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Monday, 31 July 2017 10:26 Jennifer Devore
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Batgirl: 50 Years Behind the Mask



Jennifer Susannah Devore


“She called herself Bat-Girl! Gosh, I wonder who she is?”

- Robin, Batman #139, April 1961


Swooshing through an open window, Bat-Girl crashed the DC Comics clique in 1961. Resembling 1930s Norwegian, Olympic ice-skater Sonia Henie, she was more Madame Alexander doll than superhero. The first Bat-Girl, a.k.a. Betty Kane, was little more than a pretty, teenage nuisance and, according to Robin, “an inexperienced girl bound to get hurt pursuing crooks”.

On her Fiftieth, Batgirl, and we, might reflect on her personal transformations. Along her journey, she has refashioned not only her hair colour, costumes and careers, but her secret identities. Batgirl's personalities number so many, a PhD candidate might deconstruct her mythology as a dissertation on “Dissociative Identity Disorder in Pop-Culture”. However deconstructed, Batgirl's only constant is her utility belt.

In the Spring of 1954, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Juvenile Delinquency met in New York City to discuss potential, mental health effects from comic books on children. Publishers, police, psychiatrists, psychologists and teachers testified on the perceived detriments of, specifically, crime and horror comic books. Fredric Wertham, M.D., a German-American psychiatrist and contemporary of Sigmund Freud testified as a child-welfare advocate. Concerned with comic book sales to children under fifteen, Dr. Wertham argued the graphic, violent imagery therein would establish a pivotal step toward a delinquent life. Whilst some of his data was later scrutinized as skewed to support his thesis, Dr. Wertham's crusade against violent imagery indelibly changed the comic landscape.

Following the hearings, sensing impending, government intervention, the Comics Magazine Association of America drafted the Comics Code Authority (CCA): a proactive, self-regulating code of ethics. (Today, the CCA is arcane and inoperative. By 2001, only DC, Bongo and Archie Comics adhered. By 2011, all three had abandoned it.)

Dr. Wertham also saw a subtext of homosexuality in some figures. Enter Batman and Robin. Reacting to Wertham's accusation that the Dynamic Duo might share more than just a penchant for bodysuits and leg-days at the gym, Batman co-creator Bob Kane and artist Sheldon Moldoff created Batwoman in 1956: a sultry crime-fighter in a leotard and sporting a utility belt holding scant but lipstick, perfume and hair-bobs. Batwoman's role was to serve as a lust-interest for the, clearly, hetero Batman. Now … that leaves Robin.

In 1961, Batman's other co-creator, Bill Finger, collaborated with Sheldon Moldoff to craft a nice girl for Robin. If a bat-woman was good enough for Batman, a bat-girl was fine for Robin. Conveniently, Batwoman, a.k.a. wealthy heiress Kathy Kane, had a niece: Betty Kane. Instant Bat-Girl. Betty was the perfect complement to Robin, down to her matching red, green and yellow costume. Sadly, Betty's colour scheme, Scandinavian allure and dancer's legs weren't appealing enough. By 1964, she disappeared altogether, without any clarification.

The beauty of the DC Universe, is rebirth can occur as easily as a new narrative can be written. In January of 1967, Batgirl was respawned, sans hyphen, and christened Barbara Gordon in Detective Comics #359: “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl”. Barbara Gordon was no Shirley Temple doll in a cape. She was 5'7” 126lbs of 38-24-36 funneled into black rubber and topped with cinnamon curls and rose-red lips. Unlike the bored, Kane heiresses, Barbara was a career librarian at Gotham City Public Library. Being Commissioner Gordon's daughter was equally poignant; as she was now a real player, a challenge and a prime target for Gotham villains.

As the TV medium reigned in the late-Sixties, and as Batman was an American staple, there was no better screen début for Barbara Gordon. In “Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin” (Batman S3e1), Batman got his first eyeful of gorgeous ginger, Yvonne Craig. Clad in purple-glitter latex, crashing the scene astride her purple-glitter motorcycle, Craig instantly joined the Batman roster of arousal-icons like Lee Meriwether, Eartha Kitt, Julie Newmar, Caroyln Jones, Joan Collins and Van Johnson.

Whilst comic books dutifully adhered to their authority code, so now did television. If the former endeavoured to shield children, the latter was just stupid. According to Frances Early's book Athena's Daughters: Television's New Women Warriors, TV superladies were disallowed “real” combat onscreen. If Batman borrowed moves from Bruce Lee, Batgirl borrowed from The Rockettes. Fight scenes consisted of only high-kicks to the chin, maybe followed by a pretty jeté.

