The first Bat-Girl was Betty Kane, introduced in Batman #139 (April, 1961) as the niece and sidekick of Kathy Kane, the Batwoman. The second and most famous Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, was introduced in Detective Comics #359 (January, 1967), in a story titled "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!" The third Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, was introduced in Batman #567 (July, 1999). The fourth, Stephanie Brown, was introduced in Detective Comics #647, although she didn't become Batgirl until Batgirl Vol 3 #1 (October, 2009).
While these are the "official" Batgirls, others have also taken up the mantle unofficially: Helena Bertinelli, the Huntress, posed as Batgirl during Batman: No Man's Land for a bit and Charlotte Gage-Radcliffe of Birds of Prey went by Batgirl before changing her name to Misfit.
For those of you trying to keep track, that's four Batgirls that "count" (Bette, Babs, Cass and Steph) and two that don't (Huntress and Misfit). Some even put Bette with the ones that don't "count" due to her unique hyphen. Still others (like... say, the DC top brass) say that Barbara Gordon is the "real" Batgirl — end of story.
Series, one-shots and storylines featuring Batgirl:
- Detective Comics issues #359-519 (1967-1982): Batgirl's own back-up feature starring Barbara Gordon.
- The Supergirl Batgirl Plot: World's Finest (1941)'' #169 (September 1967). First Batgirl/Supergirl team-up, and third Batgirl appearance. Batgirl and Supergirl and meet each other for the first time, and suddenly they decide to team up to take Superman and Batman down. What -or who- has caused their change of behavior?
- Batman Family: Book featuring Batman's supporting cast. Barbara Gordon had her own feature.
- The Attack of the Annihilator: Detective Comics #508-510. Story arc guest-starring the Super Family. Barbara Gordon must stop another dangerous lunatic from razing Gotham to the ground. Good thing that a certain friend of hers happens to be visiting Gotham.
- Batman: Thrillkiller: 1997 mini-series. Alternate universe where Batgirl and Robin fight crime in The '60s.
- Batgirl Adventures: 1997 one-shot featuring the DC Animated Universe version of Barbara Gordon.
- Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl: 1998 one-shot set in an alternate universe, starring Barbara Gordon and Kara Zor-El.
- Batgirl (2000): Featuring Cassandra Cain, the second "official" Batgirl.
- Batgirl Year One: 2003 mini-series. Barbara Gordon's origin retooled.
- Batgirl (2008): Mini-series starring Cassandra.
- Batgirl (2009): Featuring Stephanie Brown, formerly known as the Spoiler.
- Batgirl (2011): Featuring Barbara Gordon, the original woman to bear the title. Despite her lengthy publication history, this is the first ongoing self-titled book to feature her as the title character.
- Batgirl (Rebirth), a direct sequel to the 2011 series, featuring Barbara Gordon.
- Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, a team book starring Barbara, Dinah Lance, and Helena Bertinelli.
- Escape from the Phantom Zone: Crossover story arc. A plea for help and a mutual friend in danger lead Batgirl and Supergirl to become trapped in the Phantom Zone, where they fall into the clutches of a deadly, heartless psychopath.
- Shadow Of The Batgirl: A Coming-of-Age adaption of Cassandra Cain's origin.
- The Oracle Code: An alternate universe where Babs gets shot and becomes Oracle before ever donning the Batgirl costume or graduating high-school.
- Batgirls (2021): 2021 ongoing starring Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, mentored by Barbara Gordon.
As a subsection of DC Comics Bombshells, a gaggle of eight teenage girls fight crime in Gotham as "The Batgirls" lead by Harper Row and Bette Kane. 'Bat' in this case is pretty literal, they bludgeon bad guys with baseball bats.
