Though they’ve got both Wonder Woman and Justice League on the horizon this year, DC Entertainment’s “Extended Universe” of movies still has a lot of work to do when it comes to catching up with the box office juggernaut of Marvel Studios. Marvel’s cranked out 14 films in eight years, all of them box office hits, and built up plenty of fan goodwill along the way. DC Films has given us the extremely divisive outings Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, while other projects like The Flash are still struggling to come together. Wonder Woman and Justice league both look like they’re trying hard, but for plenty of fans there’s still a long road ahead for this corner of the superhero movie world. What DC needs, in other words, is a “Holy shit! moment to get fans excited about the possibilities of their universe beyond 2017.
Enter Joss Whedon.
Variety reports that Whedon, who became a Nerd God by creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly on TV and then ascended further when he made two Avengers films for Marvel, will join DC Films to write and direct a Batgirl movie for their extended universe. Whedon, a lifelong comic book fan, has had brushes with DC Comics films before, including a rejected script for a Batman origin story and, most famously, a Wonder Woman film he worked on for two years until it finally became clear that he and the studio just would not see eye-to-eye on the project. Perhaps the third time will be the charm.
Over the years Whedon has become, for better or worse, a kind of Patron Saint of the Strong Female Character in science fiction and fantasy, to the point that certain corners of fandom absolutely savage him when they think he gets a heroine wrong (see his treatment of Black Widow in Avengers: Age of Ultron). With that reputation, hiring him to give us a live-action young superheroine roaming the dark alleys of Gotham City seems like a perfect fit. But what will a Joss Whedon Batgirl story look like, and will it be more than just Buffy in a Bat-cowl?
According to Entertainment Weekly’s sources, Whedon’s film is based on the "New 52” version of the character, launched in 2011 when DC Comics decided to hit the reset button on its entire superhero universe. That means Batgirl is Barbara Gordon, daughter of Gotham City’s Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (played by the great J.K. Simmons in the upcoming Justice League). When we first meet her in her own New 52 series, created by writer Gail Simone and artist Ardian Syaf, Barbara is a new college graduate with a forensic psychology degree who has recently resumed her duties as Batgirl. Years earlier, Barbara was shot in the spine by the Joker (as depicted in the classic Batman story The Killing Joke), which left her paralyzed until experimental surgery restored her ability to walk. She gets to be Batgirl again, but now she’s burdened with post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s remorse, even as she’s battling villains like a serial killer who targets miraculous survivors of otherwise deadly events.
So, you know, right up Whedon’s alley.
Right now, we have no idea how soon we’ll see this film, or even who might play Batgirl, and despite his track record, Whedon’s hiring is already facing criticism from fans who’d rather see a woman in charge of this project. Still, there hasn’t been this much genuine excitement around a DC Films hire in a long time. Whedon, who seemed positively drained after Age of Ultron, is apparently ready to return to superhero blockbusters, and no matter where this goes from here, that’s huge.