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Batgirl is one of a number of characters acting as a Distaff Counterpart to Batman and/or Robin. The character has served as an ensemble and background character in numerous Bat-titles and has also independently starred in three self-titled series. The first series featured Cassandra Cain, the second "official" Batgirl, the second ongoing series featured Stephanie Brown, formerly known as the Spoiler, and the third series features Barbara Gordon, the original woman to bear the title. Batgirl has also headlined two miniseries, the 2008 series with Cassandra Cain and an origin series, Batgirl: Year One, starring Barbara Gordon.
The various women to use the identity and name of Batgirl are (In Chronological Order)
1) The first Bat-Girl (note the hyphen, not used by any other Batgirl) was Betty Kane, debuting in Batman #139 (April, 1961). She was the niece of Kathy "Batwoman" Kane, a Distaff Counterpart to Batman who'd been introduced in 1956 as a Love Interest for the Dark Knight to ward off perceptions of Ho Yay. Betty was the counterpart to Robin, gaining a (mostly one-sided) crush on Dick Grayson and his alter ego. She joined her aunt in fighting crime. Robin did not appreciate his counterpart, regarding her with a mixture of disinterest and distaste.
Batwoman and Bat-Girl were summarily dumped from the Bat-titles in 1964 as part of the new editor's cutting away some of the high silliness that had accumulated during The Interregnum. Years later, when Dick Grayson had become Nightwing, "Bette" Kane showed up in the Teen Titans series as Flamebird, a part-time costumed heroine with a crush on him. She's popped up every so often for brief appearances with the Titans, but avoiding a deep look at her continuity. Recently, the Interregnum-era stories have been brought back into continuity, albeit with the more outlandish ones being retconned into hallucinations that Bruce had during an exceptionally troubling phase in his life. The original Batwoman and Bat-Girl in particular have been confirmed as having been real.
Tropes exhibited by the Betty Kane Bat-Girl include
- Action Girl / Faux Action Girl: Betty's level of competency varied wildly by the needs of the story—but usually she needed rescuing from whatever jam she and Batwoman had gotten themselves into this time.
- All Love Is Unrequited
- Animal-Themed Superbeing
- Distaff Counterpart
- Hair of Gold
- Magic Skirt
2) By 1966 the Batman live action television show was on the air, and the producer asked DC Comics to create a new female hero character for the comics that would then also appear on the show to boost viewership by women. The new character debuted in Detective Comics #359 (January, 1967). The new Batgirl was Barbara Gordon, the adult daughter of Batman's ally Commissioner James Gordon. She had a doctorate in library science and was the head librarian of Gotham Library, in addition to being a skilled acrobat with judo training. Barbara was blessed with an eidetic memory and a gift for invention (or adapting available technology) as she designed and built all of her gadgets independently of Batman. Why would a woman with all that going for her name herself "-girl"? It was still The Sixties.
In story, Barbara Gordon had created a "Batgirl" costume for herself to go to a masquerade ball, showing her personality by spending the time and effort to make it fully workable as a crimefighting outfit as well as a costume party winner. On the way to the party, Barbara saw a crime in progress by Killer Moth, and wound up helping Batman and Robin solve the case after an initial misunderstanding or two. Thrilled by the adventure, Batgirl opted to take up heroing full time.
Unlike her predecessors, who were seen as a distraction or annoyance by the Dynamic Duo, and were never allowed to tackle cases by themselves, Batgirl was treated as an almost-equal by Batman, and mostly worked on solo adventures in a Detective Comics backup feature. This both reflected the effects of the Women's Liberation movement of the time and was appreciated by them. Eventually, Barbara Gordon was elected to Congress and became a part-time costumed heroine operating in Washington, D.C. She continued to guest star in other series and had a recurring feature in the short-lived Batman Family series.
But by the late 1980s, interest in the character had waned, and Barbara Gordon was shot and crippled by the Joker in The Killing Joke in hope of pushing her father over the edge. There was a final Batgirl Special explaining that she'd officially retired from superheroing sometime before that event. However, this traumatic event energized Barbara's fanbase, including some of DC's creators.
A mysterious hacker and information broker named "Oracle" began appearing in Suicide Squad, eventually revealed to be the now wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon, who refused to let her crippling injuries keep her down. Oracle quickly became a formidable force in the DC Universe, although her most memorable accomplishment was creating the Birds of Prey hero agency.
As of September 2011, Barbara is back as Batgirl in a new #1.
Many adaptations of the Batman material have made Barbara much younger at the time she became Batgirl, and much more Batman's sidekick.
