Batgirl: Savior of Comics
My love for the original girl detective, Batgirl, is well-documented at this point. Not only is she a fun character to read about, I think she’s one of the most important characters in terms of the long-term viability of superhero comics as a genre and a medium. (I love her as much as our illustrious editor-in-chief, Duy of the Tanos, seems to hate her.) Batgirl is a ray of sunshine and fun, in a world dominated by orphans and grimly determined agents of the night.
Lots of people love Batman because he’s a self-made hero. They like to believe that with enough hard work, dedication, and the right resources, anyone could become Batman, and that may be true to an extent. (Being real for a moment, I’m almost positive that anyone trying to be Batman would get shot in the face their first night out, no matter how long they trained on their ninjitsu.) What I like about Barbara Gordon is that she didn’t train her whole life to be a vigilante, she just stumbled into it. If Batman represents what can be achieved through hard work and dedication, Barbara Gordon represents the individual that was born to be a superhero. That makes her better than Batman. He had to train his whole life to do what comes naturally to her. He spent a lifetime agonizing about his personal crusade, receiving inspiration from a fortuitous bat through his window. She went to a costume party. (In basketball terms, she’s the equivalent of a Lebron James or David Robinson, players born with bodies seemingly built to play basketball. Except she doesn’t suck.)
That’s not to say Barbara Gordon didn’t work hard in her life. She obviously was aided by natural gifts like her photographic memory, but she still studied hard to be a top student, and graduated early. (Babs was also the original sexy librarian, which can’t be forgotten. However, never google “Batgirl sexy librarian.”) She trained in the martial arts, prepared her whole life to be a police officer, as the daughter of a police officer. Crime investigation is in her blood. When that didn’t work out, she accidentally became Batgirl instead, and hasn’t looked back since.
What makes Batgirl so important, besides the bat on her chest, is her history as a prominent female character. (Okay, it’s mostly the bat on her chest. For the larger public, if you’re going to represent the bat, or the Superman “S” for that matter, then you have to bring it. It’s a heavy burden. Except for Superman, he sucks.) Wonder Woman may probably have been the first competent female superhero, but Batgirl was arguably the first competent heroine that was allowed to be so within the pages of her male counterpart’s comic. Batgirl solved crimes and kicked ass all on her own, and didn’t need Batman or Robin to come in and save her at the end. She was a partner, not a sidekick, and was allowed to run side-by-side with the boys, because she belonged there. As much as some of us like to believe that the gender, race, or color of characters shouldn’t matter, it does. Fans of all types should be able to read about a Batgirl that kicks ass, especially young girls.
Which brings us to The Killing Joke. Putting aside the decision to cripple Barbara Gordon in the first place, it’s absolutely confusing why DC was determined to keep her in the chair for so long. I understand the real-world message it sent to have her become such a competent and capable disabled character, I don’t mean to diminish that impact, but this is fiction. In a fictional universe where characters are resurrected from the dead, and Bruce Wayne himself recovered from a broken back, why was Barbara Gordon relegated to the chair? Maybe the argument that was she was more interesting as Oracle, to which I would disagree. If they were concerned about sending the wrong real-world message about miracles saving people from devastating injuries, why wasn’t it a concern for Batman? Why was it determined that a strong, confident, competent superheroine connected to comic’s strongest franchise, was better off “broken”? (Again, not to disregard the value of having a superhero in a wheelchair, but I think the legacy of Oracle still exists for anyone wanting to be inspired by it.)
Fortunately, the saga of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl was rebooted and reborn with the New 52. While I didn’t love (or hate) Gail Simone’s run with the character, the book has recently been taken over by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr with the 35th issue. (I think Gail made the book a smidge too dark, which doesn’t make for the best Batgirl stories, despite her being a bat character.) Based on their first issue, it’s going to be the type of Batgirl that I can roll with, the type of Batgirl that America (and beyond) deserves.
For those looking for more Batgirl to read and enjoy, look no further than my beloved Batgirl solo backups in Detective Comics, circa the Neal Adams era. I also have a great amount of affection for Batgirl: Year One, featuring pre-Spider-Man Marcos Martin art.
You also can’t go wrong with the classic Batman Family series featured Barbara splitting time as Congresswoman (yes, that’s right) with saving Robin’s bacon as Batgirl.
(This is where the Dick and Babs were always meant for each other probably took root, even though it was clearly Dick with the crush on Barbara.)
Batman Confidential #17-21 is a flashback of Batgirl’s first meeting with Catwoman, by Fabian Niceiza and Kevin Maguire.
It’s decent enough, but what I like about it is how, in the last issue, a raw Batgirl basically stumbles her way through the gauntlet of Arkham Asylum, besting each of the classic bat-villains relying mostly on her own natural ability and intelligence. She was unsure and untrained, but won all the same.
Batgirl: Girlfrenzy was an entertaining issue, with an interesting blend between Jim Balent and Rich Burchett on art. (Thankfully it avoids the ominous Joker reference that most Batgirl flashbacks seemed obligated to include for the longest time. We get it, he shot her.) For more Rich Burchett, you can’t go wrong with Batgirl Adventures, modeled after the legendary animated series. Gotham Girls is well worth seeking out, in that same vein.
If you absolutely must go for a replacement Batgirl, then I cannot recommend Stephanie Brown’s way too short stint as the character highly enough. It was good enough to make Gail Simone’s New 52 Batgirl almost not worth it in comparison.
I believe a vital Batgirl is important to the world of superhero comics. She’s a fun character, she’s an intelligent character, she’s a role model for girls, and an inspiration for boys. Batgirl wears the bat on her chest, but she’s not going to take any crap from Batman, like Robin does. She wasn’t gifted the mantle of the bat on a silver platter, with Bruce’s express approval. She took it, and refused to give it back, until eventually Batman had no choice but to respect her ability. In a franchise dominated by dead relatives and burning personal angst, Batgirl is a shining beacon of positivity and intelligence. Barbara is the shining light that project’s Batman jet-black bat into the night sky, illuminating a symbol of hope for the beleaguered populace of Gotham. You can’t have light without dark, day without night, Batman without Batgirl.
And you can’t have Batgirl, without Barbara Gordon.