If noted photographer Annie Leibovitz suddenly changed careers and started snapping shots in a war zone, she would be Vicki Vale. Vale also looks like a supermodel herself, someone who would be just as in place in front of the camera as she is behind it.
Vicki got her start doing fashion photography for Vogue and Cosmo. As a woman photographing women, her photography was brushed off as chick stuff. Joker gives Vicki this thorough critique of her fashion work when he views her portfolio.
JOKER: Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap...
Very insightful, clown man, but it's not surprising that a misogynistic psychopath who sees women as either canvases or potential victims would dismiss her fashion photography. However, even Knox makes a condescending comment about Vicki's career shift into war journalism.
KNOX: A girl could get hurt doing this stuff.
It's like he thinks she should keep photographing clothes, which isn't dissimilar from telling a woman to stay in the kitchen where she belongs. (Maybe Williams-Sonoma needs a photographer for their catalog.)
Bruce Wayne also tries to discourage her from investigating Batman, but he doesn't do it because he thinks she's too weak or too female for the job. He discourages her because he realizes she might be the one to ferret out his Bat-Identity. And of course, she is the one to do it, proving you should never send in a man to do a woman's job.
She Came in Like a Wrecking Ball
Vicki's initial goal is to learn Batman's identity and win a Pulitzer Prize. However, when she learns Batman is Bruce Wayne, and she falls in love with him, she chooses to protect Bruce's identity instead of exposing him for personal glory.
She defends him with the same techniques she would have used to expose him. She's still fearless, running toward the wreckage of the Batwing to get Batman to safety. And when thugs knock out Batman—which happens way more than you'd think it would—Vicki uses her camera flash not to capture Batman's face on film, but to distract the thugs until Batman regains consciousness.
Vicki definitely cares for Bruce, and he cares for her too, in his own socially awkward billionaire crimefighter way. But that might not be enough for this relationship to work out. After learning Bruce's true identity, they have this conversation:
VICKI: Why won't you let me in? Why?
BRUCE: You got in.
It's romantic, yes, but remember that Bruce lives in a giant estate. Getting in could be simply making it through the front door and into the foyer. She may have cracked his façade, but she still doesn't have access to his heart. Does she think she might one day be able to go deeper, or is she satisfied with their relationship where it is?
In the end, it's tough to say whether Vicki decides to protect Bruce because she loves him, or because she knows that Gotham City needs Batman. If his identity were exposed, Batman wouldn't have the power that he does and Gotham would be in danger of scarecrows, puzzle lovers, giant mud men, and any other crazy villains that come out of the woodwork.
What we can say is that she's the only female good guy character in any of these early Batman movies who makes an impression on us and on Bruce.