On December 6th, 2014, a user who wished to remain anonymous PM’d me on Reddit to ask the following question:
Whats Batgirls name? I know in the new52 shes Barbarra but did she used to be called stephanie (cassandra?) before the reboot? Also who is oracle
Well, firstly, congratulations on making me feel super old, but here’s the answer to your question: :P
Much like how there have been a number of Robins throughout DC history – as they either move on (like Dick) or die (like Jason), multiple ladies have gone by the Batgirl name over the years. Below I’ll try and give you, in chronological order, a short overview of each. You can also click on the their name to their full wiki page if you want to know more.
Year introduced: 1961
What’s her deal? Well, it gets a little complicated. Pre-Crisis (shorthand for before the 1985 story, Crisis on Infinite Earths which changed a lot of history in the DC universe) this was the case:
The niece of Kathy Kane, also known as Batwoman. After discovering her aunt’s dual identity, Betty convinced Batwoman to train her as her sidekick. Batwoman and Bat-Girl were created to be romantic interests for Batman and Robin, respectively, as well as wannabe crime-fighting associates. Bat-Girl appeared seven times between 1961 and 1964, but then disappeared in 1964 when new Batman editor, Julius Schwartz, decided she and other characters were too silly. It has been suggested [she and Batwoman] were introduced in part to refute allegations of homosexuality in Batman comics; specifically, the enduring claim that Batman and Robin were homosexuals.
Since then though she’s been rebooted a few times, and appeared in different guises – such as the hero Flamebird – over the years. You can get a fairly good run down on her Wikipedia page here, but it’s also worth nothing that she’s been kicking around, now as Hawkfire because that sounds cooler than ‘Flamebird’, with her, now cousin, Batwoman (Kate Kane) in the New 52.
Name: Barbara Gordon
Year introduced: 1967
What’s her deal? Her background has changed a few times over the years – sometimes she’s Commissioner Gordon’s daughter (like she is currently in the New 52), other times she’s his niece and adopted daughter. Either way, she’s the character probably most associated with being Batgirl as she held the position from the late 60’s through to the late 80’s.
Basically, in most versions, she becomes obsessed with Batman and creates her own costume, trains and begins to fight crime like her hero. Unlike the Robins who were chosen by, work with and are trained by Batman, Barbara was more a solo operator who was later gets brought into the Batfamily. Despite this, they all became exceptionally close with Barbara treating Bruce like a second father and having a romantic interest and on again/off again relationship with Dick Grayson.
Barbara has a few things change about her origin after Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985 but a much bigger change was to come. The classic story, The Killing Joke, saw the Joker shoot her through the spine while she was visiting Commissioner Gordon. Although meant originally as a one-shot story out of continuity this becoming a defining point, and Barbara would stay in a wheelchair as a paraplegic for the next few decades… but more on that later. Needless to say, this was the end of her tenure as Batgirl.
Oracle: Which is where we get Oracle! Confined to a chair, Barbara used her brain, hacking powers and brilliance to fight crime and lead the Birds of Prey team. She was awesome and to me Barbara is way more Oracle than Batgirl.
Interloper alert! So, along with the woman who have actually gone by Batgirl, there have been others who have tried to assume the mantle but not been so successful. The first of these we’ll cover is Helena Bertinelli, known more commonly as Huntress.
For a brief time during 1999’s No Man’s Land storyline, Helena Bertinelli assumed the mantle of Batgirl. After violating Batman’s code against extreme violence, she was stripped of the mantle and returned to her alias of Huntress.
Name: Cassandra Cain
Year introduced: 1999
What’s her deal? Well, she’s basically the damaged offspring of two of the world’s most dangerous killers. She’s also awesome:
*Cassandra Cain is a fictional character in the DC Comics Universe, one of several who have served as Batgirl, a character in the Batman comic book franchise. Cassandra’s backstory presents her as the daughter of assassins David Cain and Lady Shiva. She was deprived of speech and human contact during her childhood as conditioning to become the world’s greatest assassin. Consequently, Cassandra grew up to become an expert martial artist while simultaneously remaining mute, developing very limited social skills, and being illiterate. Cassandra first appeared in Batman #567 (July 1999) and … was the first Batgirl to star in her own ongoing Batgirl comic book series”
Cassandra has a pretty good run as Batgirl for the next decade… up until the One Year Later event. At the end of Infinite Crisis DC jumped all their books forward a year of in-universe time, which was mostly interesting. However during that time apparently Cassandra turned evil and even though it was ‘explained’ and retconned away, it was really awful.
Anyway, she got over that and eventually retired from being Batgirl, moving on, like Robin becoming Nightwing, to become Black Bat as part of Batman Incorporated. Unfortunately, other than in a recent flashforward in the Batgirl Future Ends #1 one-shot, she has not turned up in the New 52.
