September 13, 2012 by Ish
I want you to met my favorite superhero.
Batgirl is a DC Comics superhero, a female counterpart to the much more famous Batman. The Batgirl name has given to five different fictional characters over the years, although generally the only truly iconic Batgirl has been Barbara Gordon, who debuted in 1967. The sort of shameful secret origin of the Barbara Gordon Batgirl was as a ratings ploy for the 1960’s Batman TV show… Yes, the one with Adam West, Burt Ward, BIFF!, and POW!. Yvonne Craig played her in the show and she was every but the campy, over-the-top equal of Adam West and the rest of the cast. But I want to focus on the “real” Batgirl, from the comic books.
In 1967, two legendary talents Gardner Fox (writer) and Carmine Infantino (artist) were assigned to Detective Comics #359 and its cover story entitled “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!” However, almost every source agrees that she was created by then DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz. Barbara Gordon was the daughter of Gotham City police commissioner James Gordon, a young women in her mid- to late-twenties (comic book characters and ages is a weird thing) with a doctorate, a brown belt in jujitsu, and a job as head of Gotham City Public Library. She designs a “Batwoman” costume for a masquerade ball, happens across the attempted kidnapping her father’s friend Bruce Wayne, and swoops in to rescue him. Shortly afterward, the media dubs her Batgirl and she launches a crime fighting career of her own.
Barbara Gordon initially seems to be another hackneyed stereotype of the distaff counterpart to the male hero being given less respect (she’s Batgirl, not Batwoman; the male hero came first; the male hero is more popular; etc.) Plus, her civilian identity seems so stereotypical as well: The mousey librarian, why not just make her a kindergarten teacher!? But that all ignores some serious female empowerment emerging well before the feminist movement of the early `70s: a doctorate and a brown belt ain’t nothing. Moreover, by the 1970s Barbara Gordon would run for and win a seat in Congress. No, don’t ask what political party she was part of or what state Gotham City is supposed to be from, it’s not polite and you’ll get fingerprints all over the fourth wall.
My introduction to the character truly came about in 1988 or 1989, when I found a paperback reprint of a three-issue Batman comic book miniseries The Untold Legend of the Batman. Written by Len Wein, with art from John Byrne and Jim Aparo. The Untold Legend was meant to be the definitive origin of not only the Batman, but the vast majority of his supporting characters and rogue’s gallery as well. Now, this miniseries was written pre-Crisis, but unlike Superman, Wonder Woman, or so many other DC Universe heroes, the origins of the various Bat Family members was little changed by the Crisis on Infinite Earths and it wouldn’t be until some twenty years later that I ever realized The Untold Legend wasn’t “current” continuity.
Batgirl isn’t even a supporting character in the The Untold Legend, as by that point in the character’s long history she was in Congress and not Gotham City, so her origins are told in a series of flashbacks from the point-of-view of Commissioner Gordon. This book and various other appearances of the character in the random comics I was picking up around this point cemented my opinion of Batgirl as my favorite superhero. I was still very young and proper comic book collecting and reading whole story-arcs and series runs was a few years off… but, it didn’t matter. Batgirl was my favorite superhero.
Due note, feminist critics and fellow geeks, that I don’t say she was my favorite superheroine, or favorite female superhero, or favorite DC superhero. No. Batgirl was and remains my favorite superhero. Period. Superman? Wolverine? Spider-Man? The Batman? Nope. Batgirl is my favorite superhero. My love for Barbara Gordon is so strong that many of the other Batgirls over the years are also among my personal top ten favorite heroes.
She’s smart, she’s witty, she’s brave. She wears the symbol of the bat, but her identity was self-created and not bestowed on her by Bruce. The Batman treats her as a peer and a partner in the war on crime, the same way he would an independent male hero, like Superman or the Flash, and not a former protégé (Nightwing) or sidekick (Robin). In the post-Crisis history, her birth parents may be dead but that’s not her motivation for crime-fighting, and her relationship with uncle/adoptive-father commissioner Gordon is warm, genuine, and healthy. She’s Batman without the angst, Nightwing without the “daddy issues,” and unlike 90% of women in comics she’s no one’s girlfriend, handmaiden, or sidekick.
This isn’t to say the character hasn’t been without flaws. A comic book character with five decades of near constant appearance in dozens of titles, spinoffs into numerous other media, and hundreds of different writers taking their turn with the character is going to result in some missteps over the years. But, just as Spider-Man fans were willing to stick with old webhead through disasters like the Clone Saga and One More Day, I’ve been able to ride out the worst Women in Refrigerators moments that have occured over the years.
About a year ago, DC Comics rebooted their entire universe, cancelling every title currently in print and relaunching everything. One of these “New 52” books is Batgirl Vol.4… I haven’t read it yet, but I just put in an order for the first collected edition and will be reviewing it here soon. It better be good, I want to met my favorite superhero all over again.