Tropes exhibited by the Barbara Gordon Batgirl include
- Action Girl
- Animal-Themed Superbeing
- Badass Bookworm
- Combat Stilettos (though in Batgirl: Y1 she switched to flats after her heel broke on her first mission)
- Defective Detective: Jason Bard, Barbara's Love Interest in her Detective Comics days, was a private eye and Vietnam vet with a trick knee that often took him out of the action when Batgirl appeared.
- Distaff Counterpart
- Hot Librarian
- May–December Romance: Not as big a deal in more recent stories (where both characters are well into their twenties) as in older ones (where they're in their teens), but Barbara is significantly older (probably by about 5 years) than Dick Grayson.
- She has now been retconned to the same age as him thanks to Flashpoint. They were already about the same age in earlier works such as Batman: TAS.
- Redheaded Hero
- Retcon / Ret Canon: Barbara's age. She was originally a college graduate with a Ph.D while Dick Grayson was still in high school (later a Congresswoman while he was in college, meaning she was, at some point, at least 25), but has been gradually de-aged over the years until the post-Flashpoint reboot has them at the same age, and barely out of college. Rumor has it that one of the reasons for the reboot was that word around the office was that Barbara was probably pushing 30 by this point, and that wasn't workable. This arguably began with Batman the Animated Series, which showed her as roughly the same age as Dick and paired them up romantically.
- Stuffed Into the Fridge: Her injury in The Killing Joke is this, no question. It's been noted that she's not so much a character in that story as she is a plot device to cause Commissioner Gordon and Batman pain. Alan Moore is on the record saying that this was a case where DC probably should have reigned him in.
3) Helena Bertinelli, better known as the Huntress, briefly took up the Batgirl mantle during the Batman: No Man's Land event (1999). She first appeared in this role in Shadow of the Bat #83 (March, 1999). Batman eventually forced her to stop using the costume as he felt Helena's attitude and behavior were inconsistent with his standards. She went back to being the Huntress, and later joined the Birds of Prey.
Tropes exhibited by the Helena Bertinelli Batgirl include
4) A character introduced in No Man's Land in 1999, Cassandra Cain became Batgirl with the assistance of Oracle and Batman. Cassandra first appeared in Batman #567 (July, 1999).
In her backstory, Cassandra was raised by her father, notorious assassin David Cain, to have body language as her "native tongue," allowing her to read people's movements and emotions from the tiniest of clues. With the addition of constant martial arts training, Cain hoped to turn Cassandra into a superhuman assassin. The training had the side effect of making Cassandra unable to understand spoken or written language. However, when Cain had Cassandra kill a human being for the first time she read the victim's dying agonies and understood on a primal level what death was, and silently vowed never to kill again, escaping from her father.
Cassandra Cain was the first Batgirl to get her own continuing solo title, which run for 74 issues (April, 2000 - April, 2006). The first major arc of which had her confront a psychic who "rewires" her brain to understand spoken language so that he can communicate with her more effectively. Unfortunately for Cassandra, this also shut off her ability to read body language, her one real advantage over most of her opponents. The second arc of the series had her relearn this skill with the help of Lady Shiva, who later was revealed to be Cassandra's mother, unknown to her at the time. Even once Cassandra was able to understand verbal language, she had difficulty learning to speak and more difficulty with reading.
While the Batgirl title was a decent seller, it was not quite up to Bat-family levels and it was decided to end the series. A lot of rumors on the internet say this decision was meant to clear the way for the new Kate Kane Batwoman, who DC planned to make a major push on in conjuction with the 52 series, but this has yet to receive any sort of official confirmation. The character was not in limbo long, as Executive Meddling made Cassandra the new villain of the Robin series, with nearly a one hundred eighty degree turn in her characterization, skillset and competency. This did not go over at all well with the fans, among the strongest reactions being the creation of Cass Toons.
Eventually, it was revealed that Cassandra's new personality was the result of being drugged by Deathstroke, which was either an Author's Saving Throw or Voodoo Shark, depending on how willing a given reader was to swallow it. A new Batgirl miniseries was put out to try to justify the changes and cement her Heel Face Turn, but it was written by the same author as the much-despised Robin plotline, and did not sell well.
Despite reestablishing her as a hero, DC decided to separate Cassandra from the Batgirl persona and had her renounce the identity in the first issue of a new ongoing series, replaced by Stephanie Brown (See below). DC then declared that 2010 was a "big year" for Cassandra, but fans have called Lying Creator since her only appearance was in Red Robin #17 as a crime fighter in Hong Kong. In this comic Tim gave her back her old costume and said that he hopes she will wear the symbol. Gail Simone had said that she would appear in Birds of Prey, but unfortunately this was not able to happen despite her efforts, once again leaving fans gnashing their teeth. It was later revealed that Cassandra was barred from appearing in Birds of Prey due to her being used in Red Robin and the upcoming Batman: Gates of Gotham mini-series, which of course caused the fandom to cautiously rejoice once again. Fans were cautiously optimistic that this means she will play an active role in the upcoming Batman: Incorporated by Grant Morrison. As of issue #6, Cassandra is now an agent of Batman Inc. under the new identity of Blackbat. The miniseries "Batman: Gates of Gotham" established that she'd "always liked it" in Gotham, implying that she'd be moving back, but absolutely no sign of her has been glimpsed in the New 52.
