The iconic Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl made regular appearances in Batman-related comics from 1966 to 1988 and is described as one of the most high profile characters to be published during the Silver Age of Comic Books. Following the editorial retirement of the character in Batgirl Special #1 (1988), Barbara Gordon is paralyzed by The Joker in the graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke (1988). Editor Kim Yale and comic book author John Ostrander later reinvented Barbara Gordon as Oracle, the premiere information broker of the DC Comics Universe and leader of the Birds of Prey organization. Beginning in 1997, DC Comics began publishing "flashback" stories featuring Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, and those stories still appear (as of September 2008).
In the 1999 story Batman: No Man's Land, Helena Bertinelli briefly assumes the role of Batgirl, until she is stripped of the identity by Batman towards the conclusion of the story for violating his stringent codes. Within the same year, a new character introduced during the No Man's Land series, named Cassandra Cain, created by Kelley Puckett and Damion Scott, becomes the third Batgirl under the tutelage of Batman and Oracle. Cassandra Cain was the first version of the Batgirl character to star in an eponymous monthly series, which was canceled in 2006, ending with Cain relinquishing her title as Batgirl. During the "Headhunt" arc of the Birds of Prey comic book series, the Charlotte Gage-Radcliffe character created by Gail Simone temporarily took the name of Batgirl, but was eventually forced to abandon the role by Oracle and subsequently adopted the alias "Misfit." Following the events of the limited series 52 (2006), the Cassandra Cain character has reclaimed her former identity as Batgirl.
Following the accusations of homosexuality between Batman and Robin as described in Frederick Wertham's book Seduction of the Innocent (1954), a female character, Kathy Kane the Batwoman, was introduced in 1956 as a love interest for Batman. In 1961, a second female character was introduced as a love interest for Robin. Betty Kane the "Bat-Girl" was depicted as the niece and side-kick to Batwoman and first appeared in Batman #139 (1961). The creation of the Batman Family, which included Batman and Batwoman depicted as parents, Robin and Bat-Girl depicted as their children, the extraterrestrial imp Bat-Mite and the "family pet" Ace the Bat-Hound, caused the Batman-related comic books to take "a wrong turn, switching from superheroes to situational comedy".
These characters were abandoned in 1964 when newly appointed Batman editor Julius Schwartz concluded they were inappropriate. Schwartz had asserted that these characters should be removed, considering the Batman related comic books had steadily declined in sales, and restored the Batman mythology to its original conception of heroic vigilantism. Bat-Girl, along with other characters in the Batman Family, were retconned out of existence following the 1985 limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths. However, even though Bat-Girl did not exist in the Post-Crisis continuity, a modified version of the character, Mary Elizabeth "Bette" Kane, was introduced as the superheroine Flamebird, who continues to appear in DC Comics publications.
A new Batgirl—Barbara "Babs" Gordon, the daughter of Batman's supporting character Police commissioner James Gordon—debuted in Detective Comics #359 (cover-dated January 1967, but released in November 1966). In her debut, Gordon is on her way to a masquerade ball dressed as a female version of Batman when she disrupts a kidnapping attempt on Bruce Wayne by the villainous Killer Moth. This attracts the attention of Batman and leads to her establishing a crime-fighting career. This new character, jointly created by Editor Julius Schwartz, artist Carmine Infantino and author Gardner Fox, was a collaboration between DC Comics and the Batman television series of the late 1960s which aired on ABC. When television producer William Dozier sought to renew the Batman program for a third season, he asked Schwartz for a new female character to be introduced in the comic book medium, which could be adapted into the television series in order to attract a female audience. The new version of Batgirl was written as an adult, having earned a doctorate in library science and maintaining a career as head of Gotham City Public Library.
