In 1989, Alan Moore wanted to write a comic about what a man does when driven to the point of insanity. In the comic book, The Killing Joke, the Joker kidnaps and tortures Jim Gordon to see if he can drive him to the point of insanity that both the Joker and Batman have already reached in their own respective ways. But most people don’t remember the big face-off between the three men. They remember the book because Barbara Gordon, who had just retired as Batgirl, gets shot, stripped, photographed, and paralyzed by the Joker. When Moore proposed the depravity to his editor, Len Wein, Wein supposedly said, “Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch.”
I can only hope Warner Bros. Discovery wasn’t as cruel when it canceled the already completed Batgirl film this week. But the company certainly wasn’t kind. Early reports claimed the film, expected to premiere exclusively on HBO Max, was canceled because it was of such poor quality it was “irredeemable,” as one source told the New York Post. Later in the day, a much more plausible reason for the film’s vaulting appeared. According to Variety, the film was tucked away, never to be seen, not because it was a bad movie but because the massive entity now known as Warner Bros. Discovery wanted a tax write-off. That’s what happens in a megamerger. Potentially interesting projects — anything that bothers the biggest exec in the room — get canceled or delayed or shoved into a vault somewhere, never to see the light of day.
When Moore proposed the depravity to his editor, Len Wein, Wein supposedly said, “Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch.”
When Disney acquired Fox in 2019, it promptly killed a live-action Lumberjanes show, threatened to get rid of Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit for fear of offending brand loyalists with a happy-go-lucky Adolf Hitler, and shoved the perfectly lovely The New Mutants in the vault. At the time, much was said about how awful The New Mutants was. Not quite “irredeemable” but definitely bad. The film that eventually crawled out was practically devoid of X-Men branding but was also a good spooky yarn about a bunch of teens with superpowers fighting a psychic monster bear.
In Warner Bros.’ last merger (the AT&T one) the genuinely fun Swamp Thing got canceled before its second episode aired because the studio wasn’t getting the tax breaks it budgeted for. The exceptional FilmStruck streaming service got punted, too.
This time around, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav wasted no time, ruthlessly taking out CNN Plus a month after it launched. His company also axed nearly half the entire lineup of The CW. The shows were barely successful on the joint Warner Bros. and Paramount broadcast channel but wildly successful when licensed to one of Warner Bros. Discovery’s biggest rivals, Netflix. Julie Plec, who found enormous success on The CW as the showrunner of The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, and Legacies, called the May 2022 cancellation spree a “Red Wedding,” in reference to the moment in Game of Thrones where a whole family of well-loved main characters was brutally murdered by their host.
Batgirl was just the latest victim in a killing spree to balance books after two huge companies came together to take on even bigger companies. What’s wild is that, until the Variety story seemed to get at the real and callous truth of the cancellation, Warner Bros. Discovery was all too happy to throw the film’s creators and star, all people of color, under the bus with rumors that the film was shoved in the vault for being egregiously bad. Despite the fact that most of us have seen Batman Forever, Catwoman, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman 1984, Joker, Suicide Squad, Superman Returns, Jonah Hex, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and know just how tolerant Warner Bros. typically is of dog-shit superhero movies.
They’re happy to put this already completed film featuring one of comics most prominent heroes back in the vault but still remain committed to making The Flash with Ezra Miller in the lead, despite numerous allegations of assault by the actor.
Maybe this is all an elaborate plan by Warner Bros. Discovery to drum up support for the film and foster a big movement by fans who will demand the company release it. The previous version of Warner Bros. spent $70 million on reshoots to bring Zack Snyder’s black-and-white 2:1 “Snyder Cut” of Justice League to life. But the fan campaign to make that film happen also turned out to mainly be made up of bots and fake accounts.
More likely, Batgirl is just a victim, again, of a corporation out to make a buck. And it probably won’t be the last potentially cool project axed by this new company. Already, six other HBO Max-exclusive films have quietly disappeared from the service (you can still rent them or buy them) and a reboot of House Party was pulled from the release calendar.
Warner Bros. Discovery is facing terrifically stiff and expensive competition from Netflix and Disney, the cultural, technological, and financial behemoth. When you’re a giant unwieldy mess of a merger, you have to be ruthless. You can’t afford to do cool, risky projects or cater to smaller audiences or give your competitors even an inch. That’s probably great for Warner Bros. Discovery shareholders. But the rest of us are going to suffer. If the entertainment world is all enormous megamergers and vertically integrated streamers engaged in vicious zero-sum battles for our eyeballs, we’re not gonna get wild-sounding movies about a police commissioner’s daughter teaming up with Michael Keaton’s Batman to take on Brendan Fraser’s Firefly. We’re probably just gonna get another season of House Hunters.