" … her fights were choreographed carefully to imitate the moves of a Broadway showgirl through the use of a straight kick to her opponent's face rather than the type of kick a martial artist would use."

- Athena's Daughters

During the 1970s, with the exception of being relegated to high-kicks, Batgirl enjoyed some fruits of the Women's Liberation movement. Yvonne Craig's Batgirl recorded an “Equal Pay for Women” PSA and comic book writers promoted Barbara Gordon to head librarian at GCPL as well as elected her to the U.S. Congress in Detective Comics #422 - #424 (1972).

Throughout the Seventies and Eighties, Batgirl shelved a lot of books, made new friends and took out the trash in Batman Family Giant #9 (“Startling Secret of the Devilish Daughters!” 1977), fighting all the daughters of Gotham's greatest villains. Life was good for Batgirl … until she met The Joker.

In the Spring of 1988, the joke was on Batgirl. Ka-Pow!!! The Joker took aim and Barbara Gordon was blasted right into a wheelchair. Allan Moore's “Batman: The Killing Joke” remains a tent-pole of comic book history. One gunshot to the spine and The Joker rendered Batgirl instantly powerless; however, the Barbara behind the mask was stronger than paralysis and soon thereafter fostered a new identity, and purpose.

With Batgirl incapacitated, Barbara Gordon's new identity bloomed as Oracle. Surfacing in 1989, in Suicide Squad #23, Oracle focused her energy on technology: aiding Batman, the Justice League and Birds of Prey behind the scenes. Confusingly, the Nineties presented Batgirl fans with two Barbara Gordons. Both Barbaras thrived, yet without the convenience of a multiverse mitigation.

One Barbara is still Batgirl, active on the streets of Gotham via “Batman Adventures” (comic books 1993), Batman: The Animated Series (TV 1993) and Batman & Robin (feature film 1997). The other Barbara is wheelchair-bound Oracle, confined to her underground lair, hacking government databases.

On the eve of Y2K, the batsuit hung empty. Fortunately, another girl too driven, too beautiful and too fit to be anything other than a superhero limbered up, brushed her hair one-hundred times and polished the utility belt. A new Batgirl, a.k.a. Helena Bertinelli, would serve a short but sweet tenure.

Formerly known as The Huntress in the Birds of Prey legend, Helena's Batgirl materialized in the No Man's Land story arc (specifically in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #120 in 1999). Like her predecessors, Helena was headstrong and too impatient to sport the utility belt. When Batman caught her sporting it too soon, not to mention having unwisely removed her mask in public, she received a paternal scolding about her carelessness. Maybe, he suggested, further tutoring from Oracle would serve the young Helena well. Pish tosh. What did Batman know?

Well, turns out Batman was correct. Helena wasn't ready and, within the same issue, Batman reclaimed the Batgirl costume from Helena and, humiliatingly, handed it over to another hottie, along with some sage advice.

It is a sacred trust. Remember that. Honor it. You can change in the bedroom.”

- Batman, “No Man's Land” #120, 1999

The next Batgirl would reign until 2008. She should have been known as Radon, for her silent lethality; but she would be known as Cassandra Cain. C.C.'s father, assassin David Cain, raised her as a mute, to better hone her sensorial focus. He trained her in his likeness, to be an assassin skilled in martial arts, hand-to-hand combat, weaponry and explosives. Nevertheless, after her first kill, guilt-laden, she would spend the rest of her life in penance, making amends and fighting for the good guys. C.C. emerged in full regalia at the end of “No Man's Land”, but her first call of duty occurred in Batman #567 (“Mark of Cain: Part One” 1999).

Cassandra's Batgirl is not only remarkable for her muteness, but also the fact that she is the only Asian Batgirl. To that point, she is a rare example of an Asian, female superhero not drawn like a funhouse porn star. Not to be overlooked is her stature. At 5'4” 110lbs., she is Lucy Liu-petite and the tiniest of all the Batgirls.

As if Batgirl's history isn't baffling enough thus far, C.C.'s muteness was never a constant. In 2003, she spoke to Oracle, wading into existentialism, with a former Batgirl no less, by asking in Batman #45, What is soul? C.C. would have nearly a decade to soul-search when, big shock, another chick was waiting in the bat-wings for the coveted utility belt.

