For a guy seen as a conflicted, brooding loner, Batman sure does have a large extended family. Even counting all the various Robins, and their subsequent evolutions, you’re almost into double-digits in terms of Dark Knight sidekicks. That’s before you even get onto the Bat-Themed, cowl-clad pets. One of the most consistently rewarding, and consistently fluctuating, members of the extended Bat-Family, though, is Batgirl. Over the decades of his time in the Batcave, the Caped Crusader has seen no less than a dozen strong, intelligent and complex young women wear the stylish purple cowl.
With the news that Joss Whedon is to defect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to direct a “Batgirl” movie, with Barbara Gordon slated to appear beneath the mask (and with “The 100” star Lindsey Morgan the favorite to play her,) there hasn’t been a better time to look back on the many and varied characters to have taken on the role. There have been long-standing institutions, iconic failures, and total masquerades. They all count towards the 15 best Batgirls ever!
15. BETTY KANE
Everyone was talking about Batman and Robin in ‘50s America, and for all the wrong reasons. In his now-discredited “Seduction of the Innocent,” pop psychologist Fredric Wertham blamed comics for the moral degradation of the country’s youth, singling out the dynamic duo’s perceived homosexual relationship for criticism. Scrambling to eliminate this reading, DC created Bat-Woman and Bat-Girl as female foils to the caped crusaders whose heterosexuality they wanted to keep in tact.
Legendary “Batman” artist Carmine Infantino later characterized Betty, saying, “Bob Kane had had a Bat-Girl for about three stories in the ’50s but she had nothing to do with a bat. She was like a pesky girl version of Robin.” The addition of the original Bat-Girl, along with Bat-Woman, Bat-Mite and Ace the Bat-Hound, served as a turning point of Batman from a Dark Knight to a comedic character, a dark situation comedy shadow from which he did not escape for a good decade.
Why should Booster Gold get all the fun? The time-traveling hero is mainly written as a complete egomaniac, a sham whose notoriety from passing of his 25th century future tech in the present day (including robot sidekick Skeets, the Spot to his Hong Kong Phooey) as amazingly unique superpowers. He’s not above sharing the spotlight, though, having once tried to position his twin sister, Michelle, as the new Batgirl. Needless to say, it didn’t really work out as planned.
Eventually she returned to her standard guise as “Goldstar,” utilizing the same tech-based powers as her brother, and the slightly suspect relationship with her fraternal sibling. Her short spell in the cowl occurred during a time-traveling adventure with Booster Gold — which saw Michael dressing up in period-appropriate sunglasses, cream suit and shirt unbuttoned to reveal a luscious chest of curly hair — and was in no way sanctioned by anybody else in the Bat-Family.
Charlotte Gage-Radcliffe perhaps had the shortest innings in the role of Batgirl, but you can’t fault her for trying. She didn’t even have the benefit of a proper costume, pulling on a stolen cowl and a belt full of batarangs along with a t-shirt and blue jeans. It was a decidedly do-it-yourself take on the Batgirl mantle, one which didn’t help sway her impromptu audition to join the Birds of Prey. Unlike most of the other Batgirls, though, Charlotte actually has superpowers.
Born in the slums of Metropolis, she discovered her sensitivity to magic and ability to teleport at a young age, helping her scrape by through a difficult childhood. She eventually found her way to Gotham City, dressing up in the costume of her idol, Batgirl, even going so far as to put together a homemade utility belt. She eventually rebranded herself as Misfit, subbing in for Oracle during a brief period of downtime, but certainly made her mark as Batgirl.
12. VAMPIRE BATGIRL
DC’s “Elseworlds” line of alternate-reality stories, allowing creators to explore scenarios that aren’t tied down to regular continuity, have produced all kinds of weird and wonderful comic books. From the Mike Mignola-drawn, proto-steampunk “Gotham by Gaslight” to the Harry Houdini team-up “The Devil’s Workshop,” Batman always got the best — and strangest — takes. Case in point: the so-called “Vampire” trilogy of graphic novels beginning with “Red Rain,” where the Dark Knight fights Dracula and falls to his undead curse.
That’s not the end of it, though. The now-immortal, bloodthirsty Batman continues to run around Earth-43, killing heroes, villains and civilians alike. In 2008’s “Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer,” we’re introduced to a vampire Barbara Gordon, turned by vampire Bruce Wayne. This befanged Batgirl is staked by a vengeful Dick Grayson, on the hunt for the Batman who killed his parents (he fails in quest and gets transformed into a vampire-sidekick, himself).
11. THE BATGIRLS
As with “Injustice: Gods Among Us” and the Wonder Woman anthology series “Sensation Comics,” some of the most interesting and little-seen work in DC Comics is happening through their digital series. Another case in point is “Bombshells,” the alternate-reality ongoing by the two Marguerites, Sauvage and Bennett. Based on the mega-successful line of statues, themselves modeled after ‘40s pin-up girls, it imagines an alternate-reality DC Universe set in a World War II fought by strong women in familiar-looking costumes.