As Batgirl, Barbara Gordon proved to be more popular than the previous Bat-Girl and Batwoman characters. Barbara Gordon appeared as Batgirl in both Batman and Detective Comics, and other DC Comics publications unrelated to Batman. The character also received a starring role in the Batman Family comic book series which debuted in 1975, where she becomes part of the "Dynamic Duo: Batgirl & Robin" with Dick Grayson. Described as one of the most popular characters to appear in publications during the Silver Age of Comic Books, Barbara Gordon appeared as Batgirl regularly from 1966 to 1988, and she is frequently featured as Batgirl in "flashback" stories in current DC Comics publications. After relinquishing her role as Batgirl in the 1988 one-shot comic Batgirl Special #1, Barbara Gordon is shot through the spinal cord and crippled by the Joker in Batman: The Killing Joke. The plot, which led to Gordon's paralysis, subsequently became a point of controversy among critics and commentators. Editor Kim Yale and author John Ostrander revive the character in Suicide Squad #23 (1989) under the guise of Oracle, a freelance information broker and expert hacker. As Oracle, Barbara Gordon is written as an ally to various DC Universe superheroes, but is most notable as the founder and head of operations of the Birds of Prey organization.
Eleven years after the editorial retirement of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, a new version of the character is introduced in Shadow of the Bat #83 during the maxiseries Batman: No Man's Land (1999). In Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #120 (1999), the new Batgirl is revealed to be Helena Bertinelli, an established DC comics superheroine alternatively known as the Huntress. Bertinelli is eventually forced to abandon the mantle by Batman. After reclaiming her identity as the Huntress, Bertinelli later joins Oracle's Birds of Prey, becoming the second former Batgirl to be on the team's roster.
Depicted as a martial arts child prodigy, Cassandra Cain is written as a young woman of partly Asian descent who becomes the third in-continuity Batgirl, with the approval of both Batman and Oracle, following her introduction in Batman #567 (1999) as part of the Batman: No Man's Land crossover. Cassandra Cain wears the same Batgirl costume worn by Helena Bertinelli. Raised by assassin David Cain, Cassandra Cain was not taught spoken language, but instead was taught to "read" physical movement. Subsequently, Cain's only form of communication was body language. The parts of the character's brain normally used for speech were trained so Cain could read other people's body language and predict, with uncanny accuracy, their next move. This also caused her brain to develop learning functions different from most, a form of dyslexia that hampers her abilities to read and write.
Despite Cain's disability, author Andersen Gabrych describes the character's unique form of language to be the key factor in what makes Cain an excellent detective; the ability to walk into a room and "know" something is wrong based on body language. During the first arc of the Batgirl comic book series entitled Silent Running, Cassandra Cain encounters a psychic who "reprograms" her brain, enabling her to comprehend verbal language, while simultaneously losing the ability to predict movements. This issue is resolved during the second arc of the series, Batgirl: A Knight Alone, when Batgirl encounters the assassin Lady Shiva who agrees to teach her how to predict movement once again. Six years after its debut, DC Comics canceled the Batgirl comic book series with issue #73 (2006), ending with Cain relinquishing her role as Batgirl.
When DC Comics continuity skips forward one year after the events of the limited series Infinite Crisis, Cassandra Cain is revived as leader of the League of Assassins, having abandoned her previous characterization as an altruist. The character's progression from heroine to villain angered some of her fans and was accompanied by heavy criticism. Cain reprised her role as Batgirl in the "Titans East" (2007) storyline of Teen Titans, where it was discovered that she had been influenced by a mind-altering drug administered by supervillain Deathstroke the Terminator. Following the conclusion of the storyline, DC Comics has restored Cain's original characterization as a superheroine and the character has been given a supporting role in the comic book series Batman and the Outsiders.
Cassandra Cain's brief retirement left the role of Batgirl open for other characters to fill. During the "Headhunt" arc of Birds of Prey by Gail Simone, a "new" Batgirl emerges in Gotham City, who is soon revealed to be a teenager named Charlotte Gage-Radcliffe; a young girl with inherent superpowers. After encountering Oracle face to face, Gage-Radcliffe is forced to abandon her career as a vigilante. However, the character later returns in Birds of Prey #101 under the alias "Misfit", becoming the third former Batgirl to be affiliated with Oracle's organization.
