Since I’ve seen that Batman/Gary Stu/Mary Sue post going around, I thought I’d discuss how to write a gender-swapped Batman as a non-Mary Sue. This isn’t about the current Batwoman, Kate Kane, who is a marvelous and wonderful. This is about how one could create a gender-swapped version of Bruce Wayne and keep the spirit of the character while making a small adjustment in gender. The ironic truth is: you really don’t have to change much. No, really. Whether it’s a Bruce or a Beryl, Batman’s traits and quirks are extraordinarily gender neutral. The trick is figuring out the elements that make the character tick and what the audience connects to without wearing gendered goggles.
When you’re looking to gender swap a character, you first have to look at what is that sells them and who they are. Batman is an extraordinary superhero, he’s supposed to be just a normal man with money but within his own narrative, he can compete with any super powered hero in the setting. So, how does a good narrative like Hush or The Long Halloween or the TAS Batman sell him without making him a Mary Sue? The answer is actually pretty easy. For every trait that allows the character to be good at there must be a complimentary flaw that keeps everything from being easy.
Bruce Wayne is a billionaire, a playboy, and a philanthropist. Batman is a superhero who can compete with any superhero in the DC Universe, including Superman and Wonder Woman. All the women and some of the men want him and his angst just makes him more appealing. This is all true, however, there’s a second side to Batman that comes out in the more compelling narratives with him. He has a darker edge that leaves him much like Gotham.
Batman is a workaholic. Whether it’s supporting his cover as Bruce Wayne or prowling the streets as the Dark Knight, Batman is pretty much always on the job. Batman has a cover identity named Bruce Wayne
Batman is intelligent, but also obsessive. Batman is a control freak. Batman sleeps (at most) four hours a day and is constantly pushing his body past its safe limits. Batman does not have a social life. Remember that whole business about “billionaire, playboy, philanthropist”? It’s a cover to secure a secret identity. Those relationships we’re desperate for? They’re doomed to failure. Batman has one true love and that love is Gotham. Batman cannot trust anyone else to protect Gotham like he can, even when they have shown themselves perfectly capable.
There’s nothing here that couldn’t be passed on to a female character. In fact, the socialite angle works even better with a woman. After all, who would suspect that Paris Hilton dresses up in Kevlar armor every night and leaves criminals hanging off of rooftops? When Lindsay Lohan gets sentenced to rehab, drops out of the clinic, and disappears for six months would you believe that it’s because she’s gone to do training with monks in the Himalayas? The larger the disparity between Beryl Wayne’s public persona and the Dark Knight, the better with just enough crossover sprinkled here and there to cover any new bruises, broken ribs, or training accidents, but that can easily be rectified with a character who is a known daredevil. This justifies the times when they can’t change and need to drive up the wrong side of the highway going 80 miles an hour to slam into an oncoming criminal while in their civvies.
So, how do you make the character work?
When Beryl Wayne was eight years old, her parents were murdered while coming out of a (insert appropriate venue here). On that night, she swore vengeance. Over the years, Beryl sought out advanced training in many different skills from martial arts to criminology. She became known for her jet setting and was rarely ever in Gotham, spending her vast fortune on world travel as a means to escape from her problems (or so it seemed). Then, in her early twenties, Beryl returned to Gotham to take control of the family fortune. At the same time (or just a few months before) a masked vigilante appeared prowling the streets of Gotham. The rest is history.
As a character, Beryl is an exceedingly driven individual. She spends her time training, working, and invested in keeping Gotham safe. She barely sleeps and is constantly working often to a point that exhausts even those closest to her. She is a closed off, slightly neurotic personality, who is deeply suspicious of outsiders and believes that no one else can do the job satisfactorily. She is a bit of an egomaniac, but every billionaire needs a few eccentricities. She is ends justifies the means to a point and has no problem roughing up and terrifying suspects into behaving. In her public persona, Beryl Wayne is seen as selfish, a little vapid, and self-absorbed. The men she chooses to see are the ones that she knows she won’t care about and they are pursuing her for the status and her vast fortune. She is a philanthropist and more dedicated to the public good than most, but she is still seen as heartless. She has been described as polite and fun but cold by more than a few former suitors. With her vast intelligence, she finds it hard to get excited and knows that to be able to do her job well she needs to avoid any true romantic entanglements. (She can’t help falling into them because she does have quite a few real suitors in both the criminal and superhero community, but her general attitude is “love ‘em and leave ‘em”). She only really cares about the opinions of people she trusts and can be exceedingly vengeful when she feels they’ve betrayed her. If she shuts a character out into the cold, they’re going to be there for awhile. She doesn’t really know how to apologize and mean it. Sometimes, she goes too far in her willingness to protect Gotham and has to be hauled back by those around her. She’s constantly making personal sacrifices in order to be the best vigilante that she can be.
She’s definitely on the fascist end of the political spectrum and if you’re going to be in her city, then you play by her rules. She’s exceedingly practical in her combat gear and is constantly inventing to keep ahead of the curve. Some criminals in Gotham aren’t exactly sure if she’s female because she doesn’t advertise her gender. However, she doesn’t hide it either. Why would she? (Egomaniac!) She’s not a Femme Fatale. Instead, this is a character that is willing to work within gender stereotypes when it suits her and jettison them completely when needed. She plays by her own rules and no one else’s.
If you want to do Batman right, you have to take the villains and some of the supporting characters with you because the long standing ones are representative of Batman’s shattered psyche. Gender swap them around as needed. I suggest making Lucius Fox female, because powerful female CEOs are awesome and girls gotta stick together. I’d gender swap the Joker too. You can gender swap Catwoman or supplant her with another character in order to play with the male versus female Batman idea such as The Question (the first one or the JLU one) or Green Arrow.
I personally wouldn’t run the lesbian route with this character because there’s always the risk of getting into some nasty stereotypes if you’re not careful. However, there’s no reason that you couldn’t if you put the effort in.
Anyway, there have been many versions of Batman over the years and this is not the only way to play a female version. You will all come up with new and different answers. No matter Batman’s gender, always give him or her antagonists that meet them in equal measure and reflect them or their politics in some way. You can learn a lot about how to structure a good antagonist for your hero from looking at the Batvillains that stick around and by studying the multitude that have fallen by the wayside.
Once you’ve settled on the understanding that gender is mostly irrelevant when looking to craft a hero, the throng will open up to you as sources of inspiration. Have fun!