Every fan of DC Comics is familiar with Batgirl, a beloved female hero introduced to DC Comics as a side character relegated to the shadows of Batman‘s brooding, dark silhouette. Unfortunately, this also means that, like most sidekicks, she’s often underappreciated and misunderstood by the fandom. Though her wheelchair-bound personification is probably best known to the fans, those familiar with the comic book history know that there’s much more to Batgirl than meets the eye.
The truth is that Batgirl has evolved significantly since her introduction, both in terms of her abilities and her role within the Bat family. So, we’re going to explore and shed light on five things that fans often don’t get about Batgirl.
1. There’s More Than One Batgirl
The role of Batgirl isn’t portrayed by a single individual; she’s an identity that has been portrayed by several fantastic comic book characters, starting with Betty Kane — a niece of the original Batwoman, Kathy Kane — in 1961. Kane was replaced by Barbara Gordon, the most iconic Batgirl, in 1967 and remained an active crime fighter until 1988’s Batgirl Special #1, in which she retired from crime fighting and was shot subsequently by the Joker in Batman: The Killing Joke.
The role was assumed by Helena Bertinelli, aka the Huntress, in 1999’s No Man’s Land, but was replaced by Cassandra Cain within the same storyline. Cain remained Batgirl until 2009 when the character was briefly retired before Stephanie Brown was introduced as Batgirl. Brown wore the cowl until the New 52 reboot in 2011, when Barbara Gordon returned as Batgirl. The diversity and representation within Batgirl’s history make her an empowering symbol for women in the DC universe.
2. She’s Has an Arch-Nemesis
Many fans associate Batgirl with her most iconic alter ego, Barbara Gordon — Commissioner Gordon’s daughter — who was left paralyzed following a tragic incident in The Killing Joke. The incident gave birth to the Oracle, with Barbara being a computer genius and a strategic mastermind that provides Batman with vital information in the field.
But what many don’t know is that, besides helping heroes coordinate their battle efforts, she nonetheless fought battles of her own against worthy opponents. One of them was the Calculator, aka Noah Kuttler, originally a costumed villain.
After he learned of Oracle’s existence, Kuttler turned himself into an Oracle of sorts for supervillains, creating a large network of dangerous associates and brokering information to sell to the highest bidder. The two clashed on multiple occasions, but Oracle ended up defeating him in the virtual world, proving once again that she’s a master hacker.
3. It’s a Family Thing
James Gordon has been a Batman ally for years, yet many were wondering how is it that the well-regarded detective hasn’t been able to figure out that his daughter, Barbara Gordon, is the Batgirl/Oracle. Well, as it turns out, he knew for years but didn’t say anything to either Batman or Batgirl.
The startling revelation to Batman and Oracle was made in The Joker #2. In the comic, Batman gives Gordon direct access to the Batcomputer and a direct line of communication with the Caped Crusader. He also requests that Gordon work directly with Oracle, after which Gordon reveals that he’s fully aware that Barbara used to be Batgirl.
This also implies that Gordon has, at least, some awareness of the inner workings of the Bat family and that he allowed Barbara to continue with her activities as Batgirl/Oracle, despite the inherent risks associated with both roles.
4. More Than Just a Sidekick
As already stated, Batgirl was introduced as one of Batman’s sidekicks, but the character soon evolved beyond a mere side character. Still, many still regard the relationship between her and Batman as one between a mentor and a mentee, which most certainly isn’t the case.
While the primary love interest of Bruce Wayne and Batman has traditionally always been Selina Kyle’s Catwoman, certain storylines and adaptations have suggested a romantic connection between Bruce Wayne and Barbara Gordon. This is particularly true in Batman: The Animated Series, where their relationship is depicted with romantic undertones.
However, Barbara had a long-term romantic interest in Dick Grayson’s Robin, who eventually became Nightwing. He became Batman twice following the death of Bruce Wayne, so, technically, there have been more than a few sparks between Batman and Batgirl.
5. She’s a Bird of Prey
During her tenure as Oracle, Barbara became a more prominent figure in the DC Universe. In 1999’s Birds of Prey, she formed a partnership with Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary, and the two became core members of the Birds of Prey team.
The team was subsequently expanded with more female heroes and antiheroes and has often included the Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, and even Harley Quinn — which led to the acclaimed Birds of Prey movie from 2020. Apart from being a core member of Birds of Prey, Batgirl is also a member of the Justice League and doesn’t shy away from teaming up with her crime-fighting colleagues.
Ultimately, the character of Batgirl is often reduced to oversimplified stereotypes despite being a well-developed, complex character with plenty of character lore and history. Apart from everything we just mentioned, Batgirl has been a harbinger of massive changes in the comic book industry.
In the end, Batgirl’s contributions to the world of comics extend far beyond her impressive crime-fighting abilities. She has become a symbol of resilience, diversity, and empowerment, attesting to the fact that she brings significantly more to the table than her a pretty face and a killer memory.