Arrow seems to be rolling out another DC character practically every week now. I don’t watch the show regularly, even though I keep hearing how much it’s improved since its cheesy debut season. I just can’t stay interested, maybe because Laurel and the sister look the same to me, or that every action sequence takes place in the dark with super-fast cuts, so I have idea what’s going on. Still, it’s hard, within the geek community, to miss the spoilers. Everybody’s talking about this show. Possibly it’s the introduction of juicy new characters that keeps the buzz alive.
This all brings up two questions for me. The first is, how the hell did Birds of Prey not succeed? The other, a broader and more agonizing question is, why are all the female comic book characters in supporting roles? Much has been written about feminism as it relates to comic culture, so I’m not going to delve into that. I am, however, going to take you back to what may have been the first attempt to spin off a female comic book character into her own TV show.
Although not technically a pilot, this “mini-sode” was made in 1967.
Did you watch? Okay.
Now-a-days, the pilot of a super hero show has to do two things, plot-wise: introduce the overall story arc, and give a flavor for the villain-of-the-week format. Naturally, all of that couldn’t be accomplished in 15 minutes even if it was warranted. The purpose here is just to show that Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (Yvonne Craig) can hold her own as a central character.
This plays like a backdoor pilot, starting from the Batman series people were already familiar with. It’s assumed the viewing audience needs no introduction to Batman and Robin, nor to Commissioner Gordon, whose relationship to Barbara is mentioned early. They do, apparently need an introduction to the fact that there are women in Gotham City. The opening voice over is hysterical. It’s like the creators had to ease the audience into the idea of accepting a female headliner.
Beyond that, and allowing for the fact that this was the ’60s, I can’t tell if the creators were really sexist or honestly wanted to take advantage of things you could do with a female character that you couldn’t with a male one. The skirt-to-cape change is classic, and of course her weapon of choice would be housed in a compact. They also seemed to want to emphasize Barbara’s ability to deceive. Her short stature and librarian job belie her toughness. I can’t begin to understand why she would wear a wig, however, unless it’s just because of stereotypes about redheads being feisty. Have you ever seen a male superhero wear a freakin’ wig?
The mix of suspense, action and banter mirrors the Batman series that viewers were used to. Ostensibly, if the series continued, Batgirl would fight solo. We really don’t know, though, from this quick sketch. Would the show have found its own separate voice? Would viewers have wanted it to? We’ll never know. Despite the popularity of Batgirl as a character on Batman, apparently she didn’t sound interesting enough to carry her own series.