The Eschatology of Barbara Gordon, Part 4
by The Old Maid
(This section and following added July 2006.)
Two years after the original version of this essay was posted, this writer decided to revisit the debate over the animated Barbara Gordon character. Much has happened: new series televised; new DVD series released (with episode commentaries); new fans finding their voice, fans who never knew that Barbara dated Dick, and grew up thinking of the Bruce/Barbara affair as the “normal” timeline.
These concluding sections will analyze fan analysis of the original draft.
Karen Blair, author of “Meaning in Star Trek,” notes the tendency in art “to drive the feminine underground as diabolical or elevate it to a pedestal as heavenly.” These rigid forms tend to lead to isolation. They type the “fallen woman” as something other than human to justify denying her a share of human life. Thus she can never see redemption, since she can only achieve it through the forbidden doors of change and growth. Meanwhile, the “good woman” has no real power to act in and on the world. In isolation, she preserves her purity but is rendered irrelevant and powerless.
The Bat-female stereotype, for all its notoriety, did much to challenge this black/white, 1/0, either/or mentality. As a rule the average Bat-female was fearless, open-minded toward new experiences, often had her own career, and could be a bit of a brainiac. (Not coincidentally, these qualities were found in most Robins as well.)
Nevertheless the Bat-females had certain recurring fatal flaws, traits that marked them as a succession of Mary Sues. One, they stole the spotlight. Two, their creative teams dumbed down the guys so that the gals could keep up (in a certain “an ebb tide grounds all boats” sort of way). Three, they approached law enforcement as a thrill ride more than as a sacred trust. And four, they drew their identities from some Batboy, instead of nurturing identities that were theirs alone. Thus when said Batboy rejected these Bat-females, the women often were left with nothing to justify their continuation as independent characters. Hence the unexplained (and largely unmourned) disappearance of Kathy Kane and Betty Kane from the 1960s comics, or of Max Gibson from the animated “Batman Beyond” universe.
Still, even in its repetitiveness and offensive nature the Bat-female stereotype reflects a modicum of growth and change. Kathy Kane’s Batwoman proved that not all strong women automatically became villains (e.g. Catwoman). The “Adam West version” of Barbara Gordon may never have seemed very scary or punched anyone (a personal pet peeve of the Timmverse creative team), but the Sixties live version of Barbara did not take up crime-fighting to attract and catch a man. The comic book Barbara/Batgirl may have bent the rules in both superhero and civilian worlds—skipping over more educated senior librarians to become head of the massive Gotham library system, or getting elected to Congress despite being constitutionally underage for this job—but she was the first female Bat to resign of her own free will, and of a strong will. (To this day she may be the only one to quit of her own accord, without personal tragedy to force her hand.) The comic book Barbara/Oracle may exasperate her boyfriend Nightwing (and not a few fans), with her on/off responses to his marriage proposal (the one in 2006, that is), but her resourcefulness and cyber-detective skills make her one of the most indomitable women in the world. The animated Barbara is a transitional figure between the marriage-minded Bat-females of the past and the single-by-choice animated Max Gibson (the first Bat-female to lust for the job but never the spandex men). Max herself is the last true Bat-female, a transitional figure between the sidekicks of the past and the independent women of the future (Amanda Waller, Diana/Wonder Woman, the comic-book Catgirl/Carrie Kelley), characters who do not shun a little Bat-action but need no Bat-justification for their presence and participation.
Ironically, fans resist change, however incremental, more than do some of the characters. For instance, fan fiction writers frequently force Max Gibson and her Batman to date and mate. (Apparently a single woman is still regarded as just a Bat-fringe benefit for the guys, even for a series set in the 2040s.) On the other hand, when Kathy Duquesne’s animated Batwoman won her man in 2004, many of these same fans screamed (presumably because they hadn’t thought of it first). The “Duquesne experiment” prompted a resurgence of old-school fan talent, many of whom were flatly uninterested in Max, Betty, or Barbara but had plenty to say about Kathy-versus-Kathy. (See "Remembering Kathy Kane: the First Batwoman" by Fred Grandinetti.)
As the traditionally overlooked “middle child” the animated Barbara Gordon often gets the worst of all worlds, with fans who magick fan fiction-styled evidence into existence in an attempt to round out her character, clashing with fans who dislike the character and simply want her gone. Attempts to flesh out her character with canon evidence raise a hue and cry of “picking on Barbara.” Yet chivalrous attempts to shield her from serious scrutiny actually drive her deeper into obscurity by sending her back to the pedestal, or to the dust.
In their rejection of the Bat-female stereotype, viewers turn to even older forms. Specifically, they invoke the ancient archetypes of Woman in literature:
• the Virgin (subdivided into the Trophy and the Sacrifice);
• the Mother (subdivided into the Madonna and the “monstrous mother”);
• the Harlot (subdivided into the Holy Harlot and the Whore of Babylon); and
• the Crone (subdivided into the Oracle and the Witch).
