by Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communications Study Professor
In this modern era of superhero movie dominance, the recent decision to shelve the completed $90 million Batgirl movie prophesies dark times to come at HBO Max.
As a character, Batgirl has long faced an uphill struggle. The first version of the character was created mostly to be a romantic foil for Robin the Boy Wonder, someone to keep the youthful sidekick busy while her mentor Batwoman tried to lure Batman into matrimony.
The best-known version of the character arrived in comics and on television in the same year. Barbara Gordon was introduced as a way to improve ratings when the show’s popularity waned. While that Batgirl could not save the series, she became a mainstay in the DC Comics universe for about two decades until a violent attack by the Joker left Gordon paralyzed. Since then, a few other characters have claimed the role and Gordon herself recovered and resumed her crime fighting.
Old school superhero fans have a curious attitude about the media. We hold comic books as sacred, the original texts that gave us our beloved heroes. Comic books are where superheroes are at their best However, we also love to see those characters make it to the screens of other media. Film looms particularly large in this way, the size of the audiences and the screen itself gives everything that big movie feel. Aside from an unimpressive performance by Alicia Silverstone in the painful Batman & Robin movie, Batgirl has not appeared in any other big screen Batman adventure. That is why the prospect of a Batgirl movie was so exciting. Even though this particular project was actually going to run exclusively on HBO Max, it felt big in a big screen way.
We fans have gotten spoiled though. So many superheroes have successfully arrived on the silver screen that we forgot what it was like when studios meddled bizarrely with our favorite crime-fighters. We thought we were past the pain of watching details of beloved characters get warped (see 1990’s Captain America, except don’t see it, it’s terrible). We’ve seen so many of these movies get made that we forgot how studios could just drop them over monetary issues.
That is exactly what happened with Batgirl. The newly merged Warner Brothers-Discovery entity did the math and decided it was better to throw a completed movie out and get a tax write off than it was to actually release the film on their streaming network. For fans, it was absolutely baffling, a bottom-line decision by corporate suits who did not understand the genre (and who apparently did not see the value of Michael Keaton returning as Batman).
It was also a terrible PR move. Lesley Grace Martinez starred as the titular character in the film. And this movie ended up being one of several projects with Latinx performers/characters and creators that got the ax. Warner Brothers-Discovery can wear that ignominy.
Other superhero projects have been canceled too. The loss of a Bruce Timm-helmed Batman cartoon really hurts.
To remedy all of this pain, Warner Brothers-Discovery has promised us new episodes of Chip and Joanna Gaines. Those of us who saw HBO Max as a nice place to be are apparently going to get a fixer upper whether we want it or not.