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Batgirl Costume History
Batman is a hugely successful character for DC comics. It makes sense that they would create a female counterpart. Many women have taken on the identity of Batgirl over the years. Although never reaching the popularity of Batman, she has created her own strong fan following. Batgirl has become an integral part of Gotham City and the DC Universe.
No matter who takes on the role of Batgirl, like Bruce Wayne, they have no superpowers. These heroines must rely on their fighting skills, intelligence, and of course gadgets. They each brought individuality to the role making the character of Batgirl a unique person, instead of a generic female copy.
Bette Kane / Bat-Girl
Bette Kane and her aunt Kathy Kane were created because Batman and Robin were accused of being homosexuals. In 1956 Kathy Kane was brought in as Batwoman and the love interest to Batman. In the 1961 issue of Batman #139 Bette Kane was introduced. Discovering her aunt’s secret identity, Bette became her sidekick and took on the identity Bat-Girl. Soon there was a Batman family where Batman and Batwoman became parents, Robin and Bat-Girl were the kids and they had a pet named Ace the Bat-Hound. Needless to say thing got a little weird. In 1964 Julius Schwartz removed this time from the Batman canon. Bat-Girl no longer existed but Betty Kane survived and became the hero Flamebird.
With Bette Kane’s Bat-Girl wiped from Batman’s history, Barbara Gordon would be considered the first Batgirl. Barbara Gordon was created because the 1960’s Batman television series, starring Adam West. Producers of the show were looking for a way to increase ratings by drawing in a female demographic. To accomplish this they requested that the comics create a female character they could use in their t.v. show. Barbara Gordon was introduced in the 1967 issue of Detective Comics #359. Barbara Gordon was the well educated daughter of Commissioner James Gordon. She had a doctorate in library science and worked at the Gotham City Public Library. This strong woman would even become a United States Congresswoman. The new Batgirl was extremely popular; she would not only team up with Batman and Robin but also other characters within the DC Universe. She became more than a Batman spin off character. In 1988 readers would see the end of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. She retired her secret identity in Batgirl Special #1 and then was shot in the spine by the Joker in the graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke. Paralyzed and unable to walk Barbara creates a supercomputer to fight crime by gather vast amounts of information. She would go by the name of Oracle and helped behind the scenes.
When Batgirl appeared on the scene, Batman was wearing his light grey and blue suit. Barbara would wear a similar costume but hers would be darker. She wore an all black body suit. Her cowl would be exactly like Batman’s, except hers came down in little triangles underneath the eyes. Rather than having blue as her accent color, Batgirl used yellow. The boots and gloves were the same shape as Batman’s, down to the spikes on the sides. A yellow bat was stretched completely across her upper chest. Barbara also wore a utility belt like the Dynamic Duo but hers had a large bat for the buckle. Despite having gadgets on her belt, she also took to wearing what looks like a purse. I guess a girl has to accessorize even when fighting crime.
During the Batman crossover series No Man’s Land in 1999, Helena Bertinelli dropped her Huntress identity and took up the mantle of Batgirl. Her career as Batgirl lasted a very short time. Batman removed her title when she failed to stop Two-Face from taking over and she refused to follow Batman’s code of conduct. Batman does not approve of Helena’s violent strategies but he also admitted to Commissioner Gordon that “You're not the only one she reminds of Barbara.”
While the Huntress was dressing up as Batgirl she came up with a style all her own. Helena’s Batgirl costume was almost entirely black and covered her completely. The only color to be found was yellow and that was minimal. The famous bat symbol was just a gold outline on the chest and the yellow utility belt around her waist was the only way to distinguish her from the shadows. This was probably the most stealth efficient Batgirl costume that still retained the bat design so everyone knew what family of heroes this heroine belonged to. Bertinelli’s Batgirl costume may have hidden her body but it revealed enough of her form to let everyone know they were dealing with Batgirl and not Batman. This same costume would be worn by Cassandra Cain when she took over as Batgirl.
To learn about the Huntress and her costumes over the years, click on the link Huntress Costume History.
When Batman strips Helena Bertinelli of the Batgirl title he gives it to Cassandra Cain, with Barbara Gordon’s blessing. Upon handing her the Uniform Batman says “It is a sacred trust.”