A quick side note: Cassandra briefly took on another identity, Kasumi, in the Justice League Elite title.
Tropes exhibited by the Cassandra Cain Batgirl include
- Abusive Parents
- Action Girl
- Animal-Themed Superbeing
- Anti-Hero Substitute: Subverted in the original series. Cassandra's outfit and backstory scream this when contrasted with Barbara Gordon's, but she is very much The Cape.
- Big Eater: At least after really tough fights.
- Charles Atlas Superpower: Super body language reading. Moreover, her Training From Hell allows her to perform such feats as throwing a Batarang, then racing ahead of the missile and catching it before it hits the target.
- Combat Stilettos: Deconstructed. Cass tries on Babs outfit and immediatly stumbles when trying to fight in the heels.
- Corruption of a Minor
- Cute Bruiser: She was the Batman Family's Big Guy.
- Cute Mute: During her initial appearances.
- Dragon Lady: During her Face Heel Turn.
- Dying to Be Replaced: She does not die, but the writers had her abandon being Batgirl solely because they wanted to transfer the mantle to Stephanie Brown. It is eventually revealed that this is part of a plan by Bruce Wayne to force Stephanie to mature both personally and as a crime-fighter.
- Face Heel Turn
- Gambit Roulette: It is revealed in a one-shot issue of the Stephanie Brown Batgirl series that Cassandra Cain abandoned the Batgirl identity on the orders of Bruce Wayne, who planned for the title to pass to Stephanie to force her to personally and professionally mature.
- Major Injury Underreaction: Sample exercise from her childhood training program? Getting shot, then being punished if she flinched. The lessons stuck.
- Missing Mom: Lady Shiva, who she knew for a while before finding out their relation.
- Name of Cain
- No Social Skills: What with her upbringing, it would be odder if she did not have trouble interacting.
- The Quiet One: After gaining the ability to speak, but before her Face Heel Turn. Somewhat restored after her Heel Face Turn.
- Put on a Bus: As of the new Batgirl series, and for a while her last appearance was on one of Oracle's monitors boarding a plane, destination unknown. Ultimated ended up Commuting on a Bus to Batman: Incorporated.
- Tap on the Head: Often applied by Cassandra to Stephanie.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: Because of her ability to read body language, when she made her first kill she was able to understand the fear of death on an intimate level, and vowed to never take another life.
- Training From Hell: First nine or so years of her life were spent doing this.
- What Could Have Been: The miniseries "Batman: Gates of Gotham" was originally conceived as a solo story about Cassandra. The final product heavily featured her, but she had to share it with her brothers.
5) About the same time as Cassandra Cain's Face Heel Turn, a new "Batgirl" was seen in Gotham City in the Birds of Prey arc "Headhunt". First appearing in Birds of Prey #96 (September, 2006). Upon closer examination, this turned out to be a teenager named Charlotte Gage-Radcliffe, who had inherent superpowers, including teleportation. Barbara Gordon tries to straighten the young lady out by stressing the dangers of a poorly-trained hero fighting crime (including showing what turn out to be faked autopsy photos of Stephanie "Spoiler" Brown). Charlotte gave up the Batgirl identity, but then adopted the codename "Misfit" and Oracle was forced to start training the girl for her own and everyone else's safety.
Tropes exhibited by the Charlotte Gage-Radcliffe Batgirl include
- Animal-Themed Superbeing
- Catch Phrase - "Darrrrrrrrrrk Vengeance!" (despite being a bright, bubbly girl)
- Identity Impersonator
- Idiot Hero
- Kid Hero
- Redheaded Hero
6) As of October, 2009, a new Batgirl series started with a new Batgirl: Stephanie Brown, aka Spoiler and Robin IV. As shown in the first issue, Cassandra Cain has retired as Batgirl (but the author says she's not out of the picture...oops, now she is because DC has "big plans for her"...) and Stephanie decides to use the costume instead. Barbara Gordon finds out about this and at first tries to stop her, but after seeing a demonstration of her bravery vows to guide and help her. The series is Lighter and Softer than many of the other Bat-related titles currently being published by DC, but is an embodiment of the Tropes Are Not Bad ideal: Its upright and cheerful protagonist still faces the same horrors and challenges facing any hero, but perseveres without ever losing her positive outlook.
