Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Superhero Theme Project Part 9: Batgirl

The comic universe is male-dominated, but nowhere is it moreso than in the DC universe. Aside from Wonder Woman, many of DC's established female characters came about as lip-service to women's liberation in the 60s and 70s. In some cases, they have grown into their own, but ultimately they are ancillary to more prominent male counterparts. Batgirl is certainly one of these characters, but despite being a branch on Batman's family tree, she was, in a way, the Little One's very first superhero. When she was an infant, she showed an enthusiastic interest in a Funco Pop Batgirl figurine, which subsequently found its way into her toy chest. There was some confusion when Batman came into the picture, and it took a little bit of work for her to realize that they were two entirely different characters. In the end, however, Batgirl has always been around for her, and I felt an obligation to come up with a distinctive theme.

Distinctive or not, I thought she should still be embedded in the Batman universe. I revisited the various Batman movie soundtracks, but Elfman's work was too defining, and I simply didn't like the music from the terrible Joel Schumacher films. I have been wanting to use something by Shirley Walker, who essentially took over for Elfman as the soundtrack of the animated Gotham universe in the 90s, but a lot of her ideas just seemed too dark to come off as a Batgirl theme.

Traditionally, Batgirl's motivation for what she does doesn't stem from a personal trauma like Batman's or even Robin's. At least initially, she became Batgirl partially for the sense of thrill, and eventually I came across a Walker clip that nailed this aspect of the character.

This was perfect, but I couldn't use it. At a minute long, it was just too short. A snippet like this would become irritating really quickly under multiple repeats. Second, and more practically, I could not find it as a download. Additionally, a lot of Shirley Walker's CDs from this era are out of print and, in some cases, too expensive for a single one-minute clip.

I wanted to match the style more than the notes, so I tried not to revisit Walker's theme too much during my continued research.  It gave me the impression that Batgirl needed to be swashbucking, but not too pirate-y, with the feel of detective noir and the energy of a thrill ride.  Narrowing it down this far might seem to help, but it actually made things more complicated.  For quite awhile, nothing seemed to fit, until I remembered an anime I saw several years ago called Steamboy.  In my memory, the steampunk vibe of the movie seemed to fit, and its American score, by established video game and movie composer Steve Jablonski, was readily available. A track called Raid by the Airship seemed quite appropriate in terms of length and feel, so I, perhaps hastily, downloaded it and put it on my phone.

The Little One loves its energy of this piece, and its rhythmic ostinato is distinctive enough for her to easily identify out of context. I think it does a pretty good job of capturing the playful seriousness of Batgirl. After spending some time with it, however, I am afraid it is not the strongest piece on her Superhero playlist from a compositional standpoint. I think that it is safe to say that it functions more readily as an accompaniment than as a standalone piece of music. It doesn't stand up to the work of Shostakovich or Mussorgsky, but at any rate, the song is definitely a favorite for her now, and this project really is all about her.

To go to the next post in this series, click HERE.
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