With Wonder Woman on the horizon, apparently the DCEU is interested in continuing to expand its slate of female solo films, because Batgirl is reportedly coming to cinemas. Joss Whedon’s hotly-anticipated project will be the first time in history that Barbara Gordon has stepped into live-action films and it is sure to be a landmark superhero film.
First introduced in 1967, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon has had quite the ride. From a career in politics, to her romance with Dick Grayson, multiple retirements, and 23 years in a wheelchair – there is sure a lot of source material for Whedon to mull over before Babs enters the DCEU.
While Gail Simone’s New 52 comic books will be Whedon’s starting point for the film, there is more to Batgirl than just her miraculous rehabilitation to walk again. There has notably been more than one woman to snatch the crown of Batgirl and somersault over the Gotham skyline, so if you are ready for some bat-facts, here are 15 Things You Need To Know About Batgirl
15. There Was A Batgirl Before 1967
We know that Babs hasn’t always held the mantle of Batman’s female sidekick. Though she’s the most famous Batgirl, Gordon wasn’t actually the first. Introduced as Bat-Girl back in 1961, Betty Kane was the niece of Kathy Kane, who was known as Batwoman. The duo entered DC as a way to stem fears that Batman and Robin were a little too gay for ‘60s comic book readers. Having Batgirl and Batwoman as a romantic interest for both Dick and Bruce was intended to ditch their campy image.
Bat-Girl was a vastly underused character, appearing only seven times between 1961 and 1964 and then disappearing alongside Batwoman, Ace the Bat-Hound, and Bat-Mite. New editor Julius Schwartz decided that the characters seemed too silly and wanted to push the comic in a darker direction.
A post-Crisis universe erased both the Kane women from continuity, but whereas Kathy was absent for much longer, Betty returned to DC in 1989 thanks to Secret Origins Annual #3. This time though, she was called Mary Elizabeth “Bette” Kane, aka Flamebird, and teamed up with her idol, Dick Grayson.
14. Barbara Gordon’s Origin Had Her Saving Batman
As for Barbara, her entry into the Batverse was created with the ’60s TV series in mind and famously saw Yvonne Craig take on the role. However, nine months before Craig slipped on her purple costume, we met Barbara Gordon on the pages of Detective Comics #359. Barbara’s arrival as Batgirl was a complete accident, but one she hasn’t looked back from since.
Debuting in 1967’s “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl,” Barbara was first dressed as a female version of Batman. A plucky Babs intercepted Killer Moth’s attempt to kidnap Batman and put her skills as a police officer’s daughter to good use. The cover asked the question “Is she heroine or villainess?” but it became quickly obvious that Batgirl was on the side of good.
While today’s Barbara is seen as a female-first powerhouse and one of the most influential women in DC, times were different when she arrived on the scene. In a storyline which would never pass by today’s standards, Batman dismissed Batgirl’s crime-fighting career solely based on her gender and insisted that women can’t be vigilantes.
13. Yvonne Craig Nearly Had Her Own Spin-Off
Yvonne Craig’s tenure as Batgirl was so popular that ABC even considered her own spin-off from Batman. Even though she only appeared in a handful of episodes, Batgirl went on to steal the limelight from Adam West, which is no mean feat to accomplish. The ‘60s show was a campy candy-fest, and Craig’s lilac suit and witty quips went hand in hand with its over the top tone.
Neil Hamilton starred as Commissioner Gordon in all 120 episodes, but as the series continued, he was given him more of a backstory than just phoning the Dynamic Duo. Julius Schwartz had been asked to develop a new female character who could be used on the show as well as in the comics, while Batman‘s executive producer William Dozier suggested that she could be the daughter of James Gordon.
Sadly, when Craig joined in 1967, it was to be the show’s final season and any plans for a Batgirl continuation were canned. Although NBC hoped to broker a deal, it turned out that someone had destroyed all the sets (which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars) so NBC pulled the plug. Had the spinoff happened, Craig was sure to continue as Batgirl – come on, she even had her own theme song!
