Who Needs Batman?
While the men of Batman: The Animated Series were busy brooding over their personal conflicts and crusades, the female characters came into their own. And it soon became clear that the feisty Batgirl, seductive Poison Ivy, elegant Catwoman, and ditzy Harley Quinn are far more colorful and intriguing than their male counterparts. If their methods were wrong, both Poison Ivy and Catwoman (villains, after all) fought for worthwhile causes, like environmentalism and animal rights, more admirable motivations than the Joker or Two-Face ever had. When Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn teamed up in the delightful episode “Harley and Ivy,” attempting to drown Batman by weighing him down with kitchen appliances, it was easy to be disappointed when Batman escaped and the girls were brought to justice.
WB.com’s Gotham Girls is an attempt to let these characters shine on their own merits, without any Batman or Robin in sight. The bimonthly episodes each run about three to four minutes, and each are left online for a month. (Currently, WB.com has not provided an archive of older episodes.) Leaving behind the notorious darkness of Batman: The Animated Series, these Flash-animated shorts (each about 2.1 mb in size) generally focus on light, comedic situations. This has its drawbacks: while the girls’ individual complexities aren’t abandoned altogether, their personalities are unfortunately reduced to their most basic characteristics: Harley is an airhead, Catwoman a loner, Poison Ivy a cunning schemer, and Batgirl a crime fighter, the lone “conventional” hero of the group. Nothing they do is really outside of these set roles, and when paired with the frivolous tone of the episodes, the girls’ promising energies are minimized into cartoon stereotypes.
All that said, Gotham Girls is still charming. The clean lines and colors of the Flash animation suit the adorably curvy, stylized look of the characters. Fortunately, the voice cast from Batman returns, helping the characters to retain their originality. The plots are fairly thin, revolving around one simple event (for example, Harley Quinn baby-sits a lion cub for Catwoman in “Catsitter,” or Batgirl deceives her father, Commissioner Gordon, in “Bat’ing Cleanup”), but the writing, mostly by longtime Batman writer Paul Dini, is high quality and some of the slapstick situations are surprisingly laugh-out-loud funny, like when Harley Quinn is turned into a baby, then beats up and eventually destroys a wax statue of the Joker in “Baby Boom.”
Ultimately, though, it’s a shame that Gotham Girls’ creators don’t realize the potential of either these characters or the medium of web animation. The light tone is entertaining, but by shifting the focus from dramatic action to slapstick humor, the makers don’t allow the girls the same kinds of conflicts that made them so compelling in Batman. Neither do they make full use of the web-only format; the slight interactive quality of the episodes is an intriguing touch, allowing viewers to choose between options, such as chess moves for Harley Quinn to play in “Statergery” or weapons for Batgirl to use in “Bat’ing Cleanup.” But in each case, only one choice actually advances the plot, turning the whole decision-making process into a pointless interruption of the narrative. The individual episodes are not connected to each other in terms of a larger plot, so there is no character development. Poison Ivy is always going to remain the same Poison Ivy. Gotham Girls is fun, but in the end, it’s nothing more than that.