The Evolution of Batgirl

Joshua Lapin-Bertone

Joshua Lapin-Bertone

Jan. 10, 2019


Batman’s had many allies in his war on crime, but few with the track record and resourcefulness of Batgirl! Fighting alongside the Dynamic Duo, and often on her own, Batgirl has been invaluable in protecting Gotham from the city's deranged criminals. Five different young women have called themselves Batgirl, each of them bringing something special to the role. Let’s take a look at all of them...


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The first girl to wear the mantle was Betty Kane, niece of Kathy Kane, who had already been operating as Batwoman. While visiting her aunt for an extended vacation, Betty discovered Kathy’s secret and inspiration struck. Betty fashioned herself a costume, modeled after her crush Robin, and lept into action as "Bat-Girl" in 1961’s Batman #139 (written by Bill Finger and penciled by Sheldon Moldoff). 


The Dynamic Duo and Batwoman tried to talk Bat-Girl out of the crime-fighting life, but adventure called for Betty. Bat-Girl yearned to be taken seriously by Robin, whom she had strong romantic feelings for, but the Boy Wonder had little interest in romance. Due to the nature of the times, Kathy and Betty often had to be rescued by Batman and Robin, and weren’t always treated as serious allies. The extended Batman family was quietly retired when Batman comics were revamped for the Dark Knight's “New Look” era in 1964.


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By 1967, the world was ready for a new Batgirl. An agreement was made between the producers of the popular Adam West Batman TV series and DC Comics to launch a new Batgirl for comics and television at the same time. Readers first met Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, in Detective Comics #359 (written by Gardner Fox and penciled by Carmine Infantino). Right away, it was apparent that Barbara was a much different Batgirl than Betty was. She was a grown adult, held a doctorate, and wasn’t driven by romantic aspirations. She operated separately from Batman and Robin, who, like Barbara's father, were unaware of her secret identity for years.




Barbara’s Batgirl proved popular enough that she was given her own backup solo strip in the pages of Detective Comics, in which she solved street-level crimes while operating Gotham City’s public library. But Barbara had greater aspirations. She wanted to help reform the political justice system, and ran for Congress. Once she won her seat, Barbara intended on giving up her Batgirl identity. But she soon found herself operating out of Washington D.C. solving many of the problems that came across Representative Gordon’s desk.


Eventually, Batgirl was given her own team-up book with Robin in 1975's Batman Family #1. In this partnership, Batgirl became aware of the Dynamic Duo’s secret identities for the first time, and Dick Grayson (who was now college-aged) developed an unrequited crush on Barbara.


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The threat of Captain Calamity brought Betty out of retirement, and saw her team up with a group of young heroes to form Teen Titans West. Betty was warned by her teammates that the new Batgirl had formed a solid relationship with Robin. Although Bat-Girl had plans to take Dick Grayson’s attention away from Barbara, nothing came of it as Betty again slipped into obscurity. 


Barbara eventually lost her seat in Congress, but her desire to help those in the public sector remained. She joined a research and development company and worked in their social services department, solving the daytime problems that Batgirl couldn’t. 




During the 1980’s, the Batman family of comics were going in new directions and Batgirl was used less frequently, with the character often wondering if she should retire. In 1987’s Batgirl Special, she finally wound up doing just that. Unfortunately, Barbara wasn’t able to enjoy her retirement for long -- the Joker shot her in the bestselling 1988 one-shot Batman: The Killing Joke


The Joker’s attack left Barbara paralyzed from the waist down, confining her to a wheelchair. But Barbara still wanted to help people. Drawing on her many years as a librarian, Barbara began anonymously helping other heroes as an information broker behind a computer screen, calling herself Oracle. Readers first saw Barbara in this new role in 1989's Suicide Squad #23 (written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale, penciled by Luke McDonnell, read Suicide Squad #23 here)




The Batgirl mantle remained unclaimed for over a decade, until a mysterious new hero appeared in 1999's "No Man’s Land". In this storyline, after a massive earthquake had shattered Gotham City’s infrastructure, the government abandoned Gotham, and Batman was nowhere to be found. With no Dark Knight in sight, a new Batgirl wore her own version of his costume in order to inspire hope in the city's survivors and strike fear in its criminals. 


When Batman returned to Gotham, he hesitantly gave the new Batgirl his blessing to continue operating, which enraged Oracle to no end. Oracle didn’t trust the new Batgirl and felt her former identity had been stolen from her. 


