For the past 80 years, Batman has amassed a Bat Family of allies to help him defend Gotham City against its unlimited supply of villains. In addition to forming a critical part of the Caped Crusader’s base, they’ve also helped him protect the planet and the universe during cosmic DC events.
Induction into the Bat Family is an excellent springboard for characters to launch into the DC Universe, as Batman’s endorsement does wonders for one’s resume. Many members have taken the lead in their own comic book series and some have even headlined their own TV shows and movies. One of those is Batwoman, whose self-titled show is currently airing on the CW as part of the Arrowverse. While she continues to deliver justice on the small screen, Batgirl will swing into movie theaters next year.
It’s no surprise that a world with a Batman and a love of binary opposites would also introduce a Batwoman. But the character’s popularity is relatively recent and she remains arguably less-known than Batgirl. Batman doesn’t have a Batboy sidekick, after all. Aren’t Batwoman and Batgirl just the same character?
Waynes and Kanes
No, they are not the same character, and in true comic book style, several different characters have taken the mantles of Batwoman and Batgirl over the years. Back in the 1960s, there was a link between the two thanks to the Kane family.
The first Bat-Girl was Betty (later Bette) Kane, introduced to Gotham in 1961’s Batman #139 by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff. She was the niece of Kathy Kane, also known as Batwoman, who had arrived in the pages of Detective Comics #233 in July 1956. The crime-fighting pair was intended to be respective love interests for Batman and Robin, but their appearances faded as the Silver Age reasserted Batman and his sidekick as vigilantes. Bat-Girl never really rose above the flimsy reason for her invention, but that wouldn’t be the end of her title.
Batgirl’s instant impression
Batgirl has more recognition than Batwoman thanks to Barbara Gordon. The daughter of Commissioner Gordon took on the mantle of Batgirl in 1967 after memories of her predecessor had faded. Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino introduced Barbara in Detective Comics #359, and her popularity was bolstered by appearances in the third series of the 1960s Batman TV series. She was the first female superhero to appear regularly on television and has remained in pop culture ever since. She even overcame her appearance in 1997’s Batman and Robin.
Barbara Gordon has been dragged into some of Batman’s darkest storylines in the comics. Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s groundbreaking The Killing Joke had life-changing consequences in 1988. As he captured and tormented her father to the brink of insanity, a particularly vicious Joker shot Barbara Gordon. While she survived, spinal damage left her with paraplegia that forced her to retire her Batgirl persona. Barbara Gordon wasn’t a character who could be kept down, however. In less than a year, she had returned as the computer expert and hacker Oracle, assisting and coordinating the Bat Family and allies across Gotham from her clocktower headquarters. Her partnership with Black Canary in the mid-1990s launched the superhero team Birds of Prey.
The Bat Family after crisis
The reality-altering event Crisis on Infinite Earths reset the DC universe in 1986, allowing fresh takes on famous characters and a clear deck to rewrite four decades of continuity. Batte Davis’s Bat-Girl was wiped from continuity, although the character would later emerge as Teen Titan member Flamebird. Her aunt Kathy Kane would also disappear from history. The Killing Joke took place in this revised continuity, but with Barbara Gordon taking on a new role, the absence of a Batgirl left a vacancy. Barbara remained a constant and popular character and has mentored several others as successors.
In 1999, Cassandra Cain took on the mantle, becoming the first Batgirl to headline a self-titled comic series. A decade later, Stephanie Brown assumed the role, adding to her impressive collection of Bat titles. She had previously arrived as the villain-cramping annoyance Spoiler and became the first in-canon female Robin before apparently dying in 2006. Her stint as Batgirl lasted two years when the New 52 reset DC continuity once again. In this new era, the dark history of The Killing Joke remained, but groundbreaking surgery allowed Baraba Gordon to recover and once again suit up as Batgirl.
Following the 1980s Crisis-reset and Kathy Kane’s removal from continuity, several Batwomen appeared in Gotham. DC’s alternate comic line Elseworlds, exploring extraordinary events outside the regular canon, was keen to introduce the character in many guises. The most significant version of the character proved to be Kate Kane, who began operating in Gotham during Batman’s year-long absence after yet another continuity reset, Infinite Crisis. Kane first appeared in the seventh week of DC’s 52 in 2006 and hasn’t looked back since.
Within three years, she was headlining the flagship title Detective Comics. In 2011, she headlined her own title, co-written by J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman. This run would end in creative differences between the creatives and DC Comics, but Williams’ artwork did much to define one of Gotham’s most stunning superheroes.
If the name Kane seems familiar, it’s because the post-Crisis continuity forged closer links between Batwoman and Batman. The Kanes were linked to Bruce Wayne through his mother, Martha Kane, before marrying Thomas Wayne. Kate Kane was established as a maternal cousin to Bruce Wayne. A well-balanced update gave the character access to finance and military-grade equipment, as revealed in a slowly told backstory. Her sexual orientation attracted immediate media attention and ignited public debate. Kate Kane’s Batwoman became the highest-profile gay superhero in DC Comics titles.
Her soaring popularity earned her a guest spot in The CW’s Arrowverse in 2018, and an ongoing series soon followed. Initially, Ruby Rose’s Kate Kane assumed the mantle in a Gotham deserted by Batman. Batwoman became the alter-ego of Javicia Leslie’s Ryan Wilder from the second year.
The current lineup
Batgirl and Batwoman are operating in Gotham City in current DC continuity, but things are never that simple. Barbara Gordon is still occasionally Batgirl, although caution about the surgery that reversed her paralysis means she mainly operates as Oracle. As such, she’s passed the mantle of Batgirl onto not one but two worthy successors: former Batgirls Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown. The comic Batgirls began in Dec. 2021.
When Batgirl arrives in movie theaters in 2022, Barbara Gordon will be under the cowl and cape. With Brendan Fraser onboard as villain Firefly, Leslie Grace’s Batgirl will receive support from J.K. Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon and legendary screen Batman Michael Keaton. Barbara will also take the role in the upcoming action RPG video game Gotham Knights. She’ll team up with Dick Grayson’s Nightwing, Jason Todd’s Red Hood, and Tim Drake’s Robin to defend Gotham after its most famous guardian’s disappearance. Batwoman hasn’t headlined a comic series since 2015, although she has played a significant role in Gotham sagas since, most recently in the Fear State crossover. Her live-action adventures have just entered their third year on The CW.
Batgirl and Batwoman are undeniably different characters. No Batwoman has ever been a Batgirl, and no Batgirl has been a Batwoman, but they form a crucial part of the Bat Family. After all, Gotham’s a big city, and as we all know by now, there’s plenty of crime to go around.