Fans of Barbara Gordon would have never dared to hope, but a Batgirl movie is reportedly in the works, with Joss Whedon set to write and direct. Once the shock of that pairing wears off, though, fans are likely to ask an important question: which version of Batgirl will star in it? It’s a more complicated answer than other heroes who have recently enjoyed modern updates, re-imaginings, or re-tellings, since Barbara Gordon has endured and overcome a number of challenges in her Batman comic career – and each one would make for a potentially thrilling, and goodhearted storyline.
Reports are already claiming that DC’s New 52 relaunch will be the beginning for the Batgirl movie’s Barbara Gordon, which brings along some challenges or potentially traumatic experiences as a result (the ones involving Joker paralyzing her, for instance). Will the DCEU seek to avoid such grim themes and plots, or will Joss Whedon jump at the chance to create another bruised, beaten, and heartbroken heroine along the lines of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? We can’t know just yet, but we can give fans and newcomers a breakdown of what potential takes on Batgirl a movie could adapt to success.
And it all begins back in the 1960s.
The Original Batgirl (Possible)
It was Julie Schwartz and artist Carmine Infantino who made the decision to turn “Bat-girl” – a name that could be applied to a number of Batman love interests of the past – into a hero in her own rite. Partly encouraged by the need for a female character on the popular Batman TV series, Barbara Gordon was created, and history made her an icon. Originally, Barbara Gordon was simply on her way to a costume party dressed as Batman when she took a detour to thwart a mugging. Thrilled by the rush of heroism, she soon made a career of it: working as a librarian by day, and a costume crimefighter at night. Batman didn’t exactly approve, but was no match for Batgirl’s tenacity.
A role in Batman comic back-up features was cemented for Babs, and her position as Police Commissioner Gordon’s daughter led to some tense storylines. A proper Batgirl comic series would never come to Barbara, but she was important in her own day, having put an end to female ‘Bat’ variants of the Dark Knight, used for romance, or as helpless damsels in need of rescue. Batgirl’s career with Robin, Dick Grayson became almost as famous as Batman and Robin, and started the first sparks of their on again, off again romance (which would persist for decades).
Taking this version of the character for a standalone movie would offer a clean start, with an origin story that is based in comedy, as much as anything else (a true rarity in the superhero genre). And considering that the DCEU will also soon be home to a Nightwing movie, launching Barbara and Dick as solo heroes would offer a chance to include the other in each story – true to the comics, and possessing the potential for top-notch chemistry and banter.
The Oracle (Less Than Likely)
DC’s decision to officially retire Batgirl in 1988 disappointed fans, but they had yet to feel the truly crushing conclusion to her vigilante career. Shortly after hanging up her cape, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke came along to see Barbara ambushed by Joker, shot in the stomach, and paralyzed from the waist down. In the years since, Moore regretted the decision to wound her character, but it’s unclear if he knew that DC editorial would actually keep Barbara paralyzed permanently. The twist sat poorly with other writers and artists as well, so in 1996 the duo of John Ostrander and Kim Yale gave Barbara a new heroic career as the information broker ‘Oracle.’
Relying on her intellect, willingness to learn and unrelenting dedication to justice, Barbara realized that she could become more powerful than ever before from behind a computer and keyboard. She still needed agents to turn her knowledge and brokered information into arrests (or bloodied noses), and recruited others to her side, becoming the famous female team the Birds of Prey. Acting as the overseer, intelligence, investigator, and switchboard operator for the entire Batman Family at the height of her career, Oracle did more without the use of her legs than most of her crimefighting colleagues.
While Oracle is among the most beloved incarnations of Barbara Gordon, due to the power and dignity she brought to disabled readers everywhere, it may be the most difficult to adapt into a solo movie. Were the DCEU pursuing stories set in the Gotham City of its shared universe, and including multiple heroes, it would be a no-brainer. But with Barabara expected to be the lead, having her effectiveness restricted would be an uphill battle. An incredible one that Joss Whedon, if anyone, could make work. But we won’t hold our breath.
The New 52 Batgirl (Highly Likely)
Finally, we arrive at the chapter of Barbara Gordon’s life most likely to inspire, if not be the direct source material for a Batgirl movie. Writer Gail Simone took the potentially controversial decision to cure Barbara’s paralysis (due to her spine not being severed, and seeking out real spinal treatment in South Africa) and turned it into one of the most popular, if not the most often cited run on Batgirl to date. Unlike other reboots, Simone’s story kept the Joker’s gunshot and career as Oracle canon, and used it as a foundation for Barbara’s return to the cape and cowl.
Battling through symptoms recognizable to sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, survivor’s guilt for being able to leave her disability in her past, and a problematic (but understandable) fear of guns, Barbara was first and foremost a human heroine – and a role model for an entirely new audience. Her first stories even saw her responsible for ensuring Batman’s safety, having Bruce Wayne finally acknowledge that she more than earned the title of Batgirl, despite their earlier confrontations, and reinforcing the bonds between her and Dick Grayson.
It’s honestly no surprise to see reports that Joss Whedon will base Batgirl on the New 52 storylines, since the fan base has repeatedly (and now, routinely) demanded that should a Batgirl movie be made, Simone’s storytelling is the best place to start. Whedon’s knack for dialogue and character development, with particular focus on wounded heroes, found families, and women would seem to be a compliment to Simone’s own style. But even if a perfect blend may be an optimistic hope, there really is no better place to start – for a movie, and for interested comic book readers.
Batgirl of Burnside (Possible)
From the description, it should be clear that Simone’s time at the helm of Batgirl wasn’t exactly a lighthearted romp (not that all Barbara Gordon stories don’t have some). Things took a lighter turn in the New 52 when Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr took over, depicting a more youthful, exuberant Batgirl (in a spiffy new costume). The setting was built to match, too, as Barbara sought to make a new start in a trendy, hip district of Gotham City – becoming the Batgirl of Burnside.
On the surface, the Burnside edition of Batgirl might seem like the best fit for a writer and director like Whedon. Young, bright-eyed, but not afraid to crack some skulls is an apt description of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among Whedon’s most successful and best-told stories. But if that turns out to be the case, we wouldn’t be too sure that he would lift much more than the setting, personality, and energy that Stewart and Tarr brought to the characters – but that’s more than enough of a head start when the source material is this good.
Which installment of Barbara Gordon are YOU hoping to see make the leap into the DCEU? Will that depend on the plan for Chris McKay’s Nightwing movie, or would you rather Batgirl get a story of her own, separate from the Batman Family of heroes and villains?