12. Barbara Gordon Was Crippled For 23 Years
It’s a well-known fact that things rarely run smoothly in the life of Batman, but Gordon’s Batgirl also found herself pulled into the dark side of the Dark Knight. Alan Moore gave us the ultimate Gordon family story in 1988 with The Killing Joke. As one of the most famous Batman stories, TKJ had a manic Joker storm into Barbara’s apartment and shoot her through the spinal cord.
Although Barbara survived the Joker’s attack, it left her as a paraplegic for the next 23 years (more on that later). It may have been one of the most divisive decisions in Batman’s comic book universe, but Barbara’s injury arguably defined the character as more than just a female version of Robin.
Writer John Ostrander established a wheelchair-bound Barbara as the computer whizz known as Oracle. Supporters have argued that as Oracle, Gordon did far more for Gotham than Batgirl ever did. Oracle became a huge part of storylines like No Man’s Land, co-created the Birds of Prey, and has also appeared with her disability in the wildly popular Arkham games from Rocksteady.
11. She Was Best Friends With Poison Ivy
The cartoon series The Batman not only revealed that Poison Ivy and Barbara Gordon went to the same high school, but that the flame-haired heroines were also best friends. Don’t worry though, the alliance didn’t last long.
Although Barbara had been mentioned in an earlier episode, both she and Ivy first appeared in 2005’s “Batgirl Begins” two-parter A much younger version of Barbara is seen as an all-round Grade-A student and stellar gymnast. We follow the tale of how she becomes Batgirl and also what turned Pamela Isley into the chlorophyll villainess known as Poison Ivy.
When Batman finds himself under Ivy’s mind control, he is forced into a fight with Barbara. After she kicks him into a pond of water, Ivy’s effects wear off, and Barbara and Bruce take down her former classmate. Ironically, the episodes saw Barbara demand that she be called Batwoman, only to have Jim Gordon insist she should be called Batgirl.
10. She Retired As Batgirl To Start A Career In Politics
Barbara Gordon has retired from her role as Batgirl on several occasions, with one of the most memorable times seeing her move to a career in politics. As early as 1972, Babs hung up her tights to start a new chapter in her life. Jim Gordon had already put his detective skills to the test and deduced that his daughter was Batgirl, but Barbara revealed the truth to him anyway.
“Batgirl’s Last Case” focused on the eve of the election, with Barbara worrying how the election will turn out. Elsewhere, an underground gang is applying pressure to put people off voting for Gordon. She stuck on her costume one more time and remained defiant in her efforts to change the system.
The issue ended with Barbara being elected to the United States House Of Representatives and jetting off to Washington. For a while at least, Gotham lost not only the Commissioner’s daughter, but Batgirl herself. As with most of these stories, Barbara wasn’t gone for too long and was brought back a year later.
9. Her Secret Identity Was A Librarian
Whether it be a hotshot journalist or a billionaire playboy, most of DC’s character have a pretty cool day-to-day alias. Well, sadly, Barbara Gordon spent her days shushing people and collecting overdue fines. Batgirl was determined not to just be another airhead female counterpart, and with a Ph.D., she was also the head of the Gotham City Library.
Given Barbara’s intelligent streak, it was a clever analogy of the women’s rights movements of the ‘60s and immediately set the character aside from the shallower heroines we had been introduced to. It is true, no one would expect the local librarian to put down her books and take to a life of martial arts and villain bashing.
While we see relatively little of Barbara’s librarian past these days, she is more accustomed to the modern method of surfing the web and putting her tech skills into practice. The British Film Institute even ranked Babs in their list of 10 best librarians on screen, but we can’t imagine there was much competition.
8. She Went On A Date With Superman
Who wouldn’t want to date the dishy Clark Kent? Well, we can think of at least one member of the DC family. Barbara’s return as Batgirl also coincided with a short romantic tryst with none other than Superman. When Clark found out that his next assignment would take him to Washington, it just so happened that a certain red-headed Congresswoman was still residing there.