Does Barbara qualify as the Virgin? Cursory evidence suggests both Yes and No. Although marriageable, she is not a trophy to be won. Although Dick Grayson “hopes” for “a future that includes [her]” (and in “Sub-Zero” has her father’s blessing for this future), she is under no compulsion to consider her father’s preference, or to accept Grayson’s proposal. Therefore she need not be sacrificed for the convenience of others. Modern sensibilities free her to choose her own fate, an act which by definition is incompatible with the ancient virginal sacrifice.
When the Bat-triangle is introduced, the definitions change. Barbara indeed becomes a trophy to be won; her identity, mind, and loyalty are at stake. In chivalric lore, knights competed for a trophy Virgin’s hand by outdoing each other in deeds of honor. Alternately, they recited epic poems; to the smooth talker goeth the victory. (One of the reasons this tactic was so effective was that the Virgin presumably knew nothing of guile.) Barbara’s presence in the Batcave reflects these ritualized duels, but it is the reversed reflection seen in a mirror. Her men compete to outdo each other in deeds of dishonor. The smooth talker Bruce/Batman eclipses the sputtering Robin/Grayson. Dick Grayson sacrifices his relationship with his adoptive father, sacrifices his relationship with Barbara, and sacrifices Barbara to her fate, to protect his own sanity. His icy rejection of her in “You Scratch My Back” and “Chemistry” reflects this aspect of the ritual: once a Virgin is sacrificed, her shade must not be encouraged to haunt the living; let her stay decently dead. Barbara is genuinely bewildered at Grayson’s refusal to stay on as a “spare” boyfriend. Eventually she stops trying. Since neither will do things “my way,” both sacrifice each other.
If Barbara does not quite fit the Virgin archetype, does she qualify as a Mother? Is Barbara a chaste madonna, a giver of life yet ever pure? Is she the “monstrous mother” that devours its young? Again, Barbara does not neatly fit into this category. It is true that she has a soft spot for young Tim Drake, and that she watches over him for more than forty years. At the same time, Tim is the only young person in her life whom she is actually seen to nurture, and at that, she’s not particularly perceptive or good at it. (Barbara plays amateur psychiatrist about as well as Max Gibson plays amateur marriage counselor. Worse, in both cases the amateur’s interference shields the alter ego from people who might have called him on his evolving behavior. Throughout her career, Barbara attempts to diagnose and treat all four Batboys, so she’s got Max beat there.)
Commissioner Barbara comes closer to qualifying as the “monstrous mother,” but that’s not a perfect fit either. Certainly Barbara has a heavier impact on Terry’s life than does his real mother. Nurture, however, has nothing to do with it. If Terry’s real mother notices too little, Commissioner Barbara retains too much. Barbara won’t forgive him for past sins he committed as a 14-year-old, even though he has served his time and his crimes were not against her. Barbara still thinks of Terry as Big Time’s “mini-me,” and she brings this attitude into the manhunt in “Eyewitness.” She forgets how easy it is to frame a man (“Shadow of the Bat”), or to be hypnotized by a supervillain (“Over the Edge”), even though both confrontations were pivotal moments in her life. She forgets that she recently arrested a villain (“Spellbound”) who will hypnotize and frame as many as ten people in the run of his career. In Barbara’s estimation, Terry is resisting arrest (true), therefore he is capable of murder (false). In pursuit of her quarry, Commissioner Barbara becomes so angry that she refuses to talk to Old Man Wayne about a truce/surrender. It’s almost as if she preferred not to bring in Terry alive.
Viewers frequently dismiss these Medea moments, attributing them to hasty writing. However, there’s no compelling reason to do so. Rejecting Commissioner Barbara’s more troublesome qualities would weaken the legitimacy of her appearances. Do all of her episodes misrepresent her? Commissioner Barbara exhibits mood swings that would impress Harvey Dent: she tries to kill Batman, then pins a medal on Terry the next day. She threatens to throw Terry in jail, then sits down to a meal with him the next minute. Should we casually dismiss these patterns?
In many ways the Old Man Wayne/Commissioner Barbara/Terry McGinnis “family” imitates the maneuvering of a bitterly divorced couple fighting for the loyalty of the children. Terry resembles his “dad” and Barbara openly dislikes him for this quality. This youngster was not “wanted,” and Barbara gives voice to this issue as well. She belittles him, threatens him, and then makes it up to him with metaphorical and actual sweets. But aside from her tendency to employ scare tactics, Commissioner Barbara tends to be more condescending than “monstrous.” For the most part she simply ignores him. At no time in the series does she take the initiative to get to know him. Terry must pursue her, seeking approval that never comes.
Does Barbara have enough in common with the Mother archetype? An identification as a madonna cannot be reconciled with her almost incessant harshness to Terry. The label of “monstrous mother” cannot be reconciled with either her devotion to Tim, or with her decision to let Terry alone as long as they avoid each other. As both friend and foe Barbara tends to overcompensate, but this pattern is more unnerving than “monstrous.” No, Barbara shows occasional flashes of the Mother archetype, for good or ill, but not enough of either to make it her defining trait.
Well, then, is Barbara the Crone? For a young Barbara the answer is clearly No. Yet the older Barbara is no Crone either. The Crone relied upon her accumulated wisdom, quick wits, and often otherworldly assistance, because her body had failed her. In contrast Commissioner Barbara is tireless and strong. She illustrates a real-world phenomenon in which today’s seniors may be more fit and vital than their own grandchildren. (This doesn’t mean that seniors were healthier than their grandchildren back in the day; today’s tennis-playing, mountain-climbing seniors may be healthier than their mouse-potato grandchildren right now.)
