me
Introducing a Robin, male or female, to a film already bursting with characters to be introduced to the audience makes me wonder if this film is going to be a mess.
I do agree with you there. I worry more and more about the film (especially with Snyder at the helm). It would probably be best to introduce a Robin in a solo Batman film.
I would be curious as to how Robin would be the main character in that film and Batman a secondary one.
I have no problem with there being a lot of characters, but introducing so many at the same time will result in no-one really caring about each one. Precisely the opposite strategy to Marvel where most characters had a gradual build up where you got to know them and care about them before they joined forces.
So far it is “Superman v Batman featuring Robin, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Aquaman, not to mention Cyborg and Lex Luthor” where really most of those could wait until Justice League or their own solo films. Everyone knows most of these characters are established and we don’t necessarily need origin stories for all of them, but spreading the screen time so thinly could be a mistake. Hopefully most of the featuring are cameos rather than significant roles to ease the characters in gently rather than overloading the film.
What this user said.
I think it is a nice change of pace to cast a female Robin character in the new Batman movie but I have never viewed Robin as anything but Batman’s side kick who doesn’t contribute much at all other than being a nuisance. I don’t have an issue with a female assuming a traditionally male role such as Robin but I believe we can focus on characters such as Batwomen to take an equally important part in defeating the traditional antagonist without being sexualized to the extreme which we traditionally seen in the past. Considering most male superhero’s have skin tight outfits I don’t see inequality regarding attire.
I agree with how you’ve described Robin; sometimes Robin has been useful, but is more less just a sidekick.
Again I agree that characters like Batwoman should be introduced too and in many ways it would be better than just having a female Robin cameo.
When it comes to the costumes, you are right, but the objectification of male characters won’t get as much attention. I mean, you probably won’t see an article written on how sexualised male characters are.
I can totally see Robin as a girl because it would be reflective of todays culture. No matter how many male comic book fans try to bash on female superheros, female comic books characters are constantly growing in popularity. People want to see Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel on the big screen, and that is because we want female character to kick as much ass as the male characters.
Hi Aaron, I like your comment and very much like the idea of a female Robin. I also appreciate the de-sexualization of women in any formate. Respecting and valuing women is for the betterment of humanity. However, money speaks loudly in Western cultures. Featuring women in roles that are “kick-ass” as you say, would open a door to new revenue sources- mine included. 😊
I personally would love to see a female Robin in Dawn of Justice. I like this idea of combining both Carrie and Stephanie into one. You could get some really interesting stories that way. Lovely article, very thorough! And thanks for the plug for my History of Robin article :).
Tanks for the kind words, Cagney! I’m always happy to plug an article as well done as yours was and it genuinely helped me out a lot. As much as I want there to be a female Robin/Nightwing etc. I think it may be best to leave it for a solo Batman film seeing as this film is going to be so packed with cameos already.
I love the level of detail into the history of women in comics as well as the past Robins. I do sort of miss having a “cited sources” section so I could read even more information. As for the specifics, I’m not sure which way I fall on a male or female Robin as I’m not a huge fan of his character usually anyway.
Thanks a lot crayon! To be honest, I didn’t really use too many sources just Cagney’s article on Robins history (https://the-artifice.com/history-of-robin-sidekick/) and Gail Simone’s website (http://lby3.com/wir/index.html). If you’re interested in just general history of superheroes Grant Morrison’s Supergods is an excellent book.
I can also understand your concerns with the character in general, but Robin could be adapted well, although I probably wouldn’t add the character to such a crowded film at the moment.
Inserting more female superhero’s into the public consciousness is a great idea, however, casting her in a supporting role falls just short of that ideal and, some might argue, reinforces traditional views on a woman’s place in society. Yet, you have to start somewhere, I suppose.
Though I do admire DC taking an alternate route to Marvel and starting with the team up film before spinning off into solo ones, I can’t help but fear for the quality of the films they’ll put out as a result (following the endlessly dreary Man of Steel).
They they should call her Robyn, not Robin!
Robin’s been a woman’s name forever. Much longer than with the “y” spelling.