Crossing over into Superman #268, Barbara and Clark went on a blind date to blow off some steam. Bruce played matchmaker to put the two together, but Batman was basically setting them up in the hopes that the date would help Clark relax and take some of the weight of the world off his shoulders.
7. Batgirl Once Fired Herself
As previously mentioned, No Man’s Land was a big deal for Batgirl and effectively had several women battling for the illustrious moniker. It also saw Helena Bertinelli drop her alias as Huntress and pick up the Batgirl cowl, with some disastrous consequences.
After a cataclysmic earthquake leveled much of Gotham, the U.S. government sealed the city off and left it to rot. As various villains took up their own turf, the remaining GCPD and Bat-Family members tried to bring order to the crumbling city. Barbara was still stuck in her wheelchair, but Bertinelli was more than happy to step up into the role of Batgirl (albeit briefly).
Huntress was known for her violence and rogue tactics, but Bertinelli went on a power trip when she realized that villains feared her more as Batgirl. When Helena failed to follow Batman’s orders, Two-Face took control of a crucial territory and even more lives were lost. Enraged, Bruce confronted Bertinelli and demanded that she fall in line. A defiant Helena stripped herself of the Batgirl title but vowed to keep fighting as Huntress.
6. Cassandra Cain Had Batgirl’s First Solo Title
Although Cassandra Cain wasn’t much of a talker, her time as Batgirl represented a groundbreaking era for the title. While many would assume that Barbara Gordon got the first Batgirl solo title, that honor actually goes to Cain. The (nearly) mute daughter of assassins David Cain and Lady Shiva, Cassandra arrived into DC in mid-1999 and has gone on to become one of the most prominent characters of Asian descent in comic books.
In 2ooo, Cain appeared in the Batgirl solo, which ran monthly for years. Main storylines included a telepath rewiring Cain’s brain so that she could finally use language and giving her the acid-tongued spark that she had been missing. The Batgirl title also revealed Cain’s backstory– how David had come to serve as a bodyguard for Ra’s Al Ghul– and a bloody battle with her own mother.
The series ran until 2006 when it was canceled, with Cain leaving the role of Batgirl shortly after. After the “death” of Batman, Cain handed over the costume to Stephanie Brown, citing her inability to cope with the loss of her adopted father. Thankfully, she returned in 2010, this time under the alias of Black Bat.
5. The New 52 Gave Barbara Her Legs Back
If crippling Batgirl wasn’t controversial enough, giving her back the ability to walk again tore open a whole new can of worms. When the entire universe effectively rebooted itself with The New 52 in 2011, we got a very different Barbara Gordon who, to this day, rattles die-hard Batfans.
The Killing Joke had still happened, so fans were right to question how we would see Barbara Gordon backflipping off buildings again. Batgirl may have got her own solo title again, but the younger, modern, Babs was able to walk again thanks to physiotherapy.
Series writer Gail Simone, who had spent years crafting Barbara as Oracle, defended the decision to have her up and about again. The experimental surgery Barbara underwent in South Africa appeared to have worked miracles on her. Simone says that the storyline was based on real life cases of rehabilitation, but that wasn’t enough for Oracle supporters. Some were unconvinced by the drastic departure from 23 years of wheelchair-bound Barbara and called it a massive step back for disabled characters in comic books.
4. Booster Gold Tried To Stop The Killing Joke Too
However, Gail Simone wasn’t the first to try and stop Barbara’s harrowing ordeal at the hands of Mr. J. Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz wrote the ambitious “No Joke” storyline, which saw a disheartened Booster Gold repeatedly try and save Barbara from the bullet. It was a clever rehashing of Moore’s work on The Killing Joke without feeling like they were wearing out old material.