Misfit debuts as a shadowy figure, wearing a homemade variation of Barbara Gordon’s classic Batgirl costume, accurate enough to be mistaken for the original article at night. She seems to have some proficiency with martial arts and Batarangs, as she’s able to save a couple from muggers.
Anyway, here career as Batgirl was cut very short by Barbara Gordon and Co, but she later took the codename Misfit and used her metahuman teleportation powers – which she called bouncing – to be a hero in her own right. You can see her as Batgirl here and as Misfit here. Excitingly she turned up in Batgirl #34 for one panel, although no explanation was given beforehand or since for who she is… :(
Name: Stephanie Brown
Year introduced: 2009
What’s her deal? Well, Stephanie Brown has already had a long career in comics and as an associate of the Batfamily when, in 2009, Cassandra Cain handed over the mantle to Batgirl to her!
The daughter of the criminal Cluemaster, Stephanie originated in 1992 as an amateur crime-fighter called Spoiler. She later served briefly as the fourth Robin and, in 2009, became … Batgirl. From 2009 to 2011, she was the star of her own ongoing Batgirl comic book series.
I’ll totally accept the argument from people that – as her tenure was only a few issues – that Stephanie shouldn’t be counted as a Robin, although I still do do so, but it’s almost impossible to argue that she wasn’t one of the best Batgirls. Her run was a lot of fun and definitely worth checking out.
Sadly the New 52 reboot erased all of this history. That said she’s recently turned up in her Spoiler costume as part of Batman Eternal – and if you check below there’s a special update about her appearance in Futures End!
So who’s the current Batgirl?
The current Batgirl as part of the New 52, is once again Barbara Gordon – who can be seen to the right the version of her costume from the launch of the New 52!
She was still shot and in a wheelchair but in this new continuity she got better and returned to being Batgirl. The mantle was never handed on, she was never Oracle and she’s the only Batgirl in the new timeline. You can read about the new version of her here.
When she first started in the New 52 she looked like the photo to the right but was recently rebooted to a more homemade style outfit with a new creative team, as seen below:
Futures end Update!
The future seen in Futures End is only a possible future of the current DC Universe, and given the way such long looks at the future tend to work in comics one we’ll probably never see actually come to pass, but elements of it certainly might and the Batgirl: Futures End #1 one-shot issue had something really interesting in this regards.
Mainly we get to see three new Batgirls in the post-*Flashpoint continuity! Two of them are from the above list and marked their first appearances since the reboot but one is all new! Paraphrased from the DC wiki on the issue:
Barbara Gordon married Steven Harris three years ago … The wedding was interrupted, though, by her psychotic brother James, who pointed a gun at Barbara and insisted that her new husband walk off the roof of the GCPD Headquarters to his death to save her. Barbara rushed her brother, but she was too late to prevent Steven from killing himself for her.
The trauma sees Babs abandon the Batgirl identity and after going rather dark, ruthlessly dismantling Gotham’s crime and travelling, and training with Bane, becomes Bête Noire and, it’s implied, even starts using Venom.
She eventually returns to Gotham and runs up running a team of Batgirls:
[Later], Bane contacts [Barbara] in her hide-out and warns that he has been watching the three Batgirls, and though they are talented, they will not find the six bombs he has placed in crowded areas around Gotham. If she intends to stop him, she will have to come to him herself, and complete her training.
When the Batgirls return to the cave, they find that Barbara is gone, and she has left only a message conveying her intent to face Bane alone, and that she doesn’t expect to see them again. Her farewells show her care and admiration for each of her wards.
In what was actually an awesome scene, Barbara beats the crap out of Bane in a fight:
Barbara tears the mask from her face, revealing her tearful smile, as she beats him brutally, revealing to his surprise that she never actually used his Venom. She had made herself a goddess on her own steam. Powerfully, she knocks him unconscious, and as he falls, he woozily admits that her training is complete, but weakly releases the pressure-sensitive detonator. Fortunately, Tiffany, at only twelve years old, catches the device, and saves the city.
When the others catch up to her, Barbara admits that she’d like to be called by her real name again, though it’s been years. She hugs her wards to her, and admits to herself that while she had left, in a wonderful way, through these young women, Batgirl never really left Gotham at all.
I actually really liked this issues and you may notice that the young, 12-year-old Batgirl is Tiffany Fox, the little sister of the current Batwing, Luke Fox, and daughter of Wayner Enterprise CEO and Bat-buddy, Lucius Fox. A version of the character actually first appeared in 1979 but that family has gone through a bunch of revisions in continuity – mainly the names, ages and genders of Lucius’ children – and post-Flashpoint she’s been de-aged to seven or so. We don’t get any real background as to how she became a Batgirl in this one issue but in the Batwing solo series it’s mention she has a genius IQ and, while being kidnapped, she learns her brother’s secret identity so maybe this plays a role?
Regardless, I am totally OK with more Tiffany Fox in the future :)
Hope that was helpful! Obviously there are heaps more alternative timeline versions and such, lots of which you can see here, but that should help keep it straight :)