Oh, stop already with ruining the original franchise from the comics. We do not need any other Robin but Dick Grayson, nor do we need a female Robin, or any of these other “do what thou wilt” interpretations. Characters do not need to change their genders, social proclivities, personalities, or go with a punk-rock look. They only need to be what they originally were, and who, not de-evolve into a farce of the character. Seriously, after the 60s and early 70s, artwork, storylines, characters, and those who made them got so bad, I stopped reading comics. Loved them back in the 70s and 60s, though. Never grew up, just matured and came to appreciate the coming and going of the true good comic period. (yes, I still watch the movies, tho.).
I agree with you. There is so many great stories in the original source material (prior to the 90’s) to use. I understand the studios, writers, directors want to put their own spin on things, but to not use superior material just to make a “splash” with something “different” is a pathetic way of doing it. All comic movies are different at this point. Use this “splashy) stuff 10-15 years from now when the hype around CBM is starting to die down and you really do need something different. By then it will be too late to start using the good stuff as most will have moved on by then.
I would not mind seeing a female robin just not now. Same type of thing with the Mandarin in IM3 and the upcoming FF movie…..it just begs the question why, what is wrong with the original stuff? I really wanted to kick Shame Black’s teeth in for the complete misuse of the Mandarin.
Anyway, I am probably a fanboy with having collected over 20k of comic books (only pre-90’s in the last 10 years) and have wanted to see these guys and gals leap onto the big screen for 30 years or so now. I can’t complain too much though, most of the current movies are much better than the early tries.
I think the article brings focus to an interesting issue, though I personally think there is and should be no controversy over having a Robin who is woman identifying. The background information on other story lines from the Batman world, and other “comic book” worlds was very interesting. The only thing I would suggest would be if you can constrict the number of words to make the article more impactful, coherent and contained.
One other thing I noted in particular was when you said “[w]hile this alienation (and prejudices against the mutants) is a social commentary on the alienation of homosexuals, it can also be seen as women being felt as the alienated party.” True, but I would avoid using “homosexuals” (despite the fact that the roots of aforementioned social commentary pertain to the social structure of the 1980s and 90s) and something more along the lines of “LGBTQI people.” I know for some people from outside groups, choosing appropriate words for people within a particular (marginalized) social location is considered too college campus-y, too trivial. Yet, it is extremely important to know what the people from that actual social location consider appropriate as well.
I do worry that the filmmakers will miss the nuance and satire of The Dark Knight Returns and just make a grim-dark film about COOL BATMAN punching DUMB SUPERMAN over and over.
One of the greatest Robins of them all was Carrie Kelly. I think more strong female characters in comics certainly are needed. Especially in DC!
robin is a position, not a character; in principle the position can be held by anyone. can good stories be told with a male robin? sure. can good stories be told with a female one? certainly. one risk of the latter, though, is the ‘refrigerator’ meme, because (a) in the end the story is about batman, not his sidekick and (b) robin, ultimately, is a decoy (just look at the uniform colours). and decoys often die, sometimes horribly.
it doesn’t have to happen: you can give your decoy script immunity, after all but it’s harder to tell a story where multiple characters have script immunity and still maintain a sense of drama.
(bond is a little different — can good stories be told with a female spy character? of course they can. but would they be ‘james bond’ stories? are six decades of maleness inextricably linked to the character? i don’t know. most writers would just create a new character. the only reason not to is… money. and money changes everything.)
Great insight! The only comment I have concerns the attire female superheroes tend to be donned in. While I can see why some people think that revealing clothing shouldn’t be necessary, it shouldn’t define the character. It shouldn’t matter how anyone dresses for that matter; what’s important is the personality, as well as the behaviour (especially when seen in the outfit). Granted, there’s characters like Bayonetta for instance that embrace and flaunt their looks, but we love them for their confidence as well as their strong and captivating personas overall, which is where the focus should be. So as long as the looks and whatnot aren’t being shoved in your face, there shouldn’t be a problem.
It’s a Zack Snyder film, so I think it’s bound to be a mess – or, at the very least, have all the emotional depth of a 30 second TV advertisement.
When I first read about this, I assumed people would be screaming “POLITICAL CORRECTNESS” or talking about “accuracy” (Code-word for the first thing I said) when they had neither touched a comic book in decades, nor had any idea what DC was basing their upcoming films on.