Betty Kane's Bat-Girl was primarily interested in vigilantism in order to develop a relationship with the original Robin, Dick Grayson, as her introduction into publication was a deliberate attempt to avoid further allegations of homosexuality that Seduction of the Innocent presented to the public. Depicted as the niece of Batwoman, Bat-Girl had developed a crush on Robin after arriving in Gotham City and decided to fashion her own superhero persona based on Robin's costume. Her appearance in comic books primarily displayed her character attempting to develop a romantic relationship with Robin, despite his embarrassment or lack of interest.
When Julius Swartz asked Carmine Infantino for a redesign of the Bat-Girl character, Infantino recalled Betty Kane's character as a "pesky girl version of Robin", and decided to come up with something more original. Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino's new "Batgirl" was written as an adult and as a career woman working as head of Gotham City Public Library. Though the Barbara Gordon character saw Batman as her inspiration and idol, fashioning her crime-fighting persona after him, her primary concern was solving cases and often worked independently from Batman and Robin. Batgirl was primarily featured in Detective comics in stories separate from the Dynamic Duo.
A pop culture icon, the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl has been adapted into all media relating to the Batman franchise including merchandise, television, animation and feature film. The Barbara Gordon Batgirl, jointly inspired by producer William Dozier and DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz, appeared in the final season of the live-action Batman television series in 1967, promptly following the character's comic book debut. Actress Yvonne Craig was featured in a promotional short, which was shown to ABC executives in order to not only add Batgirl to the cast, but ensure a third season for the television series. As Barbara Gordon, Craig was a replica of her comic book counterpart, working as a librarian for Gotham City Public Library; she led a double life as Batgirl, helping Batman, Robin and the Gotham City police department to solve an array of cases. Although Craig's addition to the cast was able to renew the program for a third season, it did not save the series from cancellation; Batman was officially canceled in March 1968.
Barbara Gordon's Batgirl made her first animated appearance in Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder in 1968 and was also adapted into its successor animated program The New Adventures of Batman in 1977. During the 1990s and 2000s, Barbara Gordon appears as Batgirl in the series of animated programs and animated films which comprise the DC Animated Universe; these include Batman: The Animated Series, Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, The New Batman Adventures, and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. A younger version of the Barbara Gordon character also played a recurring role in the animated series entitled The Batman.
In addition to animated adaptations, the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl served as the inspiration for the character Barbara Wilson in the 1997 feature film Batman & Robin. Departing from the comic book character's history, the alternate version of Barbara is portrayed by Alicia Silverstone as the niece of Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne's butler and Batman's loyal assistant. The short-lived Birds of Prey television series, which aired on The WB network in 2002, features a paralyzed Barbara Gordon donning her Batgirl costume after creating a device that allows her to walk. The series featured Dina Meyer as Barbara Gordon, in a future where she has been paralyzed by the Joker and operates as Oracle.
The depiction of the Barbara Gordon incarnation of Batgirl as a career-oriented woman, coupled with her alter-ego as a crimefighter, is considered to be symbolic of the women's empowerment movement of the 1960s according to critic and historian Peter Sanderson. Gordon's career as a librarian also represented a "valued and honored profession" within mainstream American comics, despite the fact that comic books were not considered to be a respectable pastime by library professionals.
...likely explanations for why Batgirl's alter ego was a librarian are (a) librarianship was at the time an established and acceptable occupation for a(n) (unmarried) young woman, and (b) Barbara Gordon's job as a seemingly meek and passive librarian had to be considered an ideal contrast to her truly significant (and exciting) work as Batgirl.
Actress Yvonne Craig, who was cast as Batgirl during the final season of the Batman television series, also portrayed the character in the 1972 public service announcement for the United States Department of Labor advocating equal pay. Craig has stated her portrayal of Batgirl remains a symbol of women's empowerment. Despite this, the Batgirl character has often been criticized for being an uninspiring female variation of Batman. Compared to Wonder Woman, described as "the principal icon of superhero women", Batgirl has been disregarded as a derivative of her male counterpart. When Yvonne Craig portrayed Batgirl in the Batman television series, she was not allowed to engage in hand-to-hand combat; her fight scenes were all based on choreographed dance routines of Broadway showgirls, thus making her appear as an inferior version of Batman.