Not only is Commissioner Barbara not a Crone because she is strong and active, she seldom exhibits the Crone trait of relying upon her wits or actually sharing some of that alleged accumulated wisdom as gleaned from another world. She is too safe, sane, successful, and rich to convince Terry that she has walked through the valley of the shadow. She is not stupid, but when it comes to supervillains she often exhibits only average intelligence. Like Terry, she succeeds through perseverance rather than vision. (And the occasional pistol-whipping. See “Betrayal.”) A character who appears only in action scenes or expository scenes simply does not count as a Crone.
Harlot … this is where the audience really becomes entrenched. After all, the term is both reductive and universally insulting. In an older world the “holy harlots” served as intermediaries between mortals and their gods. However, as no Enkidus need taming nowadays and the religions they served are extinct, the holy harlot has no contemporary equivalent. The closest modern interpretation would be the “hooker with the heart of gold.” That’s the best thing Barbara could be called within this category, and it’s still not good.
More telling, this insult is hurled when it applies to the Bruce/Barbara affair. (No one called Barbara this word when Dick invited her to spend a romantic weekend with him by the ocean. Even viewers who do not like Dick Grayson or particularly care what happened to him do not say it.)
To examine the audience reaction to Barbara’s relationships more impartially, this writer employed two techniques to encourage reader feedback.
First, the draft included a poll which, for some reason, would not copy cleanly into the updated essay. (The poll remains open indefinitely.) The poll asked fans to view the “Mystery of the Batwoman” movie and to vote on what they saw. The questions were constructed to respect the feelings of the fans, while simultaneously inquiring if they could vote against their feelings if the evidence demanded it. The statistics break down as follows:
• Approximately 60 to 65 percent of fans believed that the evidence coincided with their personal preferences.
• Approximately 25 to 30 percent of fans felt compelled by the evidence to vote against their feelings.
• Approximately 40 to 50 percent of fans believed that the evidence told them that Barbara had an unrequited crush on Batman (therefore no real relationship occurred, though she might think it did), and were pleased with this development.
These ratios remained consistent through the first four months following the poll’s opening. Many respondents explored the issues with eloquence and at length. The fact that so many respondents could vote against their emotions even if the evidence pained them personally, testifies to both the integrity of the fans and the discipline required to discern “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” (Now the audience has a taste of what jury duty is like.)
The other technique used to explore fan reactions to Barbara was to encourage audience participation in the form of “essay questions.” Therefore the draft included a series of twenty-three questions. Fans were under no obligation to answer the questions.
Some questions spoke to specific camps (preterist, amillennialist, etc.) to urge them to articulate their interpretation of “Mystery of the Batwoman” in greater detail. Other questions were more general. These queries included:
• Do you think the animated James Gordon knows Batman's identity? Do you believe this knowledge (or lack of knowledge) was a factor in Jim's demonstrated preference for Dick Grayson as his daughter's suitor?
• What exactly is James Gordon to the Batman? What obligations does Batman have to him? (If any.)
• What exactly is Dick to Bruce? And don't say "his ward," because that's a legal term. In emotional bonds, what are they? What are Bruce/Batman's obligations to Dick? If any.
• If you see Bruce and Dick as parent-and-child, would you be okay with Barb's behavior if she had been a man who dated daughter then mother? If you see Bruce and Dick as brothers, would you be okay with it if Barb was a man who dated a younger sister then her older sister?
• If Dick Grayson had never existed, would it change your opinion of the proposed Bruce/Barbara affair?
These questions were intended to separate viewer response to the Bruce/Barbara affair from viewer convictions about Dick Grayson and Jim Gordon’s roles or rights (if any) vis-à-vis Barbara. That is, when fans contemplate the affair, does their loyalty to other characters improve their discernment, hinder it, or is no factor?
Here came the first tendency or trend. Those fans who answered the essay questions consistently argued that their response to the Bruce/Barbara affair was not significantly altered by the addition or deletion of either James Gordon or Dick Grayson.
In the original posts and thread, fans who never liked the idea of a Bruce/Barbara affair yielded no ground when the other men in Barbara’s life were deleted. The reasons given were the pre-existing mentor/student relationship and the questionable motives of at least one party (and often both). The age difference occasionally was listed as a factor, usually because the TNBA version of Barbara was redrawn as a 20-year-old ingénue when (in real time) she would have been closer to thirty. For a handful of respondents, the gap between this particular 30-year-old and that particular 40-year-old was still too large—because at least one party (and often both) struck the audience as psychologically unfit for this relationship.
(In a sense the audience’s distaste for Barbara’s reinvention as a gamine is comparable to the audience response to the structural problems in “Unmasked,” in which another de-aged Bat protagonist demonstrates immaturity and poor judgment. Not coincidentally, both incidents compare a jilted Significant Other to a replacement thrill-seeking Bat-female who genuinely doesn’t understand the problem … and, by all appearances, never will. That the Bat-protagonist in question had to regress to a more childish mien—note that we do not say “innocent/childlike”—to make the story “work” hints that on some level the creative team already know They Done The Character Wrong. Why was Barbara’s character de-aged? Is it because a 30-year-old Barbara might have had enough sense to avoid a poor risk like Bruce?)