To be fair Political Correctness happens a lot in casting. Idris Elba as Heimdall being an example of the top of my head. In this case however it is simply committing to the Dark Knight Returns environment that the film seems to be setting up.
I think its a great idea! I cant imagine which male actor would want to play the role of Robin, next to Batman. You would just feel lesser since you aren’t the one playing Batman. Plus Robins always been teased being Batmans side-kick and no kid ever wanted to be Robin, they wanted the role of Batman. For a women to play Robin is amazing, I think any women would be better suited than any male, plus Robin can also be a female name 🙂
I think you’re right about women and their ever expanding screen time and role prominence. I fear that making Robin a woman in the film would not be received as well and may come off as the industry wanting to be token progressive. I fully support making Robin a woman because it would be awesome and a nice step for women in comic book films and tv, not to mention the potential for new role models for women and girls.
This is a very well written article, I think the biggest difference between Marvel and DC characters however is that in DC they do not have the same damsel in distress style characters. Looking at females in DC such as Wonderwoman, power girl, and black canary, they are all strong characters that strive from their male counterpart!
Wow, this is a well-written and in-depth article!
LOL, this took the topic a lot deeper than I was thinking. I like how you looked specifically at female portrayal – or lack thereof – in superhero media.
For me, it’s not even an issue of male or female; it’s the particular incarnation of the character in question.
I don’t really like Carrie Kelley. I know of many fellow fans of The Dark Knight Returns that weren’t too keen on the character either. On a surface level, it makes sense to go with her based on all the other heavily TDKR-inspired elements of DC’s Cinematic Universe. And it would certainly be different, in that she’s a lesser-known and not very commonly used character. But I just feel that Kelley was never developed very well. At least, not in TDKR; I never got far into the sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, so she may very well have gotten her moment in the spotlight there.
But either way, the other Robins (with the exception of Stephanie Brown lol) just have so much more rich backstory to draw from that I feel that going with one of them would be a better choice.
There were some theories that Jena Malone could be playing Barbara Gordon instead. Rumours are her dad may be dead in this universe, killed by the Joker. But Barbara could still be alive, easily. I feel that she’s a character we haven’t seen much of in live-action. Certainly not done well, anyway. *shudders over Batman and Robin*
But beyond Robin, like Jean said earlier, I think the issue more so would be that the movie is already adding a lot of characters to the movie. I’m not going to make the argument that it’s “overstuffed” (many DC fans in turn like to say that Age of Ultron was, so I won’t get into any of that) but I would rather see them focus, as much as possible, on the relationship between Batman and Superman. To be honest, I didn’t want Aquaman, Wonder Woman, or whoever else might appear in this. I’m glad we’re getting a cinematic WW, really, but I’d rather she get her own film first. Heck, I’d have gladly taken a live-action adaptation of the excellent “World’s Finest” arc from Superman: The Animated Series, which focused on Batman and Superman against Joker, Harley and Lex.
For what should be such an iconic and powerful cinematic moment – arguably the two biggest superheroes of all time meeting – I don’t really want to see so many of these other characters.
Of course, they could be limited to what are essentially glorified cameo roles, but even then, just feature Batman and Superman, lol.
I’d love to see a female Robin, especially if the characters and story are based off of Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns
“and the is a more than” –> there
Absolutely we need a female Robin. Carrie is one of the best.
While I loved Carrie Kelley in The Dark Knight Returns, I don’t think this is the right time to introduce a female Robin. The way Snyder seems to be creating this version of Batman, it seems he’s a character that plays things very close to the chest. To me, this means any Robin would have to be a foster child of Bruce Wayne. To my knowledge, Wayne has never officially adopted a female (although I could be wrong). I do not wish to see them deviate from the comics any further (which I feel they did in Man of Steel). Personally, my favourite Robin has always been Tim Drake. I would not be against a female Robin in the future, but I’d like to see the other Robins be set up first.
I think that this is an interesting topic, especially with feminism. Maybe Robin should be played by a girl in the movie. This article really shows some ideas on both sides.
It would be so cool to see a female Robin added.