Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day! Ask a librarian, a book-lover, or any generally smart cookie who her favorite superhero is–odds are, she’ll say, “Batgirl.” Yes, we love the outfit–who doesn’t harbor a secret desire to don a black mask and gauntlets? But our admiration for Batgirl springs from a deeper well.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Wonder Woman. I spent countless childhood hours watching Lynda Carter lasso the truth out of bad guys and marveling at the physics that kept her top up. But it’s Batgirl, a determined and self-made woman, who speaks to me now. Like me, she was a librarian and a cop’s daughter. Like me, she sported auburn hair (O.K., mine’s from a bottle) and sensible shoes, but occasionally swapped them out for some badass boots. Wonder Woman was an Amazon princess, born to her calling and her skills. Like Batman, Batgirl achieved legendary superhero status without any supernatural powers. Like me, and I suspect many women, Batgirl presented a no-nonsense face to the world that belied the fire inside.
The second and most iconic version of Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, was introduced in “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!” (Detective Comics #359, 1967). She was an accomplished gymnast, a black belt in judo and karate, and a brain, having earned her Ph.D. at an impossibly young age. Feeling frustrated and underappreciated in her day job as a librarian (tell me about it, girl), Barbara didn’t wait for an invitation to the crime-fighting party; she simply stitched herself a killer outfit and showed up, game to go. She allied herself with Batman, but unlike Bruce Wayne, she was not initially or primarily spurred by vengeance. Like lots of librarians I know, Barbara was motivated by a deep desire for justice, a veiled wild side, and an unwillingness to let the boys have all the fun. Even when she lost her physical abilities after being shot and paralyzed by the Joker in Alan Moore’s 1988 “The Killing Joke” she continued fighting crime from her wheelchair (complete with some sweet, self-designed tech hacks) as computer expert Oracle, assisting other supers with her research and hacking prowess. Babs never waited for someone to save her, or stood aside while someone else got the job done. “Wait for a hero?” she asked (“Batgirl” v. 4, no. 25). “Barbara Joan Gordon–be your own damn hero!”
Wonder Woman may have had the brawn, the breasts, and some admittedly cool accessories (who doesn’t love a diadem?). But Batgirl had the brains, and the balls. That’s a girl I can get behind.