With the 30-year anniversary of 1989's Batman batdancing at our door, we’ve been reflecting on the elements of the film that made it the beloved classic it is today. Not only did it establish a new kind of Batman, it truly helped to usher superhero films into the mainstream while updating the public view of a character that had been considered pure camp since at least the Batman ‘66 series.
The film also gave us perhaps the most well-known portrayal of Vicki Vale, the photojournalist who begins by lightly mocking Bruce in his own home and ends up very nearly getting him to confess his secret identity to her on the second date. This is no small feat, and it got us to thinking about Vale and her portrayal over the many decades of her existence as a character.
Vicki Vale was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1948 to serve as an analog to Lois Lane — only for Batman. At the time, besides having red hair instead of black, there wasn’t a lot to differentiate Lois and Vicki. With Vale, what readers end up with more often than not is a version of Lois with none of the bark or bite of our beloved star Daily Planet reporter. Like Lois, much of Vale’s time on panel was spent attempting to uncover the identity of Batman with perplexingly poor results.
The first actor to portray Vicki Vale was Jane Adams in the 1949 Batman and Robin serial. There isn’t a lot of information available on Adams, but she sure did play one heck of a sleuth. Meanwhile, in the comics, Vale continued on in her capacity as the occasional love interest of the forever hot and cold Bruce Wayne until she was essentially replaced by the original Batwoman. Though we know a much different Batwoman today, in her original incarnation, she was a dynamic circus performer who sought to wed our Caped Crusader, and her sheer determination sent the easily distracted Vale in directions unknown. Vale still made appearances on occasion, though her role was reduced to the point of being nearly nonexistent — that is, until it became literally nonexistent.
In the mid-1960s, editor Julius Schwartz took over the Bat-line and opted to remove characters he felt were extraneous. This included comparatively goofy characters like Bat-Mite and Ace the Bat-Hound, as well as Vale, the original Batwoman, and Batgirl. In other words, the “unnecessary” characters in the franchise were a few satirical side characters and literally all of the women. Vale returned for a moment in the ‘70s when she was revealed to be a married woman, somehow escaping the fridging that happened to essentially all of Batman’s exes during this time. However, she returned to fulfill “jealous women” tropes as she rekindled a romantic relationship with Bruce in the early ‘80s and found herself at odds with his other love interests, at least one of whom (Julia Remarque) was almost immediately erased from continuity, much as Vale herself had been.
Batdance (Vicki Vale Remix)
Of course, that all brings us to 1989's Batman, in which Vale was chosen to appear as the love interest of Bruce Wayne, much as she had in her early appearances. It’s no wonder that Kim Basinger as Vale is generally less remembered and less highly praised than, for instance, Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, despite the two of them having remarkably similar backstories. Vale’s personality simply isn’t fleshed out in the story and she, unfortunately, appears almost exclusively as a thing to be fought over. If you removed her from the story and put a valuable inanimate object in her place, there would not be a significant change to the plot or tone of the film, though it would cut down on a lot of the Joker’s rampant misogyny. Indeed, much of her appearance in the film is to demonstrate the insidious, playful cruelty towards women on the villain’s part. Batman is a really interesting movie, but, for the most part, that has nothing to do with Vale from a character standpoint.
Yet there are things that set Vicki apart. On a surface level in Batman, her sense of style is beyond iconic. As a photojournalist, her potential is vastly different than that of Lois Lane’s, and making comparisons between the two can be regarded as somewhat lazy. Vale’s interest in her work can’t match Lane’s emphatic determination, but even that is an interesting character trait in itself. Giving us a character who is more interested in the subtle human dynamics of her subject matter, but failing to live up to that within the story is one of the few places where Batman fails, but even in not granting her agency there is a statement at play. Later, when Vale comes up in pop culture, she is presented as the unattainable, beautiful woman whose personality is considered inconsequential to the men that pursue her. That isn’t particularly interesting from that specific standpoint, but the question of what Vicki’s thoughts and feelings on that might be is a fascinating one.
Things Did Not Look Up For Our Girl
Vale's post-Batman existence is only slightly less spotty than her pre-Crisis life. She appears in Batman: Year One as a gossip columnist who blatantly flirts with members of the court during a trial. This portrayal certainly doesn’t do Vale, or basically any of womankind, any favors, but it did re-introduce our girl to the comics after a long break. Later, she appears on a panel show meant to be an analog to our world’s The View with The Flash’s Linda Park, but that’s a brief tangent that doesn’t really come up again. For the last many years, stories have struggled between whether they want to portray Vale as a vapid throwaway character or a hard-hitting journalist, and so her character beats read about as unevenly as you’d imagine. Most of the time, even now, she appears as literal bait for Batman.
We Think She Deserves Better
Vicki Vale is a difficult character to wrap one’s heart around. She was created as more than just a plot device to facilitate a male character’s story, but she was a deeply unoriginal one. She was considered obsolete to the series and was MIA for massive chunks of Batman continuity. Even when she returns, we really never have learned much about who she is as a person. For a character who has been around for nearly eight decades, that’s not just borderline offensive — it’s surprising.
Yet, none of this is her fault. She doesn’t control how people write her. If anything, the fact that she comes back again and again with so little for us to go off should indicate a fairly remarkable staying power for a character who so often falls by the wayside. In the end, Vicki Vale is more than a redundant Lois Lane. There’s more to her than meets the eye, and it would be great to get to see more of what makes her tick someday.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.