The Marvel monopoly has ended! Yes it’s true: DC Comics have finally been given flight by their parent company, Warner Bros. Cue a new fleet of film franchises, inspired by comic book legends. It’s been a long time coming.
In fairness, the Dark Knight Trilogy alone kept the box ticked; and 2011’s Green Lantern was an ambitious and colourful though failed attempt at engaging some of the DC Canon’s previously un-filmed properties.
But with 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dan of Justice, the aptly named movie will launch a new era of the DC Universe on film. They can more than compete with Marvel, whilst distinguishing themselves sufficiently to co-exist and still allowing Warner Bros to pursue their independent slate of non-super-hero cinema (a luxury that Marvel is lacking).
And so now is the opportune moment to consider the delectable dames of the DC Comics universe, as we shall soon be seeing much more of them.
Pay attention, boys and girls. In no particular order: Here. We. Go!
Initially devised as a counterpart to Superman’s Lois Lane, Vicki Vale is a photojournalist and sometime love interest to Bruce Wayne /Batman. What’s interesting is that the character is frequently driven by the plot demands.
Vicki’s NOT just a damsel in distress but neither is she some multi-layered character study. She’s a survivor and highly competent at whatever her assignment is.
Most characters are reinvented throughout DC history. Vicki is fairly consistent: probing the truths surrounding Bruce Wayne /Batman’s identity, without allowing that quest to prevent her also excelling as a glamorous socialite.
She can hold her own with the Mob and also with the frequently corrupt public officials and can stay calm when those worlds overlap (meeting Harvey Dent).
By no means essential to the Batman ‘story’, Vicki is nevertheless important and interesting enough to be a part of the recent ‘New 52’ relaunch. Though modeled in the comics at first on Marilyn Monroe, it was Kim Basinger who brought Vicki to vivid life in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film.
She’s been the girlfriend, wife and colleague of Clark Kent /Superman throughout the history of DC Comics. Lois Lane is an intrepid, determined and idealistic reporter who brings humanity and romance to the last son of Krypton, whilst holding her own in the tough world of newspaper reporting.
Her prominence has varied according to the era of Superman. But the character clearly is essential to DC mythology and has always been treated with care. Even the Infinite Earths series had to give Lois her own pocket dimension! And every screen iteration stands and falls on her role.
In Smallville (tv series; 2001-2011), Lois’ appearance signifies progression in the young Clark /Kal-El towards the hero we know and love and that comes full circle in the series’ finale (worth a watch again).
In 1993-98’s Lois and Clark: New Adventures of Superman, it was Teri Hatcher’s Lois as much as Dean Cain’s Clark that anchored and sold the show. The Donner /Salkind films of the 1970s and 1980s present Margot Kidder’s Lois as the one woman in whom Christopher Reeve’s Clark/Superman can confide; he is willing to sacrifice all for her approval.
2006’s Superman Returns is regarded almost universally as a misfire but one with heart and soul, nonetheless. Its focus? You got it! The relationship between Lois and Superman. It’s a moving film, despite its flawed pitch and tone and Kate Bosworth gives the part her best shot, despite being too young to truly convince. Amy Adams took over for 2013’s Man of Steel reboot and met with fan approval, thereby securing prominent place in the forthcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Dr. Harleen Francis Quinzel or ‘Harley Quinn’ first appeared on Batman: The Animated Series. But she was so popular and distinctive that a comic book iteration followed. She’s now a staple of the Batman universe and will appear in the forthcoming David Ayer movie, Suicide Squad.
Her relationship is not so much with Batman as it is with his nemesis, the Joker. They meet in her capacity as an analyst at Arkham Asylum and they bond in a fascinating way. Harley becomes Joker’s girlfriend, muse and sometime sidekick, whilst existing as a villainess in her own right. She also bonds with other baddies, notably Poison Ivy, who immunises Harley to the poisons in which Ivy is expert.