In contrast, fans who always liked the idea of a Bruce/Barbara affair found Grayson and/or Gordon no obstacle to said affair. Absent any proof, this faction insisted that Jim Gordon would be pleased to see his daughter date Bruce Wayne, in spite of both Wayne’s reputation as a playboy and Wayne’s documented behavior in other, older relationships. They argued for this position even though it would require Jim Gordon to reverse his position (entered into the record in “Sub-Zero”). Manufacturing Jim Gordon’s blessing is crucial because Jim is an outspoken and moral man who is fiercely protective of his daughter. It also matters because Batman looks up to him. Gordon is the same age as Bruce Wayne’s father (“I am the Night”) and shares the Wayne family values (“Good Evening, Midnight,” from “Batman Black & White #3”). Therefore, if fans cannot obtain his blessing, they are not above killing him, and sometimes Alfred with him. (That is, proposing scenarios in which the Bruce/Barbara affair happened posthumously.)
The Bruce/Barbara proponents consistently dismissed Dick Grayson as a serious rival for Barbara’s hand, for three reasons.
• One: if Dick Grayson had been serious about Barbara, he never would have left her. He should have accepted her desire to pursue another relationship, should have waited for her, and should have taken her back. He did none of these things; ergo, he is the silly “puppy love” boy of Commissioner Barbara’s nostalgic revisionism.
• Two: the respondents did not “feel” any chemistry between Barbara and Dick back in the day; therefore, the characters never were a serious couple no matter what canon evidence we see on the screen. Simultaneously, these fans “feel” intense chemistry between Bruce and Barbara even though the characters have had no romantic scenes together to this day.
• Three: the age-old “it’s not legally incest” argument. That is, since Bruce Wayne is not Dick Grayson’s legal father, then Bruce should be able to utilize the same woman if he pleases. Not a few such proponents argued that if Bruce had adopted Dick it still wouldn’t be an obstacle because “they’re not blood.”
If no other details that these were revealed, the long years of exploring Barbara’s character would be worth it. Longtime fans know well that many viewers respond to charges that Barbara was amusing herself with Dick Grayson (for at least two years) by arguing that there was no serious relationship. Fans also have long known about the “incest” debate. But this is the first time fans have heard the reasoning behind it. If Dick Grayson is not blood, Bruce/Barbara advocates argue, he may be dismissed, along with his lines and scenes.
Until this writer pressed the issue, fans simply had cited the lack of adoption papers. No fans had voiced a bias that Dick Grayson will never be Bruce Wayne’s son even with adoption papers. Evolving feedback suggests that this prejudice against adoptive families still exists. These viewers class Bruce Wayne and the child he raised as little more than roommates. (By this line of reasoning, if Wayne ever takes an interest in Terry’s girlfriend, the adult Dana Tan, the blood tie would be a problem—oh, and perhaps Terry’s objections and/or Mr. Tan’s objections might be taken into consideration. But since it’s “only” Dick and “only” Jim and “only” Barbara, Bruce and Barbara can do what they want.)
The other Big Reveal in debate is the prevalence of “feelings.” “Feeling” evidence into and out of existence is not kosher in fandoms, but it is not rare for being non-kosher. Different factions of fandom surprised this writer by arguing that ambiguous scenes were unmistakable and unmistakable scenes were ambiguous—and that anyone who disagreed with one’s own position was, um, feeling like fibbing. Also of surprise to this writer is how many “feelings” were being hurt, with a frequency and ferocity that is not found in serious critiques of other Bat-characters. (If this writer can gently explain that ad hominem remarks are an inappropriate strategy, a great public good will have been served.)
We cannot know if “fan feelings” are solely responsible for the rigid and monochromatic approach to Barbara’s character. Nevertheless, no male character is subjected to such saint/sinner duality. When viewers cite a flaw in Barbara’s lines, scenes, or behavior, a common response is, “If you won’t call my Babs a saint, you must be calling her a sinner. How dare you!” Yet when viewers cite positive lines, scenes, or behavior, the other side responds, “If you won’t call her a sinner, you must be calling her a saint. I wouldn’t; have you met her?!”
In their rejection of the Bat-female stereotype (which indeed is stale, tiresome and offensive, but at least has shades of gray), fans embrace even older, more stale/tiresome/offensive stereotypes in the archetypes of Woman in literature. (They’re offensive because they’re not true for her.) Fans simply cannot see Barbara as a shades-of-gray character, capable of either backsliding or growth. They peg her as Saint or Sinner, black or white, all-or-nothing. And that All, or that Nothing, can be very radiant, or very bleak, indeed.
It has even inspired the belief that “Barbara seems to have been the love of Bruce Wayne’s life,” but this is blatant revisionism. Even fans who argue that position concede this writer’s contention that Bruce/Batman would impose a “prenuptial agreement” upon Barbara/Batgirl to minimize disruption to The Plan. If Barbara would accept terms that are repeatedly refused by Diana, Catwoman, and even an emotional double agent like Talia, where would Barbara or her fans get the idea that Barbara is special? Well, they simply “know.” We will refer to this sub-faction as the “Bat Gnostics.” (Eschatology really does have a term for everything.)
