BATGIRLMedium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1967
Creators: Gardner Fox (writer) and Carmine Infantino (artist)
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When Batgirl first appeared (Detective Comics #359, January 1967), it was generally thought she'd been taken straight from the TV version of Batman, then riding high in the ratings. (The fact that Yvonne Craig didn't appear in the role until much later in the year, the September 14 episode to be exact, wasn't an
obstacle to people who presumably had advance knowledge of the show's doings.) But editor Julius Schwartz later set the record straight. She'd been introduced in DC Comics independently, to appeal to the show's strong female viewership, and producers had responded quickly by adding her to the TV cast.
Batgirl wasn't the first female Batman knock-off. That distinction went to Batwoman, who'd first appeared in 1956. What's more, the second was Batwoman's niece, who called herself Bat-Girl just like this one, only with a hyphen. But both of those characters had been retired years earlier and weren't considered viable candidates for revival, leaving the field open for a new one. (Batwoman was later revived as a lesbian, but despite the confluence of names, this is a new character.)
This Batgirl was Barbara Gordon, hitherto-unseen daughter (later retconned into a niece, no reason given) of police commissioner James Gordon, who had been a supporting character since the very beginning. Babs (as she was addressed during her first few years) was a "brain" type — graduated college summa cum laude, went on to a Ph.D., worked as a librarian — tho she did have a few physical skills, such as brown belts in both judo and karate.
She designed and made a "Batgirl" costume for a party, but never had a chance to show it off there because on the way, wearing it, she happened to see Bruce Wayne being kidnapped. As Batgirl, she leapt to the rescue, which gave him a chance to slip away and switch to his Batman persona. When the dust cleared, the costume had become too damaged to wear to the party, but she'd acquired a taste for urban adventuring. When he asked who she was, she offered to tell him only if he'd tell her his own secret identity. (They learned each other's secrets later, when she was dating Robin.) The story was written by Gardner Fox (The Flash, Hawkman) and drawn by Carmine Infantino (The Flash, Adam Strange).
Batgirl continued to appear sporadically, as a supporting character, for the next couple of years. In Detective Comics #384 (February, 1969), she got a story of her own in the back pages, replacing The Elongated Man. She continued there, alternating with Robin, until 1972. From 1975-78, she had a regular gig in Batman Family, then briefly returned to the Detective Comics back pages. It was during this period that she served a term in Congress. In the '80s she went back to supporting status, but her appearances grew less frequent as she spent more time caring for her aging father (or uncle).
Her career as Batgirl ended suddenly in The Killing Joke (1988), a graphic novel by writer Alan Moore (V for Vendetta) and artist Brian Bolland (Judge Dredd). There, The Joker shot her point-blank, injuring her spine and crippling her for life. Undaunted, she began re-emphasizing her "brain" side, patrolling Gotham City through cyber-space under the name "Oracle". Since then, she's carved out a unique niche for herself in the superhero world, working with The Suicide Squad, The Justice League and others, as well as by herself.
The name "Batgirl" has since been used by a couple of other women in DC comics, but they tend not to stick with the role. In other media, however, Barbara remains Batgirl. In The Batman/Superman Hour (1968-69) her voice was done by Jane Webb (Sabrina the Teenage Witch). In The New Adventures of Batman (1977-78) and Tarzan & the Super Seven (1978-80), she was voiced by Melendy Britt (Princess Aura, no relation, in Flash Gordon). In Batman & Robin (1997), with her last name changed to Wilson, she was played by Alicia Silverstone (Heather in the Scooby Doo movies). In Batman: The Animated Series and related '90s animation, she was voiced by Melissa Gilbert (a face actress without other toon connections). In Batman Beyond (1999) an older Barbara, now police commissioner, was voiced by Stockard Channing (who also lacks toon connections).
Back in comic books, still confined to a wheelchair, she's currently the leader of Birds of Prey, which also includes The Huntress, The Black Canary and sometimes other female superheroes.