The various women to use the identity and name of Batgirl are (In Chronological Order):
Batwoman and Bat-Girl were summarily dumped from the Bat-titles in 1964 as part of the new editor's cutting away some of the high silliness that had accumulated during The Interregnum. Although the series Batman Family attempted to bring them back in the late '70s, Batwoman was soon killed off and Bat-Girl faded back into obscurity. Years later, when Dick Grayson had become Nightwing, "Bette" Kane showed up in the Teen Titans series as Flamebird, a part-time costumed heroine with a crush on him. She has popped up every so often for brief appearances with the Titans, but avoiding a deep look at her continuity. Recently, the Interregnum-era stories have been brought back into continuity, albeit with the more outlandish ones being retconned into hallucinations that Bruce had during an exceptionally troubling phase in his life. The original Batwoman and Bat-Girl in particular have been confirmed as having been real.
Bette Kane appeared alongside her cousin, Kate Kane, in Batwoman. For the record, her name doesn't seem to have a set pronunciation: the writers on Batwoman pronounce it "Betty", but her cameo in Young Justice pronounced it "Bet".
Tropes in the characters page.
In story, Barbara Gordon had created a "Batgirl" costume for herself to go to a masquerade ball, showing her personality by spending the time and effort to make it fully workable as a crimefighting outfit as well as a costume party winner. On the way to the party, Barbara saw a crime in progress by Killer Moth, and wound up helping Batman and Robin solve the case after an initial misunderstanding or two. Thrilled by the adventure, Batgirl opted to take up heroing full time.
Unlike her predecessors, who were seen as a distraction or annoyance by the Dynamic Duo, and were never allowed to tackle cases by themselves, Batgirl was treated as an almost-equal by Batman, and mostly worked on solo adventures in a Detective Comics backup feature. This both reflected the effects of the Women's Liberation movement of the time and was appreciated by them. Eventually, Barbara Gordon was elected to Congress and became a part-time costumed heroine operating in Washington, D.C. She continued to guest star in other series and had a recurring feature in the short-lived Batman Family series.
But by the late 1980s, interest in the character had waned, and Barbara Gordon was shot and crippled by the Joker in The Killing Joke in hope of pushing her father over the edge. There was a final Batgirl Special explaining that she'd officially retired from superheroing sometime before that event. However, this traumatic event energized Barbara's fanbase, including some of DC's creators.
A mysterious hacker and information broker named "Oracle" began appearing in Suicide Squad, eventually revealed to be the now wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon, who refused to let her crippling injuries keep her down. Oracle quickly became a formidable force in The DCU, although her most memorable accomplishment was creating the Birds of Prey hero agency.
Following the New 52 continuity reboot, Barbara is the current and only Batgirl, with a Broad Strokes history of her career that began when she was a teenager and also had her crippled by the Joker but manage to regain control of her legs after years of muscle therapy and self-help books. She also was romantically involved with Richard "Dick" Grayson (Robin I/Nightwing) sometime before she was crippled. In her New 52 run she became the protector of the city of Burnside and an occasional ally of the Bat-family. In honor of comic writer Gail Simone, Barbara is given the middle name 'Gail' in some adaptations of the character (in the comics is Joan), most notably in Titans (2018).
Worth noting is that the original 1960s Barbara was depicted as a confident, grown-up woman with a job and a Ph.D, but every depiction of her Batgirl created since "The Killing Joke" has placed more emphasis on the "girl" aspect of her character, with a focus on proving herself and "growing into" a mature hero like Batman. Most adaptions show her as much younger: "Batman: The Animated Series" has her as roughly college-aged; "The Batman" introduces her as a high school student that later cuts down on her superheroing to go to college; and "Young Justice" gives her a few cameos as a thirteen-year-old before becoming Batgirl sometime before age 18. The comics themselves have finally followed suit and canonized that Barbara's first run as Batgirl was as a teenager, not an adult.
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See Huntress page.
In her backstory, Cassandra was raised by her father, notorious assassin David Cain, to have body language as her "native tongue," allowing her to read people's movements and emotions from the tiniest of clues. With the addition of constant martial arts training, Cain hoped to turn Cassandra into a superhuman assassin. The training had the side effect of making Cassandra unable to understand spoken or written language. However, when Cain had Cassandra kill a human being for the first time she read the victim's dying agonies and understood on a primal level what death was, and silently vowed never to kill again, escaping from her father.
