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Today marks a moment over 45 years in the making. For the first time DC Comics is publishing two ongoing books starring women with the “Bat” in their name in one week Not only that, both women are red heads, were raised by single parents who are both uniformed men. But after that the similarities end.
Here’s a look back at the history of the Batwomen, Kathy and Kate Kane and Batgirls, including Barbara Gordon and how it is that DC ended up with both.
Let’s start with the first Bat female, Kathy Kane, who debuted in Detective Comics #233.
Note she’s a brunette. The character was created to bring a romance into Batman’s life, lest there be continued Werthaminization of his relationship with Robin.
Kathy was a fairly silly character and treated for the most part dismissively by Batman. Later Grant Morrison would retcon the character into a avant-garde filmmaker and spy but in 1964 as Julius Schwartz restructured the Batbooks she wasn’t considered a serious enough and was retired from the comics. She never, of course, had her own title.
In 1966, DC Comics and ABC television collaborated to create a new Bat female. That character, Barbara Gordon, was much different than the Batwoman who had previously run around Gotham.
Here’s the text of the note DC Comics they sent out to fans of the Batwoman (and the her sidekick Bette Kane, the original Bat-Girl - pay attention to this, I’ll bring it up later) when Batgirl/Barbara Gordon made her debut her debut.
“They were there because romance was seemed to be needed in Batman’s life. But thanks to the big change and some far-sighted editors, these hapless females are gone for good. In their place stands a girl who is a capable crime fighter, a far cry from Batwoman who constantly had to be rescued from (sic) Batman.”
So why not make Barbara Gordon a BatWOMAN rather than a BatGIRL? Good question! A read of the book, “The BatCave Companion” (which I highly recommend) doesn’t come out and state why but gives enough detail to figure it out.
Julie Schwartz was adamant on her being distinct from “Batwoman” who he told a fan gathering in summer of 1966 was being banished to limbo (they were not pleased, hence that message above). Given that it would almost impossible for them to introduce a new “Batwoman”. And while there had been a Bat-Girl (emphasis on the hyphen), who Batgirl creator Carmine Infantino described as “pesky” and a distaff version of Robin, there had been no Batgirl.
So Barbara Gordon, despite being written as woman with an advanced library sciences degree, debuted as the new Batgirl, rather than Batwoman.
That Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, would go on to have a far longer run as the Bat-female in Gotham City appearing in comics from 1966-1988. She did not, however, get her own book. As Batgirl, she only had her own back-up feature in Detective Comics and later had a series of team-ups with Robin in Batman Family.
And it was during her run in Batman Family that she met up with the former Batwoman, 12 years after she replaced her, for a series of adventures including one that causes Barbara to think about an important question.
By the end of the story Barbara Gordon makes a decision:
And so Batgirl she would remain. But with the dawn of “the Dark Knight” version of Batman, there was less need for Batman to have supporting characters and a decision was made to ease Batgirl into retirement. And as her parting gift, for the first time Batgirl was featured as the title of a comic book, the Batgirl Special from 1988.
The issue, as recounted by writer Barbara Randall Kesel, was specifically written to have set up Barbara Gordon up for her subsequent shooting in The Killing Joke.
And so in 1988 there was no Batgirl or Batwoman (who hadbeen killed off in 1979 by Bronze Tiger) in DC Comics. And there wouldn’t be for 12 years.
Barbara Gordon, of course, went on to become Oracle, the brilliant online superhero who parsed out data to superheroes when not leading her own team, the Birds of Prey.
But over time DC began to think the idea of no Batgirl in DC Comics seemed a mistake. How to solve the problem? The first way would be to take Barbara Gordon out of her wheelchair and return her to the role. That came close to happening during the time shenanigans of 1994’s Zero Hour but at the last minute the decision was made to keep Barbara Gordon as Oracle.
But in 1999, DC decided there could no longer not be a Batgirl in Gotham and Batman editor Scott Petersens boss told him, “Create a new Batgirl or I will.” You can read that history here.
And so Cassandra Cain, a teenager, became the new Batgirl and got her own book, the first ongoing comic titled Batgirl.
The book would last for 73 issues. But in 2006, the comic was cancelled. Why? As many have speculated and confirmed by the colorist on Cassandra Cain’s book, to make way for another female bat - Batwoman!
