The Curse of Batgirl (Happy Birthday, Barbara Gordon)
According to Superhero Stuff, today is Barbara Gordon’s official birthday!
While the rest of the blogosphere wishes her a happy birthday, we thought we would explore “The Curse of Batgirl” just to put a different spin on things.
Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara came onto the scene as Batgirl, and became known to millions in the third and final season of the TV show in the person of Yvonne Craig. Some say this began the curse by which the appearance of Batgirl signals a Batman franchise has exhausted its formula and its demise is soon to follow. While the 60s series did fail shortly after Batgirl’s arrival, the fault almost certainly lies in the show’s popularity. All the stars of the day wanted to appear as a “Special Guest Villain” limiting the fan favorites: Burgess Meredith’s Penguin, Caesar Romero’s Joker, and Julie Newmar’s Catwoman.
Her addition to Batman the Animated Series also marked a definite shift in the show’s look and tone, and not a change for the better. While later seasons and the barely-watchable Batman Beyond found its audience among the younger set, the triumph of the original Dini-Timm series was a memory. Barbara herself was described as “A power puff girl” and in the spirit of the old Filmation cartoon and the 60s TV show, she would be the one to spring any trap or jump to the wrong conclusion solving any problem in the course of an investigation.
She occasionally hinted at a romantic interest in Bruce, which was downright creepy considering the extreme youth of her portrayal and the presence of Dick Grayson in the series. Bruce naturally never encouraged it, which made her later allusions to an imagined chemistry in Batman Beyond seem deluded and bitter. It is a pathetic end for such a character, but Beyond consistently portrayed that core lack of respect for the first generation characters, part of its great flaw and the reason it is dismissed by fans who aren’t stuck in that adolescent piss-on-the-old-stuff mentality.
The less said of Barbara Wilson, Alfred’s niece and the Batgirl of Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, the better. All sentient beings know it was Joel Schumacher who was the true death of the franchise. Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl was merely one of the symptoms, not the cause. Yet the inclusion of Batgirl certainly holds as a sign that things are not well.
But Batgirl is only half of the Barbara Gordon story. As comic fans knew, and a television audience discovered in 2002’s Birds of Prey, Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl is shot by the Joker and confined to a wheelchair. She continues her crimefighting as the super-hacker called Oracle. In comics she was part of a team called the Birds of Prey with two other crimefighters: The Huntress and Black Canary. This team was brought to television in 2002, replacing the comics version of Huntress with her original incarnation: Helena Kyle/Wayne the daughter of Batman and Catwoman.
The show quickly bombed but the fault lies in poor scripts, a depressing tone, and a decided bait and switch in the promotional materials. The WB ads focused on Batman and Catwoman’s romance, and those attracted by that ad would be disappointed to learn Catwoman was dead, Batman would never appear and that he would be dismissed in the general “down with men” tone of the show.
So once again, while Barbara is present, this time played by the lovely Dina Meyer, we can hardly lay the failure at her door.
The Birds of Prey in comics has been a long-running hit, the only success DC has found in a female-centric comic. That is certainly the work of writer Gail Simone. Simone continues to write Barbara Gordon in “The New 52” the relaunched DC Comics universe where all recent history has been erased and all stories and characters “rebooted.” The shooting, the wheelchair and “Oracle” are gone, but Barbara Gordon remains, Batgirl once again.
Happy Birthday Barbara!
*While the Barbara Gordon Batgirl appeared in other animated incarnations like the 1966 Filmation cartoons and 2004’s “The Batman,” their success was never on par with the other shows and movies discussed, so the question of a ‘curse’ was never raised.