“I was just doing my duty as a citizen” -Batgirl (from Batman: The Unkindest Tut of All #3.6, 1967)
Originally created as a love-interest for Robin, Batgirl has appeared in several iterations within the DC canon*. The first Bat-Girl was Betty Kane, niece of Batwoman Kathy Kane. Kathy Kane was introduced a few years prior as, you guessed it, a love interest for Batman. The most famous and long-running Batgirl is Dr. Barbara Gordon, daughter of police commissioner Jim Gordon.
Barbara Gordon was introduced in both the Batman television series and DC Comics #359 in 1967 when producers realized they needed a modern, female character. Gordon had a Ph.D in library science and served as director of Gotham Public Library before being elected to the United States House of Representatives in the 1970s. Brilliant, tough, and independent, this Batgirl was popular enough for fans to demand more, and she made appearances in several books before being officially retired in 1988’s Batgirl Special #1. In 1988’s Batman: The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore, Barbara Gordon was paralyzed by The Joker in a controversial and violent story arc that divides fans and critics to this day.
Thanks to the efforts of writer/editor Kim Yale, Barbara Gordon resurfaced as Oracle, fighting crime with her intellect. At various points, Oracle appeared in The Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey (as a founding member with Black Canary!) and teamed up with Batman to train a new Batgirl**. More recently, Barbara Gordon is pulling double duty working on her doctorate and fighting crime as Batgirl in DC’s New 52, having regained the ability to walk following surgery.
As both Batgirl and Oracle, Barbara Gordon resonates with readers for many reasons. She is smart and strong and resilient. As Oracle, she provides unprecedented representation of differently-abled people in comics. She reinvents herself and navigates personal struggles with unimaginable, life-altering trauma. In an America where someone is sexually assaulted every 107 seconds, Barbara Gordon’s is the story of a survivor.
Barbara Gordon as Batgirl is one of my favorite pop culture librarians because she’s so multifaceted. She is a great librarian, but she’s also a crime fighter. In fact, she uses her library science training to fight crime! She is committed to her “duty as a citizen” to the point of running for and being elected to public office. In that respect, she perfectly embodies the spirit of public librarians. We may not all be crime fighters, and we couldn’t really tell you if we were (secret identities and all that), but we’re all committed to the principles of a free society. For a character originally envisioned as a romantic after-thought for Batman’s sidekick, Batgirl fully transformed into a modern, relatable superhero.
*This is a very simplified history of Batgirl focusing on Barbara Gordon. It’s a little problematic because comics, like life, are anything but simple. The author is aware of various retcons and continuities. The author doesn’t care.
**Cassandra Cain was a great Batgirl, the first to have her own on-going book, and she is completely deserving of her own blog entry.