The daughter of assassins David Cane and Lady Shiva, Cassandra was trained since birth. She was able to use her martial arts skills and ability to predict body movement to live up to the expectation of carrying on the Batgirl legacy. She was the first Batgirl to get her own ongoing title. As with any hero who has their own title there were a few different costume styles tried on for very short periods of time but for the most part Cassandra continued to wear the completely black suit worn by her predecessor, Helena Bertinelli. After the 2009 Final Crisis storyline, Cassandra pretends to be disillusioned with Batman’s death and gives up being Batgirl. When Batman returns she comes out of hiding and continues to fight crime in Hong Kong under the bat symbol. However, she now goes by the name Black Bat.
When Cassandra quit being Batgirl she gave the title to her friend Stephanie Brown. Stephanie is a well known character in the Batman storyline and first appeared in the 1992 issue Detective Comics #647. The daughter of Cluemaster, she has assumed the identities of Spoiler and was the 4th Robin. From 2009-2011 she would carry on the role of Batgirl.
Originally Stephanie uses Cassandra’s costume but after Stephanie is able to defeat Scarecrow, Barbara Gordon is willing to accept her as the new Batgirl. Barbara then designs a Batgirl costume to not only replaces the one that was destroyed but also respect Stephanie as her own Batgirl. She would combine different elements of past Batgirl outfits and Stephanie’s old Spoiler costume. It is very clear by the shape of the costume that it is clearly a batsuit. The cowl with pointed ears, cape, and side blades are all present. The solid gold bat insignia on the chest has returned, along with more colors. The sides of the costume are now a purple color that runs along the arms, abdomen and all the way down her legs. The underside of her cape is also colored with the same shade of purple. Her solid black gloves and boots both had the blades on the sides but looked a lot more sturdy than in past costumes. The whole outfit appeared to offer more padding and protection without hiding her womanly curves. Along with the yellow utility belt around her waist she also had one strapped around her left thigh.
With DC Comic’s launch of the New 52, Barbara Gordon underwent surgery and is no longer paralyzed. With her mobility restored she once again has taken on the role as Batgirl. She is wearing a costume almost exactly the same as her first appearance in “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl”. The only big changes are that the inside of her cape is now purple and you need a lot less of an imagination to figure out what she looks like underneath that costume. With better printing technology more details are able to be added to the costume, giving it much more texture.
Real Life Interpretations
Considering Barbara Gordon was created so her character could be used in a television show it should come as no surprise that Batgirl has made appearances in many films and T.V. shows.
Yvonne Craig (Batman 1967): Yvonne Craig would be the first woman to ever play a live action version of Batgirl. On the reasoning for introducing the charter to the show in its third season ABC said, to “attract new audience members, especially idealistic young girls and less high-minded older men." At the time women were not allowed to engage in hand to hand combat on screen, so the show had to choreograph Batgirl's fights like a Broadway showgirl dance. Despite these limitations she was able to win over fans and inspired girls to not let typical gender roles limit their dreams.
Dina Meyer (Birds Of Prey 2002): Although Dina played Oracle on this television series, she is still included in this article because she donned the Batgirl costume during its run. So, technically she did play Batgirl on television. Her costume was amazing but very few people remember or have seen this short lived show, as it only lasted 13 episodes.
Alicia Silverstone (Batman & Robin 1997): Batgirl’s film debut was not well received. She played Barbara Wilson niece of Alfred, instead of being related to Gordon. The movie was panned and the costumes were ridiculed. This was the film with the infamous nipple suits. Despite its tight revealing design, Batgirl’s costume weighed 50 pounds. Silverstone was criticized when some Batgirl scenes were cut and the costume had to be refitted because she gained weight during production. I admire the way Schumacher continually defend Silverstone and called out reporters and I applaud him saying, “With so many young people suffering from anorexia and bulimia, why are you crucifying this girl?”. The fact is she still looked fantastic in her Batgirl costume.
Batgirl is an extremely popular Halloween costume. There are several mass market versions available that can be picked up at almost any costume shop, but they tend to take a lot of liberties in the design.
Fans of the character have to put a little more effort in making more authentic costumes.
Superhero Transformed To Superheroine is an article exploring why many superheroines are copies of their male counterparts. A look at their creation and how they have been interpreted into real life.
If you enjoyed this article, you can find links to my other Costume History Hubs by clicking on the link above. Explore the history of some of the greatest female superheroes in comics through their costumes.
Google Images (Images appeared on several sites and was unsure of original)
And of course: Reading way too many comic books.