Cassandra Cain was the first Batgirl to get her own continuing solo title, which ran for 74 issues (April, 2000 - April, 2006), the first major arc of which had her confront a psychic who "rewires" her brain to understand spoken language so that he can communicate with her more effectively. Unfortunately for Cassandra, this also shut off her ability to read body language, her one real advantage over most of her opponents. The second arc of the series had her relearn this skill with the help of Lady Shiva, who later was revealed to be Cassandra's mother, unknown to her at the time. Even once Cassandra was able to understand verbal language, she had difficulty learning to speak and more difficulty with reading.
While the Batgirl title was a decent seller, it was not quite up to Bat-family levels and it was decided to end the series. A lot of rumors on the Internet say this decision was meant to clear the way for the new Kate Kane Batwoman, who DC planned to make a major push on in conjunction with the 52 series, but this has yet to receive any sort of official confirmation. The character was not in limbo long, as Executive Meddling made Cassandra the new villain of the Robin series, with nearly a one hundred eighty degree turn in her characterization, skillset and competency.
Eventually, it was revealed that Cassandra's new personality was the result of being drugged by Deathstroke, which was either an Author's Saving Throw or Voodoo Shark, depending on how willing a given reader was to swallow it. A new Batgirl miniseries was put out to try to justify the changes and cement her HeelFace Turn, but it was written by the same author as the much-despised Robin plotline, and did not sell well.
Despite reestablishing her as a hero, DC decided to separate Cassandra from the Batgirl persona and had her renounce the identity in the first issue of a new ongoing series, replaced by Stephanie Brown (See below). DC then declared that 2010 was a "big year" for Cassandra, but fans have called Lying Creator since her only appearance was in Red Robin #17 as a crime fighter in Hong Kong. In this comic Tim gave her back her old costume and said that he hopes she would wear the symbol. Gail Simone had said that she would appear in Birds of Prey, but unfortunately this was not able to happen despite her efforts, once again leaving fans gnashing their teeth. It was later revealed that Cassandra was barred from appearing in Birds of Prey due to her being used in Red Robin and the upcoming Batman: Gates of Gotham mini-series, which of course caused the fandom to cautiously rejoice once again.. Fans were cautiously optimistic that this means she would play an active role in the upcoming Batman: Incorporated by Grant Morrison. As of issue #6, Cassandra is now an agent of Batman Inc. under the new identity of Blackbat. The miniseries "Batman: Gates of Gotham" established that she'd "always liked it" in Gotham, implying that she'd be moving back, but absolutely no sign of her has been glimpsed in the New 52. Furthermore, like Barbara Gordon, her mother, Lady Shiva, has been deaged to be about the same age as Dick Grayson. A future version of Cassandra later appeared in Gail Simone's Batgirl tie-in to Future's End, while the Pre-Flashpoint version of Cass appear (alongside Stephanie) in Convergence.
She was reintroduced in the DC Rebirth relaunch as a rookie member of the Bat-Family alongside Stephanie Brown as Spoiler.
A quick side note: Cassandra briefly took on another identity, Kasumi, in the Justice League Elite title.
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Early reports stated that Stephanie would be Spoiler post-reboot. This originated from an attempt to fit Grant Morrison's "Batman: Leviathan Strikes!" into the New 52 continuity, but this got to be too complicated. They finally said "screw it," set the story in pre-Flashpoint continuity, and kept Stephanie as Batgirl for the duration.
She took the alias of Spoiler in the DC Rebirth relaunch as a rookie member of the Bat-Family alongside Cassandra Cain as Orphan. Cassandra appeared in two short stories as Batgirl (one set firmly in the timeline of the 2000 series judging by having Oracle mentoring her) in the May 2021-released Asian Superhero Celebration anthology one-shot.
Tropes in the characters page.
Tropes in the characters page.