Gnosticism is one of the big-tent heresies: it has so many tenets and tendrils that many people who are in it don’t know they’re in it, and some of it conflicts. When Paul railed against “those who preach against meat and marriage,” these were the people he meant. The word actually means “secret knowledge.” In its simplest form Gnosticism told a “secret” that Matter is disgusting and evil, with Man a “divine spark” trapped in bodies of Evil, Disgusting Matter. (Hence the ban against meat: the higher up the food chain, the greater the concentration of pollutants. Think of it as spiritual dioxin.)
Bat-Gnosticism primarily manifests itself in the interpretation of relationships. Real-world Gnostics loathed marriage because—oh, horrors!—people might *touch* each other and bring sweet, sweet babies into the world, where their divine sparks would be slimed with bodies of Evil, Disgusting Matter. (As it took centuries for the belief system to die out, it seems that simply shunning marriage did not trim their population. Shakers, they were not.) Simultaneously, Gnostics believed in a distinct supernatural force called the “divine feminine.” (If the Mary Sue character had the Gnostic equivalent of a patron saint, whoever codified this belief would be it.) The “divine feminine” held “secret knowledge” of reality and spiritual truth, had mystical healing powers, and could save the world to boot. But whether it involves changing Mary Magdalene from prostitute to Mrs. Jesus, or changing Barbara from Bat-bimbo to Mrs. Batman, it’s still inherently offensive, defining Woman by whether she Puts Out, and to whom. The independent woman, who used to be neither of these things, is lost. The idea that men and women could be friends, coworkers, and equals, without love or sex getting in the way, is ridiculed and discarded.
To the extent that Gnostics have a Bible (or a writer’s bible), the chant “Barbara brings light to Bruce Wayne’s darkness” is a direct lift from their teachings. It is a key point of Gnosticism that Man is naturally benighted (also, a bit of a schlump); Woman brings light to Man’s darkness. Man must embrace the divine feminine—in definitions both mystical and carnal—to receive spiritual truth. If he fails to do so, he will always be damaged, consigned to spiritual darkness and psychological gloom. Of course, if Woman touches Man he will be saved, but her own holiness will be defiled. Nevertheless a truly “divine” feminine would make this sacrifice to save Man. (Interesting how much a woman is expected to sacrifice to save a man.)
Excluding its adherents, Batfans are quick to diagnose and reject this approach. (Sample usage: “If all it takes is for Barbara to bring light into Bruce Wayne’s life, any ditz could have done it.” Of course, the viewers most immune to Bat Gnosticism also tend to reject this writer’s suggestion that Barbara’s history of indulging in narcissistic fantasies cause most of her troubles. Oh well.)
An assessment of Bat Gnosticism must incorporate two approaches. One: it requires addressing the evidence that exists and comparing it to evidence that does not exist, evidence which Bat Gnostics insist should trump evidence that exists. Two: it requires confronting the use of “feelings” which Gnostics employ to advance their interpretation at the expense of other ones.
To begin, where do “feelings” lead us? In “You Scratch My Back” fans pounce on Catwoman for her seductive behavior toward both “the father bird” and his boy who would “leave the nest.” In “The Great Brain Robbery” fans vilify The Flash for allegedly spending quality time with someone else’s moll. Many of the fans who eviscerate Catwoman or The Flash for their behavior are the same fans who praise the Bruce/Barbara relationship despite its commonalities to the above. There is a double standard here.
Let us examine existing and fresh canon evidence. Bruce Wayne proposes to Andrea Beaumont in “Mask of the Phantasm.” We see him do no such thing with Barbara. In “Perchance to Dream,” Bruce Wayne’s construct of a perfect world includes marrying the immaculate Selina Kyle. (Not only is his ideal woman not Barbara, it’s not a redeemed Andrea, either.) Bruce Wayne gets proposed to (by both Daughter and Dad) in “The Demon’s Quest.” Again, there exists no such scene with Barbara. In all such cases, the closest qualifying scene would be found in “Mystery of the Batwoman.” (Barbara flirts with Bruce Wayne on the telephone; Bruce blows off Barbara, gets an “attaboy” from Tim and Alfred, publicly states that he is unattached, and cavorts with another woman.)
In “The Demon’s Quest” Talia’s father tells Bruce that he approves of a marriage between Bruce and Talia. Jim Gordon gives Dick Grayson the “go” signal to pursue Barbara in “Sub-Zero.” Bruce reveals his identity to Barbara as a way of giving his blessing for Dick and Barbara’s relationship. We see no such blessing or discussion between Jim Gordon and Bruce about Barbara.
