"BATGIRL" more than a superheroine
"Kesel's version of Batgirl established her as a character separate from Batman and Robin: a woman motivated to do what men do, but alone and in her own way. " Barbara Gordon initially conformed to hackneyed stereotypes as a dowdy librarian, but her transformation into Batgirl could be seen in retrospect as a symbol of the female empowerment.
Publisher DC Comics
First appearance Batman #139 (April 1961)
Created by Bill Finger (writer)
Sheldon Moldoff (art)
Betty Kane ("Bat-Girl")
Batgirl makes regular appearances in Detective Comics, Batman Family and several other books produced by DC until 1988. That year, she appears in Barbara Kesel's Batgirl Special #1, in which she retires from crime-fighting. She subsequently appears in Alan Moore's graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke where, in her civilian identity, she is shot by the Joker and left paraplegic. Although she is recreated as the computer expert and information broker Oracle by editor Kim Yale and writer John Ostrander the following year, her paralysis sparked debate about the portrayal of women in comics, particularly violence depicted toward female characters.
In The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines (2009), author Mike Madrid states that what set Barbara Gordon as Batgirl apart from other female characters was her motivation for crime-fighting. Unlike Batwoman who preceded her:
" She notes that Kesel's interpretation of the character emphasized her intelligence, technological skill, and ability to overcome fear. Gail Simone included the character's paralysis in a list of "major female characters that had been killed, mutilated, and depowered", dubbing the phenomenon "Women in Refrigerators" in reference to a 1994 Green Lantern story where the title character discovers his girlfriend's mutilated body in his refrigerator. Simone highlighted the gender difference regarding the treatment of Batman and Batgirl regarding paralysis by stating that "[b]oth had their backs broken [Batman broke his in a dramatic Batcave confrontation with the villain Bane; Batgirl broke hers when she was ambushed in her home and shot in the spine by the Joker, never given a chance to fight]. Less than a year later, Batman was fine. Batgirl—now named Oracle—was in a wheelchair and remained so for many years.”
In Superheroes and Superegos: Analyzing the Minds Behind the Masks (2010), author Sharon Packer wrote that "[a]nyone who feels that feminist critics overreacted to [Gordon's] accident is advised to consult the source material" calling the work "sadistic to the core." Brian Cronin noted that "[many] readers felt the violence towards Barbara Gordon was too much, and even Moore, in retrospect, has expressed his displeasure with how the story turned out." Jeffrey A. Brown, author of Dangerous Curves: Action Heroines, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Culture (2011) noted The Killing Joke as an example of the "inherent misogyny of the male-dominated comic book industry" in light of the "relatively unequal violence [female characters] are subjected to." While male characters may be critically injured or killed, they are more than likely to be returned to their original conception, while female characters are more likely to receive permanent damage. Reid states that although speculation behind the editorial decision to allow the paralysis of the character to become permanent included the idea she had become outdated, "if audiences had grown tired of Batgirl, it was not because she was a bad character but because she had been written badly."
Despite views that present the character's Batgirl persona as a symbol of female empowerment, a long-held criticism is that she was originally conceived as an uninspired variation of Batman "rather than standing alone as leader, such as Wonder Woman" who had no pre-existing male counterpart. In analyzing stereotypes in gender, Jackie Marsh noted that male superheroes (such as Batman) are depicted as hyper-masculine and anti-social, "while female superheroes are reduced to a childlike status by their names" such as the Batgirl character.
While Barbara Gordon and Cassandra Cain have both been the subject of academic analysis regarding the portrayal of women in comics, commentary on Barbara Gordon's Batgirl has focused on her character's connection to the Women's liberation movement, doctoral degree and career as a librarian, while analysis of Cassandra Cain's Batgirl has focused on the character's double minority status as a woman and a person of color. Since her debut in DC Comics publication, and fueled by her adaptation into the Batman television series in 1967, Barbara Gordon's Batgirl has been listed among fictional characters that are regarded as cultural icons. Author Brian Cronin, in Was Superman A Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed (2009) notes that following her 1967 debut, "Batgirl was soon popular enough to appear regularly over the next two decades and Yvonne Craig certainly made an impression on many viewers with her one season portraying young Ms. Gordon." In 2011, IGN ranked Barbara Gordon 17th in the Top 100 Comic Books Heroes. Cassandra Cain's Batgirl has become one of the most prominent Asian characters to appear in American comic books, and her understated sexuality is notable as being contrary to the common sexual objectification of female characters, especially those of Asian descent.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, before the feminist revolution, Schwartz's leading ladies included a reporter (Iris West in The Flash), a lawyer (Jean Loring in The Atom), and even the head of an aircraft company (Carol Ferris in Green Lantern). Shiera Hall was merely a secretary at the Midway City Museum, but as Hawkgirl she was a police officer on her native planet Thanagar and an equal partner to her husband Hawkman (Carter Hall) in their superheroic exploits. Then there was Zatanna, bravely traversing the dimensions in her search for her missing father (as chronicled in the recent DC trade paperback Zatanna's Quest). Barbara Gordon initially conformed to hackneyed stereotypes as a dowdy librarian, but her transformation into Batgirl could be seen in retrospect as a symbol of the emerging female empowerment movement of the 1960s. (Moreover, by the 1970s Barbara had given herself a makeover even in her "civilian identity" and ran for Congress.)
—Peter Sanderson, IGN, 2005
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