The Replacements: Barbara Gordon And The Legacy Of Batgirl
Since the dawn of the Silver Age, legacy characters have been a staple of superhero fiction, and having a new character step into a well loved role can open up new opportunities for writers and artists to tell different kinds of stories. In The Replacements, we’ll look back at the notable and not-so-notable heroes and villains to assume some of the most iconic mantles in the superhero genre.
The legacy of Batgirl did not start with Barbara Gordon, but she is undoubtedly the most iconic character to carry the mantle. Through horrible trauma, she persevered and became stronger, only to return to the role decades later for a new generation of fans. This week, we're looking at five other women who have proudly called themselves the Batgirl of Gotham.
Betty Kane was originally introduced as the niece of the original Batwoman, Kathy Kane, and after she discovered her aunt’s secret identity she joined her in the crime-fighting crusade as Bat-Girl. Both characters were originally introduced to downplay the inference of homosexuality in the Batman books, and give Batman and Robin love interests, and she only appeared a handful of times in the '60s and '70s.
She was reintroduced as Bette Kane post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, a somewhat spoiled tennis prodigy who took up the mantle of Flamebird in an attempt to join Titans West and become closer to Robin. She made several attempts to join various incarnations of the Teen Titans, but mostly found that they did not take her seriously, and she briefly retired from crimefighting.
She later moved to Gotham City to attend university on a tennis scholarship, and attempted to reconnect with her cousin, socialite and former marine cadet Kate Kane. After being kidnapped by the serial killer Cutter, she was rescued by Batwoman, who revealed her identity to Bette, using her knowledge of her cousin’s tennis skills to subdue the criminal.
Bette revealed her own vigilante identity to Kate and asked to be her partner, and Kate made her start from the ground up in a grey jumpsuit under the name Plebe. Unhappy with Kate’s treatment of her, she went out as Flamebird and was nearly disemboweled by the demon The Hook, but after a long recovery she returned to action as the vigilante Hawkfire to help save Gotham from the wrath of Medusa.
Helena Bertinelli was born into one of the most powerful mob families in Gotham, and after suffering an intense trauma at a young age she was sent away for her own safety and was taught how to protect herself. Returning to Gotham, she vowed vengeance on the entire concept of organized crime after witnessing her family’s murder by a rival faction, and became the vigilante known as The Huntress.
As a vigilante in Gotham, she endured a turbulent relationship with Batman, but he did sponsor her membership in the Justice League of America where she was instrumental in stopping the threat of Solaris The Tyrant Sun. However, she was forced to resign when Batman had to stop her from killing the incapacitated supervillain Prometheus.
In the wake of the Gotham earthquake, the city was declared a No Man’s Land, and Batman seemed to disappear. In order to keep control of the city, Huntress took on the mantle of Batgirl and discovered criminals feared her more this way; however, she failed to protect territory from Two-Face’s gang, and was stripped of the mantle by Batman after refusing to follow his orders.
She would later join the Birds of Prey as Huntress alongside Black Canary and original Batgirl Barbara Gordon --- now going by Oracle. There she found the friendship and acceptance that was missing from her attempts to join the Batman family, and in time her work with the Birds convinced Batman that she was a worthwhile and valuable ally.
Cassandra Cain was raised from birth to be an assassin. Her father David Cain never spoke to her, so that her brain would learn body language as the primary form of communication, making her an exceptional fighter. When she was eight years old, Cass was forced to kill a businessman, but seeing the life disappear from him, she understood the magnitude of taking a person’s life and ran away.
Cass was first introduced during the No Man’s Land crisis as an agent of Oracle, helping to protect Gotham City and keep its citizens safe. After saving Commissioner Gordon, she was given the Batgirl costume with the blessing of both Oracle and Batman, and taken in by Barbara Gordon as her ward.
As Batgirl, Cass fought Lady Shiva and discovered that the assassin was her mother. After being brainwashed by Deathstroke into becoming the new leader of the League of Assassins, Cass gave up the mantle of Batgirl and disappeared for some time, before re-emerging in Hong Kong as an agent of Batman Incorporated known as Black Bat.
The character was reintroduced in The New 52, keeping much of the same backstory, but expanding on her relationship with her father David Cain and linking her assassin past with the character of Harper Row. After helping to defeat her father, she rejoined the Batman family, taking her father's former codename, Orphan.
Stephanie Brown was the daughter of D-List supervillain The Cluemaster, and when she discovered her father’s villainous ways she adopted the identity of The Spoiler to spoil his plans before they came to fruition. This brought her into contact with the Batman family, and though Batman did not believe she had what it took to be a vigilante in Gotham, she formed a close relationship with Tim Drake.
Stephanie became pregnant as a result of a fling with a previous boyfriend, and after much debate and with the support of Tim Drake, she gave the child up for adoption. She was briefly Robin, but was fired for not following orders. Her attempt to enact Batman’s plan to end organized crime in Gotham led to a gang war and her apparent murder at the hands of Black Mask, though she showed back up months later after having survived the villain’s torture.
After Cassandra Cain abandoned the mantle of Batgirl, she passed it on to Stephanie, which in many ways provided the validation from the Batman family that she had always sought. While Batman was still unsure about her ability to be a top-flight vigilante in Gotham, she more than proved herself as a capable Batgirl in her short time in the role.
Stephanie was reintroduced in The New 52 as Spoiler, again without much of the baggage and trauma that came with her previous incarnation. She was targeted by criminal associates of her father for witnessing a meeting in the family home, and she teamed up with the Batman family to help defeat the Cluemaster, and later joined Batwoman’s team of teen vigilantes to train under her wing.
Misfit first appeared wearing a homemade version of the original Batgirl costume and managed to stop a few crimes in Gotham City. The news of the original Batgirl’s return caught Oracle’s attention, and she sent the Birds of Prey to track down the copycat, but they discovered that the teen possessed the metahuman ability to teleport, making her even more of a handful.
In a conversation with Oracle, the original Batgirl was able to briefly dissuade the would-be hero by showing her what happened to Stephanie Brown, and the teenager abandoned the identity of Batgirl. She later showed up with a modified costume and going by the name Misfit, and enthusiastically helped the Birds of Prey through several missions.
Oracle eventually discovered Misfit's origin, which saw young Charlotte Gage-Radcliffe the only survivor of a house fire, as her teleporting ability does not extend to organic matter and she was unable to save her family from the blaze. The Birds of Prey took her in, acting as a surrogate family for the impulsive and often reckless teenager.
Misfit was one of the many characters who vanished following the implementation of The New 52, but she reappeared during Gail Simone’s final issue of Batgirl, as one of the recruits to an army of female superheroes. Misfit was seen taking out two thugs with her trademark cry, “DARK VENGEANCE!”