Bruce doesn’t mind embracing and/or kissing Zatanna (“Zatanna”), Andrea (“Mask of the Phantasm”), Talia (every appearance except her first, “Off Balance”), Lois Lane (“World’s Finest”), Catwoman (in his dreams!), Diana (“Starcrossed”), or Kathy Duquesne (“Mystery of the Batwoman”). Harley (“Harley’s Holiday”), Ivy (“Pretty Poison”), and Diana (“Starcrossed”) have frenched him. Unless and until anything is revealed about Barbara, the adult Andrea is the only woman in the animated continuity with whom Batman has canonically had sex. For now, Barbara gets no huggin’, no kissin’, no dreamy “looks across the room,” and none of that other stuff that our littlest readers aren’t supposed to know about yet. The closest Barbara gets (on screen) is in her dreams (“Batgirl Returns”). (In “The Ultimate Thrill” even Roxy Rockett’s fantasies get more, um, fulfillment than that.) By the time Barbara gets her chance, Bruce is older and colder. Batman’s chilly professionalism towards Roxy, Calendar Girl, the sexpot Poison Ivy, and his protégé Batgirl may explain why a number of fans think they can believe in the possibility of Bruce and Barbara having sex, but they can’t imagine this man kissing her. (That is cold.)
Bruce confides in Diana (“This Little Piggy”) and Talia (“Out of the Past”). (Like Terry with Asian girls, Bruce seems to have a thing for immortals.) Bruce trusts these women enough to reveal his vulnerability to them. Later in these episodes Bruce chances making a fool of himself indulging his enemies, in an attempt to win back these women. In contrast, aside from Bruce’s decision to reveal his identity to Barbara in “Old Wounds”—and that was to keep Dick Grayson from leaving home—we never see Bruce confiding in Barbara. He never reveals his loneliness and insecurities to her, or makes himself vulnerable to outsiders to save her, or makes a fool of himself for her (except in the sense of getting into the relationship at all). Additionally, fidelity is a form of confiding in a loved one, an expression of vulnerability, mutuality, and trust. Based on Bruce’s past behavior (of which “Batwoman” is only the most brazen example), there is no reason to believe Bruce would remain particularly faithful to Barbara.
In “The Once and Future thing,” Bruce/Batman learns that, in one timeline, he has a successor. The just critic does well to allow that, um, how does Bruce know that this heir isn’t Barbara’s son? The odds are slim but not nil. Terry *might* be Bruce and Barbara’s son, but he could easily be Dick Grayson’s son (by which mother?), or Tim Drake’s son, or Selina’s son, or Talia’s, or Andrea’s, or Kathy’s, or Zatanna’s, or Diana’s. (For that matter, why not someone’s grandson?) Alternately, Terry could be just another stray. Bruce lacks the certainty that “TOAFT” offers Hawkgirl and Green Lantern. (Bruce/Batman, like the Lantern, is mentally allergic to “forcing” a dynasty. Bruce has endured enough of that nonsense with the Head family.) Nevertheless, the events of “TOAFT” might well give Bruce/Batman pause, or, alternately, lower his inhibitions. Certainly the next time a pretty woman nibbles on his ear, murmuring, “It’s destiny,” it may well generate a different response than one Bruce would have given before the events of this episode. But which destiny? The woman who says it first, or the woman to whom he says it first? Those are not necessarily the same thing … and what if several women say it? Batman may be married to the job, but he has cheated on his “wife” before … and then cheated on the “mistress,” not necessarily with the “wife.”
Bruce/Barbara supporters frequently argue that Barbara must have been, or ought to have been, the love of Bruce Wayne’s life because that relationship allegedly had the least number of obstacles against its success. Barbara knew Bruce’s identity, shared his values, and (unlike Andrea, Selina, Talia, and Kathy), was never a criminal. Of course this argument blithely dismisses the many obstacles against a Bruce/Barbara relationship. In addition to all the old arguments, “Mystery of the Batwoman” provides a new one: the relationship-killer known as “He’s Just Not That Into You.” (For supporting evidence, see Commissioner Barbara’s comment that “For Bruce—Batman—there was nothing but the street.” Again, this raises the specter of the sex-but-no-kiss scenario.)
If “obstacles” are the sole criteria, then a Bruce/Diana relationship would have the best chance of success. Diana knows Batman’s identity and respects his values. Diana doesn’t work with him or for him. As an immortal, Diana won’t die first, so he won’t have to bury her, like he did his parents. Diana probably won’t get killed; she won’t drive a wedge between Batman and his sons, or between Batman and his “dads”; and her family won’t mind him, because they kicked her out years ago. Additionally, at least three episodes of JL/JLU demonstrate that Batman is definitely “into” Diana. (When these facts are listed, Bat Gnostics retort that they “know” Bruce liked Barbara better, and why are we talking about “obstacles,” anyway?)
In “Out of the Past,” when Bruce reviews his “little black book” of old girlfriends, the photos of Zatanna, Catwoman, and Lois Lane bring grim smiles to his face. Talia’s photo is the only one he looks at wistfully. In contrast, Barbara’s photos are greeted with open dismay. She brings out his worst memories, not his best.