Early reports stated that Stephanie would be Spoiler post-reboot, but she has yet to appear in actual continuity. This originated from an attempt to fit Grant Morrison's "Batman: Leviathan Strikes!" into the New 52 continuity, but this got to be too complicated. They finally said "screw it," set the story in pre-Flashpoint continuity, and kept Stephanie as Batgirl for the duration.
For tropes on the series itself see here
Tropes exhibited by Stephanie Brown Batgirl include
- Action Girl
- Always Second Best: She began to shine once she assumed the Batgirl title, but Stephanie has a long history of failing to measure up against her compatriots. In particular, she and Cassandra Cain (The Batgirl to precede her, and with whom Stepahnie had one of the friendliest relationships amongst the superhero community) would frequently spar and train together, each occurance only demonstrating how far ahead of her Cassie actually was.
Stephanie: When my dad was mad at me he'd lock me in the closet—what did yours do?
Cassandra: Shot me.
(Both laugh hysterically)
Stephanie: Oh, man. I can't beat you at anything.
- Animal-Themed Superbeing
- Blue Eyes
- Casual Danger Dialogue: Stephanie has mastered the art of the Seinfeldian Conversation while facing her own impending doom.
- Character Development: The theme of the series seems to be growing up in both the literal and figurative sense, with Stephanie Brown going to college and also approaching superhero work with a more mature and developed attitude.
- Determinator: Despite everyone telling her to quit, despite everything bad happening to her, she keeps going. Especially evident in the fear gas scene.
- Genre Savvy: Stephanie really is a product of her generation, with all the TV and movie knowledge that implies. She is ever-aware of the cliches that occur, and are expected to occur, in whacky situations. This leads to frequent Lampshade Hangings, such as quoting the Chekhov's Gun maxim verbatim, and even commenting on tropes that she herself has not yet experienced.
- Goggles Do Nothing: Her thigh belt was revealed to be empty. apparently just there for aesthetics.
- Hair of Gold
- Hot Amazon: Once she finishes beating to a pulp a train hijacker in issue #9, he can only comment how beautiful she is.
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Stephanie has never once lost her positive, upbeat attitude, never descended to the same levels as the people she fought, and also never so much as cheated on a test. She is the only Bat-character to never Angst or approach psychosis because of her affiliation with the icon.
- Insistent Terminology: Barabara originally refused to call Stephanie "Batgirl" for a variety of reasons, both personal and professional, and it was when she finally did that helped Stephanie accept that she had earned the name.
- Legacy Character: She picks up the immediate mantle from Cassandra Cain, becoming the third "real" Batgirl in current continuity, but she also struggles with the even larger burden of living up to Barbara's original legacy. This is exacerbated by the fact that Barbara serves as her mentor.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: You could rename this trope Pulling a Stephanie Brown.
- One of Us: Within the series, Batgirl likes Supergirl all the more because she is able to follow the Techno Babble explanation for their current crisis and has a sufficient grasp of grammar to realize that "BFF" is already plural.
- Overshadowed by Awesome: Stephanie is probably a more skilled martial artist than any person in the entirety of the Real World, but considering she lives in Gotham she keeps being humbled and humiliated by Batman and people with superpowers.
- Plucky Girl: One of Stephanie's crowning characteristics is no matter what crap is loaded on top of her, she remains cheerful and pops back up.
- Precocious Crush: Stephanie has become somewhat infatuated with the detective that is shaping up to be her contact with the local police, but the age difference (And the implication that he has some serious relationship baggage) will probably preclude any sort of actual relationship.
- Secret Identity: Batgirl is really Stephanie Brown, freshman at Gotham University and formerly the Spoiler and Robin.
- Smoke Out: She is a Bat...
- Squee: Stephanie herself squee's relatively often, as she is a teenager who has managed to remain light-hearted and chipper despite the traumas in her own life. When the possiility of a team-up with the Birds of Prey comes up she is ecstatic.
- Took a Level In Badass: Referenced, but did not occur within her series. She is more self-assured, confident and competent than she ever was as either Spoiler or Robin, and is complimented on such by Bruce Wayne himself, but this dramatic change took place before the start of her tenure as Batgirl, and her improvements within the series are only incremental increases due to regular training and experience.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Steph and her mom eat waffles at pretty much every meal. It is apparently her mom's way of bonding. Heck, even Damian was seen eating them with Steph more than once!
- You Fight Like a Cow: Witty Banter is a necessity in any life-or-death situation, and Stephanie always remembers to prompt somebody when it is their turn for a quip.
Batgirl: "Little late but nice effort."
FOOTNOTE: For those of you trying to keep track, that's four Batgirls that "count" (Bette, Babs, Cass and Steph) and two that don't (Huntress and Misfit).