How Did The Original Batman Films Treat Their Leading Ladies? It's A Downhill Trip Down Memory Lane

Recently I was confronted with the dark fact we're going to lose 3/4ths of the original Batman movies on Netlfix this week. This would be a larger tragedy if I didn't own them onDVD, but, regardless, I liked having the original films at my fingertips. That aside, Michael Keaton, fresh off the successes of Birdman, is certainly throwing us back to those days. Not only to compare which Batman's the hottest (IDK guys, Val Kimer's a little too blonde, and George Clooney's a little too campy), but to compare the often-forgetten leading ladies.

We're all very familiar with the Nolanverse of today (I'm drinking Hazelnut coffee out of a Heath Ledger Joker mug right now). But some people forget that before there were several sassy brunettes, there were plenty of an assortment of alpha-blondes in black leather... oh, and Poison Ivy. Some of them are career-minded individuals who happen to stumble into trouble. Some of them are fierce badass babes who are highly aspirational. Some of them are Cher Horowitz. 

Before they fade from Netflix completely, allow me to take a look back at the ladies of the old school Batman films: the good, the bad, and the Batgirl.

Batman and Vicki Vale

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In the original Batman comics, Vicki Vale is the series' spunky go-getter reporter, and Kim Basinger took up that mantle in the 1989 film Batman. I appreciate the little details about her career that make it clear that she's a working woman deserving a respect. (For example, she did a photo series on the aftermath on the Corto Maltese revolution. I'm not entirely sure what it means, but it SOUNDS Pultizer-worthy.) Yet, for all her accomplishments, it's disappointing that Vale as a character seems firmly stuck in 1948. Yes, she almost used her photojournalism prowess to capture Batman unmasked on film. Props. But, let's be real, her role is essentially one of a damsel in distress.

It's not necessarily her fault that Vale becomes a plot device; from Spider-Man to Superman, a damsel in distress has always been a vital part of a hero's storyline. But, all in all, she's mostly dead weight. Sad.

Batman Returns and Catwoman

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It should be noted that Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman differs strongly from the comic book/graphic novels — especially more contemporary iterations. That makes her a bit more rough-around-the-edges, sort of a street punk, possibly a street walker. It's complicated, but long story short: secretarial work, a blonde perm, and rampant hysteria are characteristics laid mostly on this version of Catwoman. It should also be noted that Pfeiffer's Catwoman is flawless.

Well, nearly. Selina Kyle here debuts as frail and broken, a glorified "executive assistant" to the scummiest man in Gotham. Literal death is what allows her to be reborn into someone powerful. Her raincoat becomes a catsuit, and her closet becomes my style inspiration. Catwoman is created, and she is awesome.

She flirts with Batman, she nearly eats Penguin's bird to get her way, she knows how to handle a bullwhip and she has a sassy one-liner for every situation. This Catwoman is a PVC-clad embodiment of modern female empowerment. After Batman hits her, she plays it off as weak and offended. "How could you? I'm a woman," she stammers. Before Batman can even apologize, she strikes him back with, "As I was saying, I'm a woman and can't be taken for granted. Life's a b****; now so am I."
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QUEEN OF EVERYTHING, YOU GUYS

This all said, Catwoman boasts a selfish kind of feminism, not really looking to pick up female allies along the way. Though she saves a girl early in the film, she also mocks her, "You make it so easy, don't you? Always waiting for some Batman to save you." While, as previously stated, the damsel in distress is a degrading position to be in, there's something problematic with that statement. It almost borders on victim-blaming. Not cool, Catwoman.

That glitch aside, Catwoman remains one of the more (if not the most) positive female role models in the Batman movie series. It only gets worse from here.

Batman Forever and Dr. Chase Meridian  

Chase served the same purpose as Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins; that is, she was a character specifically conceived to be a love interest for Bruce Wayne and his pointy-eared alter-ego. Already you know this is going into a bad direction.

She's not entirely a lost cause, though. For what it's worth, Chase, like Vicki before her, is an accomplished woman who clearly has a love for her job. Sadly, she also loves patient Bruce Wayne, which kind of puts her professionalism in jeopardy. All the while she's snuggling against Batman and talking about how, since he's into strong woman, she'd be perfect for him. "Do I need skin-tight vinyl and a whip?" She purrs, channeling her inner Catwoman. Girl, please.

Ultimately she ends up as Vicki Vale with Veronica Lake hair, getting hardcore damseled when the Riddler drops her from the ceiling. To be fair, Robin is also dropped from the ceiling, in an effort to make Batman choose between his two loves. In a way, it's a big step for equality. 

Batman & Robin and Batgirl and Poison Ivy

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This movie. The final blonde in this chapter of Batman history breaks tradition by NOT being a Batman paramour. She's Robin's. Ugh. 

Batgirl as a character is faintly developed, but she has some amusing moments. She showcases some strength on her part, she can handle a motorcycle, and she hacked into Alfred's account to access Batman's secret files. Although, to be fair, that password was three letters (SO not secure). But it's something.

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Poison Ivy is also in here as the secondary villain, important to mention because her character traditionally has feminist values. (Plants before bros, you know?) And, while she usurps male power with seductive poison lips, as Batgirl says, she "gives women a bad name." Like Pfeiffer's Catwoman, she could benefit from befriending female allies. Ivy pretty much tries to kill Mr. Freeze's wife because she doesn't like the competition. That is some Regina George bullshit right there.

Catwoman aside, the original Batman films had major faults in writing female characters that jeopardize their careers, backstab other ladies, and spend a lot of time getting kidnapped by bad guys. The cinema blondes aren't all lost causes, but there are definite things to be improved on in later movies. 

Here's looking at you, Harley

Images: Giphy (5)/Netflix/Warner Bros. (2)

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