Among their number are Supergirl (still an alien superhero, albeit Russian,) Wonder Woman (who enlists to fight Nazi forces) and a Batwoman who fights crime with a baseball bat. Inspired by her example, the “Bombshells” world also plays host to an entire team of “Batgirls,” including alternate-reality takes on Bette Kane and Alysia Yeoh. They fight corruption in their local orphanage, having helped Batwoman stop a crime in progress, also using their sluggers.
10. HARLEY QUINN
To become an officially-sanctioned member of the Bat-Family, with Batman’s express blessing, you tend to have to follow the caped crusader’s strict policy of not killing people. Therefore, Harley Quinn’s brief tenure as Batgirl was doomed from the start. In reality, The Joker’s ex-girlfriend-gone-solo was never really making a serious play for the cowl anyway. Her flirtation with dressing up as Batgirl was always going to be a short-lived thing although, in the context of her being an insane person, she did seem serious about it.
In “Harley Quinn” #10 by Karl Kesel and Terry Dodson, Harley retreats to her lair following a scrap against Killer Croc to do a bit of soul-searching. Perhaps she isn’t a villain after all? Maybe she’s better of as a member of Batman’s entourage, rather than his rogue’s gallery? Cooler heads prevail (or not, as the case may be) by the story’s end, and she returns to her existing life of anarchic chaos, but with a sense of mischievous humor and acrobatic skills on par with Dick Grayson, she makes a good case for joining the Bat-Family while beating them up.
Helena Bertinelli is probably better known for her long service as the Huntress, affiliated with the Bat-Family but otherwise mainly affiliated with the “Birds of Prey.” For a while, she borrowed the dormant persona of her “Prey” teammate Barbara Gordon, then wheelchair-bound and operating as tech-savvy superhero help desk Oracle, during the events of “No Man’s Land.” It was a desperate time, Gotham having been wracked by earthquakes and largely abandoned, allowing crime to run rampant. It called for desperate measures.
Before she adopted the identity of Huntress, Bertinelli made her debut during the crossover event where, seeking revenge for her mobster family who were killed before her eyes in a gang war, she donned the Batgirl cowl and took to the streets. Batman never could reconcile her more violent and reckless approach to crime-fighting, meaning she quickly switched to a non-Bat alter ego, but it was she who brought the Batgirl name back out of retirement.
Another case in point for Batman getting all the good “Elseworlds” stories is “Thrillkiller,” which is a tale that’s notable for being one of “American Flagg!” creator Howard Chaykin’s earliest forays into working for DC (albeit solely as a writer) and for introducing the comics-reading audience to a gender-swapped Joker. To describe the story, try imagining a Bat-Family who formed during the ‘60s that fully embraces the psychedelic counterculture. “Thrillkiller” is also notable because it also introduced a voracious, crop-top-clad Barbara Gordon as Batgirl.
Rendered in gorgeous, fully-painted artwork by Dan Brereton, “Thrillkiller” and its sequel miniseries focusing on Babs and an alternate-reality Robin introduced a Batgirl who’s more tenacious than even her mainstream depictions. Breaking chairs over people’s heads, she and Dick Grayson became tabloid sensations for their “Bonnie and Clyde”-inspired road trip of wanton violence. The difference is that theirs was entirely justified and mainly meted out on criminals, so it was fine.
7. LEGO BATGIRL
Until Joss Whedon’s “Batgirl” film hits cinemas, the best — and only — Barbara Gordon we’ve seen on the big screen was in “The LEGO Batman Movie.” Building on the world established by Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s “LEGO Movie,” the subversive spin-off involved Will Arnett’s cocky, self-obsessed Dark Knight suddenly being forced to confront his own loneliness, having been given a clear schedule. Under the auspices of new a Commissioner, Barbara Gordon, the police effectively wipe out crime in Gotham.
Yes, this take on Babs — voiced by Rosario Dawson — does what Batman could never do, all without wearing a mask. Inevitably, things go a bit wrong and she winds up joining an extended Bat-Family (including Michael Cera as Robin, an orphan Bruce Wayne who was adopted by accident and Ralph Fiennes as butler Alfred) as Batgirl. A name she questions, by the way, insisting Batwoman would be more fitting for a mature, responsible and kick-ass version of the character.
6. TIFFANY FOX
As far as DC crossover events go, “Future’s End” was something of a dud. An unclear premise (something to do with a dystopian future awaiting the then-nascent “New 52”), lenticular cover throwbacks to the bad old days of the speculator boom and a disjointed, un-collaborative creative team did not make for a must-read experience. The diamond in the rough, though, was another addition to the pantheon of Batgirls, teaming up with Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain.
An underground resistance team lead by Barbara Gordon, who’s adopted the new codename of Bete Noire, their youngest member was the 12-year-old Tiffany Fox. In present-day DC continuity, she’s the daughter of Wayne Enterprises stalwart Lucius and younger sister of Luke, a.k.a. Batwing. In the speculative dystopia of “Future’s End,” she’s not only made good on her early intellectual promise, she’s also a nunchuk-wielding vigilante fighting against a repressive robot regime while wearing a hot-pink-colored costume.