A relatively recent addition to the DC Universe, there is more implied backstory than there is actual history to the character into which one can delve as a DC scholar. But Harley is a prolific character now and has a strong following of fans, thereby explaining her ascending to the big screen. It was supposed to happen as early as 1999, with the (then) planned sequel to Batman and Robin, Batman Unchained. That project was shelved, though Harley would have been a main antagonist and Jenny McCarthy, Courtney Love and Madonna were all in the frame for the role.
Harley will finally come to screens in the guise of Margot Robbie for Suicide Squad next year.
Basically, she’s a Goddess in every sense. Deified by the dedicated fan following accrued down the years, but also possessed of powers that would make Superman quiver. A warrior Princess of the Amazon culture, her actual name is Princess Diana (yep!). But like most heroes and heroines, she hides her full identity and adopts a more inconspicuous guise in the ‘everyday’ world. So, if you are lucky enough to meet a Diana Prince, chances are you MIGHT just be encountering Wonder Woman, too!
Invented essentially as a propaganda tool in World War 2, Wonder Woman’s original creator was a psychologist and it’s interesting that she both embodies and inverts the various guises of feminine power. The lady is independent and a heroine in her own right; yet also appeals to every male fantasy archetype of feminine beauty. A sole operator with her own stories, Wonder Woman nonetheless excels as a prominent member of the Justice League.
Lynda Carter was the definitive Wonder Woman on television; to the extent that getting any further versions off the ground proved problematic. There were pilot shows and abandoned pitches for movies.
But finally, we have a cinematic Wonder Woman in Gal Gadot. She will feature in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice next year, before appearing in her own movie and further Justice League spin-offs. It will be great to see the character win cinematic prominence at last: it will no doubt have been worth the wait!
Every hero requires a worthy adversary and a perfect love match. Batman has both in Selina Kyle /Catwoman. She’s one of the oldest recurring characters in the Batman universe and was based initially on a kind of Jean Harlow Hollywood starlet template (much as Vicki Vale was later inspired by Marilyn Monroe).
It’s impossible to define the character’s morality and therein lies the key to her timeless charm and fascination for readers. She has been at various points: jewel thief; adventuress; all out villainess; love interest; damsel in distress and ally /partner to Batman. Frank Miller’s graphic novels go the furthest into gritty pulp, with Selina graduating from prostitute to Madam. But she is always slinky, athletic, beautiful and sympathetic in any iteration for any demographic of audience.
Naturally, she can never live happily ever after with either Bruce Wayne or his nocturnal alter ego; but that conflict is the great source of their eternal romantic tension. In many ways, these two characters belong together. They are mirror images of each other and both thrive on an independent spirit of adventure. It’s all about the quest: they may love who they are but they adore what they do and that is something they cannot ever sacrifice. We can all relate to that.
Eartha Kitt, Julie Newmar and Lee Meriwether made the character a sexy staple of the Batman tv show in the 1960s. It was therefore inevitable that Catwoman feature in the Batman cinematic universe; her cultural clout was easily as big as the Joker, Penguin or Riddler.
And so, in 1992’s Batman Returns, we were gifted with Michelle Pfeiffer’s sublime performance as Selina /Catwoman. Dowdy Secretary by day (though frankly still sexy in that guise); she is resurrected after a fall (by cats..yes I know!); then reinvented as a somewhat unstable but powerful and sexy super-villain.
Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle in 2012’s Dark Knight Rises thankfully had a simpler premise to work with: a jewel thief that initially attempts to steal Bruce Wayne’s family pearls but might just win the key to his heart. It’s a physical, comedic and compelling performance by Hathaway with real complexity and conviction. Her awakening of a dormant Dark Knight is a beautiful thing to watch and the resolution is a moving moment in Cinema history.
NEXT TIME ON DC WOMEN: Poison Ivy! Batgirl! Supergirl! Lana Lang! Leslie Thompkins!
Thank you to RICHARD STAPLETON for his excellent drawings.