The story of Lady Shiva’s post is bogged down by racial stereotypes, and it’s worth exploring in the vein of the 2019 Joker movie.
If a hero is as good as his gallery of thieves, then there is no doubt that Batman- is one of DC Comics’ greatest heroes. Unlike many other DC Comics villains, Batman villains tend to be non-motorized humans who have great faith in their particular cause. Considering how the Joker in particular transcended the Batman myth to take his own life, as evidenced by the success of the 2019 film, Joker, Batman has a level of psychological depth in his villains that makes them self-sufficient and compelling characters. And while The Joker remains a prime example, there is one villain who deserves this same kind of exploration: Lady Shiva.
Lady Shiva is a character who has struggled to become more than a problematic vehicle for Batman’s heroism. Created in 1975 by Dennis O’Neil and Ric Estrada, Lady Shiva is emblematic of a disturbing theme from the Batman comics, where Asians are used to elucidate Batman’s morals and attitudes towards violence. Even though Batman himself uses violence in Gotham City, the expert martial arts practiced by Lady Shiva, Talia al Ghul, and Ra’s al Ghul are all believed to be considered evil, as they use deadly force. And while killing people is never a good thing, Lady Shiva’s comics often confuse her use of lethal force with her race and gender, infusing uncomfortable nuances into her conflict with Batman.
Even though much of the story of Lady Shiva’s publication is mired in racial stereotypes, it deserves the opportunity to be critically re-examined in a way that reflects the psychological exploration of the Joker movie. Recently, DC Comics has done a fantastic job with supporting characters from under-represented groups in its The other story of the DC Universe series, where writer John Ridley gives voice to characters like Black Lightning, Katana, Thunder, Renée Montoya, and Bumblebee as they relate key moments throughout their publication story. Beyond providing a superbly written return to DC history, The other story of the DC Universe provides a blueprint for how decades-old comic book publishers can deal with their problematic past work, without overshadowing the details.
That way, a deep dive into Lady Shiva’s thoughts would take her beyond the flat, one-dimensional characterization that fans are largely familiar with, and imbue her with a perspective that fans were never meant to have. originally. Shiva has been rejected by writers in the past because she was not characterized as a person, but as a vehicle for stereotypes about Asians. She lacks interiority because she was never meant to be an individual in the first place. So while investigations into the psychology of the Joker remain the dominant mode of preview for the Batman Thugs Gallery, Lady Shiva presents an alternative that could really propel the Batman myth forward.
Looking at her old comics, it’s clear that Shiva has been let down by a double standard when it comes to violence. While there is plenty of room for her to have her own rich inner life, Lady Shiva only exists to help elucidate Batman’s moral as a hero. While Batman’s violence is widely meant to be understood as admirable and necessary, that of Shiva is cold, cruel, and ruthless, characterized by specific terms that accentuate his Asian origin. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with portraying an Asian female character as an icy assassin, the character of Shiva has been portrayed through a specific lens that plays into racial stereotypes.
In one Robin 1991 miniseries, Tim Drake teamed up with Lady Shiva in Hong Kong, where she trained him in martial arts. As they prepare to take on some of Asia’s worst criminals in issue four, Tim chooses a staff as his weapon to specifically avoid using lethal force against his enemies (written by Chuck Dixon, pencils by Tom Lyle, inks by Bob Smith, letters from Tim Harkins). He said to Shiva, “I made a commitment to my mentor and myself not to kill. Even to save a life.” In response, Lady Shiva said, “As you are a Christian. White of you.”
This moment sums up all the reasons Lady Shiva deserves a more in-depth exploration of her character. Her response to Tim says absolutely nothing about her from a personal standpoint – it simply reiterates the fact that Shiva is from the East and Tim is from the West. This is information the reader is already aware of, and it also demonstrates the process by which readers have come to see it as an object of difference. Her dialogue reminds readers that she is “different” from the hero of the story, both culturally and morally, and this further creates a sense of distance between the reader and her character. Plus, she speaks in huge generalizations that describe Asian martial arts as an inherently lethal form of combat – a fact made even more bizarre by the fact that Batman uses martial arts as an alternative to American gun violence.
Lady Shiva suffered from the fact that her character was never explored from an individual perspective. In this way, it was presented more as an idea – portraying the East as a murderous and violent place full of people who cannot be trusted. And although she has been opposed to Batman and his beliefs in the same way the Joker has been used to elucidate Dark Knight values, Lady Shiva has yet to be given the chance to be seen as more than an ideological foil.
Considering the age of DC Comics, it’s no surprise that there are characters born out of outdated stereotypes. And while stereotypes are clearly a moral issue, they also present a narrative issue as they don’t invite readers to think beyond a narrow frame. In this way, Lady Shiva offers DC the opportunity to not only give her character the more attentive look she has always deserved, but also to significantly expand on the contradictions behind Batman’s heroism. And while Lady Shiva may not be BatmanThe most famous villain of, she still deserves every opportunity the Joker has to offer.
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