5. BATGIRL BEYOND
The other future Batgirl is an even more recent addition to the comic book canon, as part of the print continuation of the beloved “Batman Beyond” animated series. 15-year-old Nissa — she’s got a year on Tiffany — debuted in “Batman Beyond Unlimited” #18. Created by writer Scott Peterson and artist Annie Wu, the Batgirl of Neo-Gotham shirks the usual “world’s greatest detective” aspect of the role, opting instead to just roundly beat the criminal population.
The detective work she leaves up to Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, who by this time period is the elderly police commissioner, having inherited the job from her father. Babs has a vested interest, both as a top cop and as a former Batgirl, in finding the identity of this new upstart. Once she does, they find themselves teaming up to fight a street gang. Who knows if the partnership will go any further than that, but Nissa seems stubborn enough not to be warned off the vigilante game…
4. CARRIE KELLEY
Admittedly, Carrie Kelly has never been explicitly referred to as a Batgirl. The redheaded wayward teen was introduced during Frank Miller’s classic, dystopian “Dark Knight Returns,” where a grizzled Batman is unwillingly roped back into superheroing after a period of inactivity due to the death of Jason Todd’s Robin. Carrie shows up when the infamous, mythic hero reappears on her TV screen, inspired by his vigilante activities in a Gotham City which has become even more crime-ridden in his absence.
She manages to first become the new Robin and then Cat Girl in the sequel series “The Dark Knight Strikes Back,” where she helps lead Batman’s army in a full-scale uprising. By the time the recent “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” rolled around, Carrie had been promoted again. The twist at the end of the first issue was that the Batman who had once more returned from a period of isolation was in fact Carrie Kelley, who was tackled and unmasked while announcing that Bruce Wayne was dead. Not called Batgirl, but she was a girl in a Batman costume. Also, she doubled down and made it neon pink and green.
3. STEPHANIE BROWN
Beginning her crimefighting career as the Spoiler, so named because she wore a mask to actively ruin the criminal activities of her ne’er-do-well father, the supervillain Cluemaster, Stephanie Brown has since gone on to attain the unique distinction of being the only character (not counting Carrie) to serve both as Batgirl and Robin. Her unusual career was tragically — and controversially — cut short during the 2004 crossover “War Games,” allowing on-again, off-again boyfriend Tim Drake to return to the Robin role.
Fortunately, that death was waved away as having been “faked” and Stephanie was soon resurrected, now taking up the recently-vacated mantle of Batgirl! Thanks to her upbringing, origin and intimate knowledge of the Bat-Family, she brought a different flavor to the character, chirpy and irreverent but serious when it came down to it. The recent “Batgirl of Burnside” series, starring Barbara Gordon, probably owes more to the light, fun tone of Bryan Q. Miller and Lee Garbett’s brilliant “Batgirl” series than any previous incarnations of Babs.
2. CASSANDRA CAIN
Her time as Batgirl ended somewhat ignominiously, but Cassandra Cain would have earned her runner-up position on this list regardless of how she ceded the name: after all, she was the first to star in an ongoing, eponymous “Batgirl” solo book. Surprisingly, it took until 2000 for there to be a comic starring the character, but after such a strong introduction during “No Man’s Land,” fans were clamoring for more Cassandra. Daughter of assassins David Cain and Lady Shiva, she killed her first target while aged eight but looked to return to the straight and narrow.
The mute, illiterate new Batgirl was given Batman’s blessing after saving the life of Commissioner Gordon, though she struggled to communicate her gratitude until a telepath rewired her brain. Suddenly being able to communicate came at the price of her previously unparalleled ability to read body language and micro expressions, key parts of her approach to combat. This unique drama was at the center of the “Batgirl” series, until it ended with Cass’s unhappy reunion with her mother.
1. BARBARA GORDON
The original and, naturally, the best. Barbara Gordon was created at the behest of the live action ‘60s “Batman” TV show, as a female foil to Adam West and Burt Ward’s dynamic duo. She was then imported to the comic books, which is where the story of Batgirl really begins. Created for the show by William Dozier, Julius Schwartz, Carmine Infantino, Batgirl and her alter ego first appeared in “Detective Comics” #359. The daughter of Commissioner Gordon, she had some built-in familial drama that befit her place in the Bat-Family.
That connection ended up placing her in the line of fire for the controversial “Killing Joke” story, which saw her crippled by The Joker, after which she hung up her cowl to become the superhero intelligence operative Oracle. She’s since regained her mobility and her mantle, recast first as a hero struggling with trauma, then a fun-loving hipster, and now a globe-trotting martial arts expert. Whatever the characterization and whether she’s wearing a costume, Barbara Gordon is the ultimate Batgirl: a genius-level, empathetic ass-kicker.
Who was your favorite Batgirl? Let us know in the comments!
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