David Hines (hradzka) wrote,
David Hines

Thoughts on Leslie Thompkins

Leslie Thompkins first appeared in 1975, making her the last of the current Batfamily regulars to be introduced in the comic pages -- of the adults, anyway; Tim Drake came along in 1989, and Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain are more recent introductions. Dick Grayson, Alfred Pennyworth, and Barbara Gordon all preceded her (not to mention Jim Gordon, but I don't really consider him "family"), and Leslie's canonical relationship to Bruce has changed more than that of any of them.

Women of Gotham has a short but good history of the character that shows some of her incarnations over the years. Briefly, she was introduced in Detective #457, Denny O'Neil's great "There Is No Hope in Crime Alley!" In that story, she's a part of Batman's annual pilgrimage to Crime Alley; she's the woman who comforted young Bruce after his parents' murder. She doesn't know Batman's true identity, had never met him or his folks before the murder, and has no personal connection with Bruce Wayne today.

What a difference twenty-nine years makes, huh?

Today Leslie serves a number of functions in the Batbooks: she's a confidant and an ear on the street; she's a medical resource, when Alfred's skills aren't enough; she's the humanitarian wing of the Batclan -- and those are just her story uses. On a personal level, she's Alfred's confidante and (discreet) love interest. And she's really, really good at taking the piss out of Batman. Leslie has no tolerance for bullshit, even (maybe especially) when Batman is doling it out, because she's known Bruce since he was a frightened little boy and she is never, ever scared of him. She can criticize him, carp at him, and call him on the carpet. And that's gold. It makes her very fun to write.

Leslie is also a pacifist. This is one of the great aspects of her modern characterization: she cares for Batman, she helps him, but she is innately *completely opposed* to his methods. Which makes for conflict on a character level, and it's expressed in any number of different ways, to really great effect. I love Leslie's pacifism.

What I don't love is that the other characters never say that she's wrong. Because at least some of them should.

Take Batman. He should not (as he has recently) admire her pacifism. He should see it as a flaw he tolerates, or a weakness he has to protect from being exploited. Something to wish he could be? No.

Or Alfred. He loves Leslie. The two of them were Bruce's surrogate parents after Thomas and Martha died. He has his issues with Bruce's Mission. But he's a veteran, a combat medic, with experience in intelligence work. He knows that violence can solve problems, if applied correctly. Which, if you think about it, puts him between Bruce and Leslie. (Ghod, what a horrible place to be in. Poor Alfred.)

There's absolutely no reason everybody should put Leslie on a pedestal the way they do, especially when a large part of the reason her clinic can remain open in a rough neighborhood is that the Batfolks and Selina Kyle are on the street busting heads. I can see them wishing that they lived in a world where pacifism was possible, but believing it? Admiring her for setting a moral standard they wish they could live up to, but can't because of some failing on their part? No. Because if Leslie's right, they're not only failing to do any good, they're actively contributing to the problem. Which they're not. So as things stand, Leslie gets to sit in a position of unquestioned moral authority, where she delivers her opinion as if from the mountaintop and nobody ever calls her on it. Which is a shame, because it means there's a lot of potential for drama and character conflict going unrealized.

I played with this a little in "Jason and Me." My Steph is harsh on Leslie there, more than Leslie deserves, especially in that situation -- but she does have a point. Somebody should bring stuff like that up. Maybe not Bruce or Alfred (they probably love Leslie too much to tell her off, but they certainly shouldn't serve as her "virtues of pacifism" amen corner). But somebody.

Because I love Leslie Thompkins.

But she isn't always right.
Tags: dcu, meta, writing

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