The photos in “Out of the Past” seem to have been arranged in no particular order. They are not in chronological order, nor are they ranked in order of longevity. They also are incomplete. (Were the creative team to “Lucas” the episode we could expect to see the Bruce/Andrea locket picture and Diana’s portrait in the slide show. Perhaps we would see a snap of Bruce with Kathy Duquesne, as recorded by their mutual paparazzi.) Yet the Bat Gnostics insist that the photos are ranked in order of importance, which “proves” that the last one (i.e. Barbara) is his “true love.” (No, the episode’s plot interrupted the slide show. Since Talia’s picture is the last one seen in the episode, that “last one” logic would make Talia his “true love.” This is a weak line of reasoning.)
(And since we are being thorough, this writer stands ever amazed that fans claim Andrea Beaumont had a photo in “Out of the Past.” If fans cannot tell the difference between Barbara and Andrea, surely they can tell the difference between the lean 20-year-old Bruce in the locket photo in “Mask of the Phantasm,” and the beefed-up 40-year-old Bruce with Barbara in “OOTP.” This writer will simply say that although there is no photo of Andrea in “OOTP,” there should be. Remember, this is a man who likes to torment himself. And given that the events of “Out of the Past” surely are as horrific as the events in “Mask of the Phantasm,” maybe more so, Andrea’s past is no longer a good enough reason not to include Andrea’s picture.)
Bruce can be brainwashed into a forced retirement with a beautiful woman. However, whether he is enticed by chemicals (“Chemistry”), hypnosis (“Perchance to Dream”), or psychological manipulation (“Out of the Past”), his personal best really does tend to be about two days. It speaks volumes that Bruce can only retire under duress. Barbara states plainly that Bruce “wouldn’t” or “couldn’t” retire when she did. Losing Barbara was never a consideration in his decision, and not just because there is no evidence of coercion. Even Barbara does not say that he particularly noticed or missed her.
Indeed, a line in “Epilogue” suggests that Batman soon replaced the retired Batgirl with Catwoman. Specifically, Terry’s words were that Selina “loved and left” Bruce. Such a relationship was not represented onscreen during the Timmverse’s first thirteen years, so we may be looking at a future mini-series or DTV subject material. Originally the creative team had proposed a Batman/Catwoman partnership in a brainstorming session. (Purportedly the details included Catwoman learning Batman’s identity, being driven mad by the knowledge, deciding to kill Gotham City’s supervillains, and cloning a Bats Junior who would advance her agenda. Elements of this unused story were recycled into the vastly superior “Epilogue.” Setting aside the question of whether Catwoman had the acting “chops” for the darker elements, this concept has been developed twice already: The Judge in “Judgment Day,” and The Demon in “Batman Adventures, issues 1-4.”)
How Barbara reacted when Batman turned his attention to Catwoman, we do not know. We know that Batman and Catwoman are smitten with each other, and both have made overtures toward deepening their relationship (albeit never at the same time). One thing, however, is clear. Barbara and Selina do not exhibit qualities that would let them share Bruce, and a competition for his hand—a reprise on that old competition between the Batboys for Barbara’s hand—would turn, well, catty right quick. What scanty evidence we have suggests that Bruce only had one woman around at a time. Thus the odds are good that Selina was his last partner—as, otherwise, Barbara would have had to patiently move out of the Batcave until Selina moved out of the Batcave; then Barbara moved back into the Batcave, until Barbara retired and moved out yet again, an improbable scenario at best.
Bruce fantasizes about Catwoman both as a good girl (“Perchance to Dream”) and as a bad girl (“Chase Me”). Selina/Catwoman is a romantic oxymoron, a “changing constant” in his fantasy life, a fantasy life that spans at least five to ten years. (“Peanuts time” notwithstanding, Dick Grayson grows from age 11 to about 28 at the widest stretch of canon, and Catwoman mentions watching him grow up in “You Scratch My Back.”) Catwoman is referenced three times in “Batman Beyond.” Old Man Wayne’s face softens into an affectionate glow as he remembers her in “Dead Man’s Hand.” As mentioned above, in “Epilogue” Terry describes Selina as someone who “loved” Bruce. This statement gives definition to existing evidence, that is, the smiles we get as Old Man Wayne sees her photo in “OOTP” and tells her story in “DMH.” (Purportedly Paul Dini said in one of his many interviews that in his “personal canon” Catwoman was “the one” Bruce wanted but could never have. This writer would cite the interview if could find it again. No doubt other creative team members have their own favorite in “personal canon.”)
In contrast, Barbara gets … nothing. She has no known votes in any of the creative team’s “personal canon.” Also, Barbara has no endorsements from any of the creative team as being anything special to Bruce/Batman. She is merely involved in something “interesting” (source: “Batgirl Retrospective: Gotham’s Newest Knight” from BTAS DVD set volume 3, disc 1). Apparently it was so “interesting” that the creative team never bothered to develop it. (There is one possible exception; you’ll know it when you see it.)
Bat Gnostics are correct to posit that if a Bruce/Barbara incident were to qualify as an affair—as opposed to opportunistic nookie, a drunken one-night stand, or a “funeral buffet” event that got out of hand—then presumably some of the above “evidence” would have happened between Bruce and Barbara as well. Presumably if the characters had a “real” affair, they would share physical relations and ongoing conversations (or persistent thoughts) about the future, money, careers, trust, children, and family feuds. Such speculations thrive in the world of fanfic, but in the end fanfic is not canon. This writer does not intend to denigrate fan fiction, merely to question whether imagined evidence, however desirable, should be allowed to trump canon evidence.