I recounted the long road to bring the Batwoman comic to print in this post. I also recounted the long road to bring Barbara Gordon back as Batgirl in this post. And here, in one picture, is a clear nexus between the two characters:
This is not Kate Kane; this is Barbara Gordon. The drawing, by Alex Ross, was a redesign of Barbara Gordon’s classic Batgirl costume for a pitch that Paul Dini made to DC to bring Barbara back to the role of Batgirl. (Again more on that here).
It’s not surprising that Dini would make this pitch. As head writer of the Batman shows in the DCAU, he was critical in keeping the image of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl alive. In 1994 he added her to his Batman: the Animated Series and she also appeared in subsequent The New Batman Adventures. This pitch was made in 2000, at the end of “Adventures” run. And just about the same time that DC told Scott Peterson to find a “new” Batgirl.
When DC decided to introduce a “Batwoman” they returned to the Ross who gave them this:
So basically the same proposed outfit for Batgirl. But why the hair the same color as the previous Batgirl? Was it to remind people of Barbara Gordon? I can’t quite believe it’s coincidence. It’s not that common for people to have red hair, estimates are that about 4 percent of the world are red heads.
With a Batwoman in the DCU who was targeted to have her own book, the old Batgirl, Cassandra Cain saw her role diminish. Was it to prevent confusion? It’s hard to understand how much more difficult it would be to confuse Cassandra Cain, the dark haired biological daughter of a white man and Asian woman, with red headed Kate Kane than, say, Barbara Gordon, also a red head who as we’ve seen DC was still looking at possibly bringing back.
But for what ever reason, in 2009 Cass Cain was going to be replaced as Batgirl. And despite the hinting that Barbara Gordon would return to being Batgirl, she didn’t. Instead Stephanie Brown, a young blonde girl just out of her teens became the second woman to be the lead in a book called Batgirl.
As in the previous volume, she was mentored by the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. There was little chance of confusing this Batgirl and Batwoman. Below you can see Stephanie Brown as Batgirl and as Kate Kane Batwoman together in a story from Wonder Woman #600.
That’s blonde Stephanie Brown as Batgirl in the lower left hand corner and just to her right is red head Kate Kane as Batwoman.
Stephanie and Kate almost became the first pair of Bat females to have simultaneous ongoing titles (though last November there was both a one-shot of Batwoman and Batgirl), but Batwoman’s book, which was supposed to debut in early 2011, was delayed to launch with the new 52 books. And among those books is a Batgirl but not Stephanie Brown. Twelve years after Scott Peterson was told to get a “new Batgirl”, Barbara Gordon, in a controversial move to return to the most “iconic” version of the character, became Batgirl once again. But this time, Barbara Gordon/Batgirl has her own book.
And so today we have both a Batwoman and Batgirl title being published. Of course, these are very different characters than the Batwoman and Batgirl that met in Batman Family #10 to talk about titles.
Batwoman is now Kate Kane, a former West Point Cadet who serves as Batwoman after being forced out of the military due to DADT. Why she has almost the same name as the previous Batwoman has not been explained.
Batgirl is still Barbara Gordon the former Batgirl who was shot by the Joker and became Oracle. But this Barbara Gordon is not the same age as the prior Barbara Gordon who seemed to be in her early thirties. Through some time warping in Flashpoint, this Barbara Gordon is much younger, in fact as she is just out of college so she may be even younger than the “original” Barbara Gordon who became Batgirl.
So there we have it. Two Bat females. But wait. There’s also a third Bat female! Now, appearing in Batwoman is her cousin and side-kick Bette Kane who was, in pre-crisis, the very first Bat-Girl. And then in COIE became Flamebird, her most recent title (that’s her in her costume in the last panel below). But in the “crisis, what crisis?”, Grant Morrison “Canon? Everything is canon!” world of DC comics - this the original Bat-Girl and Batgirl are both in comics this week.
So will Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and Kate Kane as Batwoman meet on page? Will the citizens of Gotham be confused by two red heads sporting the Bat? The first issue of Batgirl made a joke about that.
I hope they do. It would be a fun call back to the team-ups of Babs and Kathy Kane. I’d love for Babs to say to Kate, “Damn, I should have grabbed that Batwoman name from Kathy when I had the chance.”