Booster Gold’s own solo series saw the athlete travel back in time to prevent the Joker’s plan, but it came with disastrous results. After arriving too late, Booster returned to Rip Hunter’s lab and demanded that he send him back (again). The comic became a bloody Groundhog Day as Booster is dispatched in a variety of grisly panels.
The Brave and The Bold #33 had a different theme with its “Ladies Night” storyline. Zatanna received a premonition about The Killing Joke, so she and Wonder Woman vowed to take Barbara out on one last night of frivolity before her crippling. Both “No Joke” and “Ladies Night” eventually came to accept that sometimes bad things happen to good people and that we would have to live with what happens to Babs – if only Gail Simone had felt the same way.
3. Alicia Silverstone Was Live-Action Batgirl, Not Barbara Gordon
While Whedon’s Batgirl will be Barbara Gordon’s first live-action theatrical release, we have met Batgirl in cinemas before. Joel Schumacher’s diabolical Batman & Robin got a lot of things wrong; whether it be the tirade of Arnie’s ice puns, the rubber nipples, or Alicia Silverstone, something was very wrong. Silverstone uncomfortably slipped into the suit to play Batgirl, but in an odd retcon of the source material, she wasn’t anyone from the comic books.
Silverstone’s Batgirl was actually Barbara Wilson, the niece of Alfred. With the previous three Batman films downplaying Pat Hingle’s role as Commissioner Gordon, the possibility of Barbara Gordon being Batgirl would’ve felt out of place so Wilson was created to provide that family connection. It didn’t take long for new Babs to meet Alfred’s other family and find herself stumbling across the Batcave.
Silverstone’s role as Batgirl was about as well-received as the film itself. Some good came of Batman & Robin, though; the Batgirl costume was repainted and used by Dina Meyer to play Barbara Gordon in the short-lived Birds of Prey TV series.
2. The New 52 Erased Two Batgirls
After covering most of the women who have worn the cowl, we have steered clear of Stephanie Brown’s time as Batgirl. As the only person to play both a Robin and a Batgirl, Brown went some way to redeeming her maligned comic book history. However, the New 52 didn’t only take Barbara out of her wheelchair; it also completely erased Brown and Cassandra Cain from existence – for a time anyway.
It was a sensible choice to give Barbara Gordon her rightful time as the “iconic” Batgirl, but fans called sexism when the four male Robins made it into the New 52 while two Batgirls were scrubbed out of existence. Brown managed to return in 2014 during the Batman Eternal run, however, this was under her alias of Spoiler (Stephanie sure has been a lot of vigilantes).
What happened to Cain, though? Well, we had to wait even longer before she returned to the Batverse. Batman and Robin Eternal in 2015 converged two timelines and brought in Cain under her Orphan moniker. It may seem right to have Barbara as the ultimate Batgirl, but give the other girls a chance too!
1. She got pregnant from an affair with Bruce Wayne
Warner Bros Animation’s Batman Beyond took us way into the future and a techy cyberpunk existence for Gotham. We saw Terry McGinnis take up the Batman mantle under the mentoring of Bruce Wayne, but the comic book Batman Beyond 2.0 picked up the tale of two years after the cartoon ended.
Here, McGinnis is being watched over by Dick Grayson and is told some home truths about the Bruce/Dick/Babs love triangle. Barbara Gordon had a well-known fling with Grayson, but there was always a question mark over her relationship with Bruce Wayne. The ‘90s Batman: The Animated Series brought them closer together and fans soon revolted, citing it as a little bit gross.
Batman Beyond 2.0 upped the “ick” factor with the shock revelation that at some point in the future Bruce and Barbara could’ve had a child together, if not for yet more horrifying twists.
The plotline cleverly explained Grayson’s absence from Batman Beyond and also filled in some gaps on how he and Barbara had got to where they now were. It also held the even more shocking implication that Barbara lost her and Bruce’s baby in the line of duty. Jeez, good thing Dick didn’t start knitting those baby bat-boots.
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