After she failed to protect Batman’s territory, the Dark Knight reprimanded the young woman, who was revealed to be the Huntress. Huntress, a.k.a. Helena Bertinelli, was one of Gotham’s more ruthless vigilantes, whose methods often proved too extreme for Batman. The Huntress told Batman she’d never be the person he wanted her to be, and ended her time as Batgirl. 


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Around this time, a young street urchin began helping Batman and Oracle. Although her name was at first unknown, readers would later know her as Cassandra Cain, daughter of David Cain, one of the world’s deadliest assassins. David had trained his daughter in the art of violence, teaching her to be the perfect weapon, and communicate through physical actions instead of speech. But Cassandra didn’t want to be a killer, so she rejected her father’s teachings and ran away. Realizing he needed all the allies he could get, Batman gifted Cassandra with a replica of Huntress’s Batgirl costume in 1999's Legends of the Dark Knight #120 (written by Greg Rucka and penciled by Mike Deodato Jr). Cassandra became the latest woman to wear the Batgirl mantle, with the direct endorsement of Barbara Gordon.


During Cassandra’s tenure as Batgirl, she operated under the direct supervision of Oracle, who served as a surrogate mother to her. Under Barbara's tutelage, Cassandra slowly learned how to speak. One of Cassandra’s partners was Stephanie Brown, a teenage vigilante known as the Spoiler. The Spoiler turned to crime fighting as a way of spiting her criminal father, the Cluemaster. In exchange for teaching Spoiler how to fight, Stephanie offered to teach Cassandra how to read. Cassandra also became the first Batgirl to headline her own solo ongoing series (read the 2000 Batgirl series here). 


In a plot to hurt the Teen Titans, Deathstroke injected Cassandra with a mind-control serum, causing the Batman family to think she had turned evil. After overcoming the experience, Batman and Batgirl grew closer, with Bruce offering to adopt Cassandra as his daughter in 2009's Batgirl #6 (written by Adam Beechen and penciled by Jim Calafiore).




After Bruce Wayne disappeared during the events of 2008's "Batman R.I.P" storyline., Cassandra had second thoughts about her life and mission. She expressed those doubts to Stephanie, before leaving her the Batgirl costume (in 2009's Batgirl #1, written by Bryan Q. Millar and penciled by Lee Garbett). Seeing that Stephanie needed focus, Barbara took the girl under her wing and began serving as her “Batgirl coach”. Stephanie ditched her predecessor's costume and began sporting her own unique outfit. 


The reality-altering events of 2011's "Flashpoint" event ended Stephanie’s tenure as Batgirl, and caused it to be temporarily forgotten. But Gotham City was not without a Batgirl for long. Learning of a miracle cure, Barbara Gordon underwent a risky surgery, in which a microchip implanted on her spine repaired her lost mobility. Barbara returned to action as Batgirl in 2011's Batgirl #1 (written by Gail Simone and penciled by Ardian Syaf). 


Where Are They Now? 


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BETTY KANE: Following the reality-altering events of 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, Betty was reimagined as Bette Kane, and given the superhero persona Flamebird. For a time it seemed her tenure as Bat-Girl was no longer canon, although she did teasingly say, “Been there, done that” when she met the Cassandra Cain version of Batgirl. 2011's Batman Inc. #4 confirmed that Bette’s time as Bat-Girl was still in continuity. When she learned her cousin Kate was Batwoman, Bette became her protégé and eventually took on the new identity of Hawkfire. 


HELENA BERTINELLI: In the wake of 2011's Flashpoint, Helena was reimagined as a spy working for the organization Spyral. After leaving the organization, Helena adopted the Huntress identity to hunt down those who murdered her mafia family. She formed an uneasy alliance with Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) and Black Canary, becoming the new Birds of Prey. She even wound up working as a schoolteacher, much like her pre-Flashpoint incarnation. 


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CASSANDRA CAIN and STEPHANIE BROWN: After 2011's Flashpoint, Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown's origins were updated. Working with Batman as Orphan and Spoiler, the two had no memories of their time as Batgirl until a confrontation with Brother Eye showed both girls their alternate-reality past. Brother Eye thought the information would make them feel insignificant, but it instead inspired Stephanie and Cassandra to realize how much potential they truly had.


BARBARA GORDON: The current Batgirl has never stopped trying to help people by changing the system. Operating out of the Burnside neighborhood as of 2014's Batgirl #35, Barbara started her own company called Gordon Clean Energy, which is dedicated to supplying cheap, abundant, and green energy sources. Batgirl can currently be found every month in the pages of writer Mairghread Scott’s current run on Batgirl. You can also catch Barbara in Young Justice: Outsiders, right here on DC Universe!


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