As a child, I grew up in a household that was deeply into comics (DC and Marvel equally) which of course was ingrained in me to this very day. I was learning to read with Batman and She-Hulk and growing up alongside the Teen Titans. As I got older I started to branch out and found that I had a deep love of female superheroes, so much so that they were the bulk of my pull-list. I also had a deep love of things that were a bit darker which led me to read a lot of the Bat-family, especially Batgirl. Batgirl is a character that was created in 1961, with Betty Kane as the lead. Years later she was introduced in Detective Comics #369 (The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!) as Barbara Gordon, the daughter of James Gordon. When I read that as a kid I have to admit I was a huge fan of James, so seeing his daughter be a new crime-fighter excited me to no end.
Barbara Gordon is the most iconic when it comes to Batgirl. She’s the redhead with vast amounts of intelligence that can kick the butts of all the Robins. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on who you are) one of the things she’s most known for is her relationship with Dick Grayson whether you ship them or not. Barbara has gone through quite a bit of evolution, ranging from being the titular Batgirl to Killing Joke making her lose her ability to walk and becoming Oracle. For a few decades, Barbara portrayed Oracle as the computer expert that was the backbone of teams such as the Birds of Prey (my personal favorite series) and working comms for different heroes that needed help.
In 2011, Gail Simone brought our girl back to being Batgirl (to the delight or dismay of the fanbase) and that run was much darker than people were used to from Barbara. During the middle of the New 52 run, we got a massive shift in style, writer, art, and characterization. Now Babs was a college student and in the city of Burnside. This is one of the most polarizing runs I’ve seen in a long time with some excitement for the new light run and others angry at the new “selfie Millennial Barbara”. Either way that style of Babs continued into Rebirth and hasn’t shown a sign of stopping anytime soon.
Birds of Prey
I do want to mention another part of Barbara’s story that has to be talked about, and that is her time with the Birds of Prey. Most people know about the Birds of Prey because of Gail Simone’s incredible run which also happens to be my absolute favorite run of any comic. Now the Birds of Prey have always been about Batgirl (Babs) and Black Canary (Dinah Lance) working as a team to solve anything that comes their way. In Gail’s run, however, she introduced Huntress (Helena Bertinelli). With this introduction, we see a team that starts out working together because they have to and it becomes a family that will do anything to protect each other. Bab’s and Dinah’s friendship has always been something to be admired but seeing Babs as Oracle kicking major butt even stuck in a wheelchair is a sight to see. This series is where you really get to see the incredible mind that Barbara has, as well as how she’s integral to keeping a lot of the heroes alive. I wholeheartedly recommend that run to anyone and everyone interested in comics.
Cassandra Cain aka Orphan is the Batgirl that took the reigns from Barbara. Her series was usually more about art, movements, and reading facial features than words, because she was taught to fight before speaking. She’s much more of a quiet Batgirl but she rivals even Batman’s fighting abilities and will do anything to protect her friends and innocents but she has to focus so that she doesn’t kill anyone that she fights. Cass had a VERY long running Batgirl series which was actually the first full solo title for a Batgirl character. It lasted for 73 issues and was honestly pretty amazing. Later on, she passes the reigns to Stephanie Brown and is currently Orphan in the Rebirth Detective Comics run where she has a pretty adorable relationship with Clayface….yeah I know that sounds weird but you have to go with me on it!
Stephanie Brown….oh you beautiful person you. Stephanie was the Batgirl after Cass gave her the reigns and before Barbara took the mantle back. Stephanie is the daughter of a villain and destined to be with Tim Drake (Red Robin). We meet her in Robin which was Tim Drake’s solo title and one of the longest running DC solo titles and is completely worth a read. There we see her become Spoiler and her relationship with Tim which as you can expect had its ups and downs. She ends up being a Robin for a while after Tim’s exit. Stephanie Brown’s series as Batgirl was unfortunately only 24 issues but it was a heck of a fun ride before dying and us losing an amazing character. Fast forward to New 52 and we see a Stephanie Brown reborn and with a different origin story in Batman Eternal. Currently, she’s in Detective Comics as a protagonist and antagonist alike but as Spoiler again. We see a bit of Stephanie and Tim’s relationship again before events take it away. I do have to agree with a lot of people that compare the current Batgirl of Burnside with Stephanie’s run (also agreed that Burnside isn’t doing it as well).
The three main Batgirls are all amazing people in their own way. Along with absolutely fantastic costume choices in each aspect. Personally, I still have to go with Barbara as my favorite Batgirl. She’s the most iconic and her smarts and ability to adapt to her situations always makes for a good time. I don’t think I would recommend the current run of Batgirl or Batgirl and the Birds of Prey if I’m being honest. Barbara, I would recommend Gail Simone’s New 52 run as well as her Birds of Prey run, Cass, I recommend her solo Batgirl run, and Stephanie I’d recommend reading her solo run as well as her in the Robin solo run. All of those are excellent reads if you ever wanted to get to know Batgirl.