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.
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