Monday

Batgirl

The new Batgirl was introduced in Detective Comics #359 in the fall of 1966, as part of the Batman craze that followed the success of the campy TV series. Within the year, the character would make the transition to the small screen as well, played by Yvonne Craig.

Unlike the previous batwomen, this Batgirl was not romantically attracted to either Batman or Robin. She did not become a caped crusader in order to win their affections, but because it was thrilling in its own right. As she makes her debut in the story, we are introduced to Barbara Gordon, Ph.D., a somewhat mousy (though clearly gorgeous) librarian, who has designed a Batman-like costume for a masquerade party being thrown by the police department, of which her father is the commissioner.

Naturally, before she reaches the party, she is drawn into a life of crime-fighting by the most slender thread of coincidence. Realizing that kicking the crap out of thugs and preventing kidnappings and murders beats spending her evenings amongst dusty old books, Barbara invests in some Bat-themed hardware and saves Batman and Robin’s collective bacon from a criminal known as the Killer Moth.

In the end, of course, Batman pooh-poohs the necessity of her timely intervention. However, Barbara is not deterred, and, spurred on by positive fan-mail, she soon stalks the night again as Batgirl.

As is clear in her first appearance, Batgirl wore a black bodystocking with yellow accessories and a dark-blue cape. Over time, however, her costume was left “open for color” more and more until it was thought to be light gray like Batman’s. At least it didn’t end up being blue, as is more often the case. The red purse soon disappeared, but the motorcycle remained a common motif for the character.


The version of Batgirl seen on the third season of the TV series was much more colorful and sparkly, with a color scheme of purples and yellows, but the basic design elements of the costume were very similar.

The costume suited the bright palette used in the campy production. It was never imported into the comics, as often happens when there’s a potential for cross-marketing.




(Above: a 1967 demo reel for the Batgirl character made for network executives, inspired by the above comic book story. Posted to YouTube by madjester13.)


Ultimately, Barbara Gordon retired her Batgirl identity after being crippled by the insane criminal Alan Moore, and subsequently became Oracle, the wheelchair-bound mastermind of the book Birds of Prey. A new version of Batgirl has since come and gone.


Friday

Batwoman Begins

The original Batwoman debuted in 1956, wearing a costume of red accessories over a bodysuit of that incomprehensible comic book color “dark yellow.” This peculiar chromatic phenomenon occurs when something is inked with a lot of heavy blacks, but then the highlights are colored yellow. I’ve never been able to quite figure out what this would really look like. Most yellow clothing is pretty bright, even in chiaroscuro lighting. I can only assume her costume was meant to be gold, as it was drawn by Alan Davis & Mark Farmer when Selina Kyle wore it in The Nail. Gold was not a color that the comic book printing process of the mid-20th century could handle, and anyway, Bob Kane’s staff of ‘ghost’ artists were never renowned for their photorealism.

While Batwoman occasionally came to the aid of Batman and Robin, she more often served as a damsel-in-distress for the villain du jour, as seen below.

This Batwoman was frequently depicted in “imaginary stories” as the wife of Bruce Wayne and mother of his child, Bruce Wayne, Jr., who grew up to be Robin II. More often than not, when she tried to join her husband in his crime-fighting crusade, disaster would follow, leading Batman to claim, “A woman’s place is in the home!”

Batwoman had a sidekick of her own, the original Bat-Girl, who borrowed her color scheme from Robin. In one “imaginary story,” she adopted her mentor’s costume and became Batwoman II (which is what she called herself, “Batwoman II”), although she didn’t have to suffer the indignity of having a “II” stitched to her chest like poor Batman II and Robin II.

Of course, Bat-Girl was in love with Robin, just as Batwoman was in love with Batman, although being a teenager, she was much more “gushy” than her suave elder partner. Interestingly, Batman and Robin knew the true identities of both Batwoman and Bat-Girl, but didn’t trust them with their own secrets.

Batwoman and Bat-Girl were essentially done away with in the mid-1960s when DC’s editors decided to take the Batman books in a new, more modern direction.


Thursday

Batwoman Blue?

After seeing some sample art from the new Batwoman’s introduction in DC’s weekly comic series 52, I think it’s clear that this character is already in imminent danger of going badly awry. The reason is obvious in the panel below: It’s only a matter of time before Batwoman, like many superheroes before her, is believed to wear a costume of red and blue instead of red and black, as was originally intended.

After she makes enough appearances with the highlights in her black leotard colored blue, both fans and pros alike will start to believe it is supposed to be a blue leotard, and then the toys and other tie-in merchandise will cement this misperception by painting her blue.

The very same process befell Spider-Man over 40 years ago.


See my full discussion of this unfortunate phenomenon here:
Black and Blue.


Wednesday

Batwomen

When DC Comics recently announced the debut of a new version of the superheroine Batwoman, receiving an unusual amount of attention in the mainstream media, I was immediately struck by the similarity of the costume design to a sketch I had done revising Batgirl some ten years ago. I hasten to add that this is pure happenstance, as I've never even shown my sketch to anyone, let alone anyone with any connection to DC Comics. Still, it shows a definite parallel between two independent approaches to this sort of character.

Here is the promotional art released by DC last week:

And here is my sketch of Batgirl done nearly a decade ago:

Alex Ross and I both chose to eliminate the yellow that dominated the Silver-Age Batwoman and Batgirl designs for a bold red-on-black look, although I went for more of a silhouette with red accents, in keeping with the concept of a stealthy creature of the night. I must say, I like them both.

It proves once again that Great Minds Think Alike.