It is plain that Barbara is not the love of Bruce Wayne’s life. She was one of many, utilized because she was accommodating. She was convenient. She was available.
It is more consistent with the evidence to contend that Barbara (who herself is a bit of a Bat Gnostic) merely thinks she stands above the others based on the fact that Old Man Wayne has never married. Clearly he never married anyone else because he wanted Barbara, or so the reasoning goes. Barbara herself gives some credence to this notion in “Over The Edge,” when she fantasizes that Bruce would tell people that losing Barbara felt like watching his parents being murdered. (Meanwhile, she’s done with Dick, so she fantasizes that he would shrug off her death.) This episode demonstrates that Barbara has seriously misjudged her father. Arguably it also suggests that she has misjudged at least one of the Batboys, in that the one she thinks would be devastated by her absence apparently shrugs off Batgirl’s “death” in a hail of bullets a few years later. Bruce simply sews up the holes in her costume and puts it in a display case, nothing more.
(To follow the “last man standing” hypothesis to its logical conclusion, one could make a stronger case that Barbara may have been the love of Dick Grayson’s life. He thought they had a future together; losing her seriously destabilized him; and he never dated again. Dick clearly believes that if it’s all above the waist, it still counts as “cheating.” Above-the-waist is where the mouth is, the one that speaks truth or lies. It’s where the mind is. It’s where the heart is. And when Dick realizes that he has lost all three of these things to another man, he absolutely melts down. He may well have become Nightwing because of Barbara, as she pretty much torpedoed his plans for his civilian “retirement.” Though they characters associate in the TNBA series, it is all business. Commissioner Barbara relates that when Dick decided to leave Gotham for good, “he was hurt that I chose to stay behind, with Bruce.” This suggests that Dick still had feelings for Barbara, and that the reason he asked her to leave with him, even though he already knew the answer, was that he knew he needed to finally hear that word, No.
None of the above should be construed as a suggestion that Dick and Barbara should have gotten back together. Dick does well not to marry someone he does not trust. Barbara does well not to marry someone with such an explosive temper. Both do well not to marry each other for as long as Dick doesn’t see his temper as out-of-control, and for as long as Barbara doesn’t understand or care how much she (and her hero) provoked that temper.)
For casual viewers, “Mystery of the Batwoman” would seem to be the last word on the Bruce/Barbara relationship. To the Bat-amillennialist majority, “Batwoman” seemed a peace offering, of sorts. Amillennialists simply couldn’t see any relationship, even a bad one, arising from characters expressing two such contradictory points of view. (Again, this writer made a point of allowing respondents to express their feelings as they voted, so that their votes would reflect what they actually saw, instead of what they wished to see.)
Then “Gotham’s New Knight”, narrated by the creative team, came to be published after “Batwoman.” Now the Batgirl Retrospective is the last word on the Bruce/Barbara affair. Speaking for the group, Timm commented,
Uh-huh. Now the creative team’s last word is to say that the affair was real, and that it was meant to be wrong.
So much for the amillennial approach.
(Of course, for fans who never see “Gotham’s New Knight”, they will still conclude that “Batwoman” is the last word. Very possibly, tomorrow the creative team will reverse themselves again, if reversing themselves provides “interesting” feedback and keeps the fires burning. So this is the last word as of September 2006.)
At the same time, fans who like the Bruce/Barbara affair because they like the notion of the characters doing something “wrong” will be delighted. Most of the “moderate” faction falls into this category (excluding, say, this writer). The pattern of these moderates is not to rejoice over the mistakes of the characters, so much as to claim that the mistakes humanize said characters.
Still another sub-faction of moderates engaged the audience with the question, “Is it possible for a character’s weaknesses to be integral to their greatness?” While they reached no firm resolution (this being the reason they dubbed themselves “the agnostics”), they were most likely to enjoy the debate for its own sake. They also tended to have the niftiest quotes. (Samples include: “Barbara gets a little cinnamon stirred into her sugar, and Bruce, who can be a bit of a prig, gets taken down a peg” and, “Without Grayson around, Barbara is going to be tuned to The Batman Channel 24/7. What did they *think* was gonna happen?”) Bat agnostics also pressed this writer hardest on the question of whether Barbara is an ambiguous character—as in, one who keeps the audience off-balance and makes them uncomfortable—as opposed to an ambiguously written character—that is, a poorly constructed one.
Finally, “Gotham’s New Knight” hammers the last nail into the True Romance coffin. Bat Gnosticism and “wrong” do not go together. But Bat Gnostics tend to be among the more intransigent sub-factions, and feeding them after reading a sign that plainly states, Don’t Feed the Bears, is probably one of the reasons. (Sample usage: “Um, I believe in a time-warp photo in which the 20-year-old Andrea is in a photo with a 40-year-old Bruce.” Never happened.) So this writer cannot be too harsh when Bat Gnostics argue that there was no photo of Bruce with Talia, even though there was. (Most of the people who insist that Talia is not the last pic in the episode’s slide show are fans who ought to know better. This writer doesn’t know if the secondary broadcasting network cut off the end scene for commercials, or what.)