Q: What's the deal with Batman's non-Catwoman, non-justice love interests? Vicki Vale, Zatanna, Wonder Woman, etc? -- @superseth64
A: Just a few days ago, I was talking to Greg Rucka and he mentioned Denny O'Neil's rule about Batman not sleeping with anyone, because if he does, then he sleeps with everyone. It's an interesting way to put that, and I'm inclined to agree with O'Neil on that point, but you can't deny that over the past 75 years, the Caped Crusader has had plenty of romantic entanglements, almost all of which, as you might expect, have ended in a spectacularly awful fashion.
But the thing is, as much as they don't work from a romantic perspective, which is the nature of dramatic tension, they don't really work from a storytelling perspective, either.
Ah, I thought, as the camera panned lovingly down Vicki Vale’s high-heeled, black-pantyhose-clad legs — here she is. The Strong Female Character. The 1989 model had fluffier hair than her successors, but that's really the only significant difference. She establishes her Totally Empowered cred early, makes eyes at the hero, then gets the hell out of the way as he and the (male, naturally) villain go about the business of advancing the plot. She snaps a photo once or twice to remind us that she's a globe-trotting photojournalist — the kind of photojournalist with no compunction toward sleeping with her subjects, but hey, whatever. She ends the film in the hero’s arms, fulfilling her role as reward for his victory, with nary a whisper of the professional goals that drove her to him in the first place. She is pretty and in need of rescue and almost entirely in service to the male characters’ plot and characterization—but she gets to be vaguely spunky and is slapped with a typically male career, so it’s totally okay.
I can only imagine the interviews that took place upon the release of Batman, touting her modernity, her break with the damsels of the past, her ineffable 1989-ness. I’m sure the crew patted themselves on the back heartily for providing the women and girls of America with such a vibrant reflection and role model.
I'm sure of these things because 25 years later, very little has changed regarding how women like Vicki are portrayed: superficially empowered and ultimately disposable.
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