By 2009, Batgirl's identity made a sizable change. At 5'5” 142lbs of solid muscle, Stephanie Brown is the Ronda Rousey of Batgirls, minus the boxer braids. This Batgirl can twist Harley Quinn like a soft pretzel and emasculate Darkseid in a likely painful UFC match. Big Stephy buckled up the utility belt in Batman #4 (“Meet the New Batgirl” 2009).

What is your scene, baby? We just gotta know!”

- cover, Batman #4, 2009

Proto-Batgirl, Stephanie's scene was student-by-day, Spoiler-by-night. Stephanie is the daughter of the Cluemaster: the Homer Simpson of villains. Always a failure, the Cluemaster needed to be stopped, for his own dignity. What is a daughter's job if not to tell Dad his shirt is lame, his loafers look cheap and he's a bungling crook. Transitioning her good intentions to the Batgirl suit, Stephanie enjoyed a productive but limited run from 2009 – 2011 battling vermin like Scarecrow and Black Mask … when along came a writer, who sat down beside her and erased Big Stephy away.

Don't call it a comeback. Barbara Gordon is, and always must be, Batgirl. She knows it, you know it and, in 2011, the creators of The New 52 development knew it. The New 52 was to the DC Universe what the USB was to computers: a paradigm shift taming the chaos of everything that came before it. In this crossover thread, only The Flash seemed to know the Universe had been upended; to everyone else living there, life was as it always had been … totally different.

The New 52 Batgirl was once again Barbara Gordon, sans wheelchair. Suddenly, paralysis was a bad dream and in 2011 she had a new suit, a new nickname, Babs, and a new life as a doctoral candidate in library science. She also had a lot of energy to burn.

It's a bit of a shock … Barbara Gordon leaping, fighting and swinging over Gotham.”

- The New 52 and Batgirl writer Gail Simone

After The New 52 titles retired in 2015, Batgirl, still Barbara Gordon, remained very active. In 2016, Babs moved to Asia for martial arts training in Batgirl Series #1. Naturally, as in Gotham, friends and enemies got in the way of her training and swept her up in the new adventures of old Batgirl. Stateside, she kept busy with grad school and her new girl squad, Birds of Prey.

So, what lies in Batgirl's future? Gotham gentleman Ben McKenzie (Jim Gordon) hinted, during an interview at New Orleans Wizard World in 2015 that Gotham writers “hope to address” Barbara Gordon as Batgirl “in the life of the show”. Film-wise, Batgirl is currently shortlisted as a supporting superhero in Gotham City Sirens, Warner Bros' 2018 sequel to Suicide Squad. Elsewhere perched on a rooftop in Gotham waits the freshest, soon-to-be-named Batgirl.

In March 2017, Variety reported, "Batgirl is flying solo ... getting her own standalone movie from filmmaker Joss Whedon." Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, The Avengers) will write and direct the as-yet-untitled project, a Warner Bros/DC Extended Universe collaboration. While no lead actress has been tapped, what fans do know is - according to Whedon himself - Batgirl's Whedonesque lore will emerge from the most contemporary of storylines, DC's The New 52.

Perhaps, in the end, the many faces behind the mask are emblematic of society's evolving, oft confusing roles for females. For fifty years, Batgirl has fought for life and legend. Yet, why so many identities? Batman is Bruce Wayne: one man, one superhero, done. Was Batgirl initially such a stretch that she has needed constant inconsistency to sustain her appeal? Whatever the writers' motivations behind her metamorphoses, Batgirl's appeal, and utility belt, seem buckled up tightly within the DC Universe.

Contributor bio: Jennifer Susannah Devore authors the Savannah of Williamsburg series of 18thC. historical-fiction and The Darlings of Orange County contemporary-fiction. Currently, she is penning a mystery novel mis-en-scène in California's Danish town of Solvang, is obsessed with “Gilmore Girls” and “TURN”, and is being treated, unsuccessfully, for her Hello Kitty addiction.


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Friday, 29 July 2016 14:09 Jennifer Devore
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75 Years of Archie Comics: Betty & Veronica, American Girls


Jennifer Susannah Devore

To me, Betty and Veronica symbolize something that is so right about America, where two girls from completely different backgrounds can find each other and become the best of friends.

-Johnathan Goldwater, co-founder/publisher Archie Comics



Veronica Lodge has everything endless wealth can provide: a mansion, cars, travel and a trendsetter's wardrobe. She also possesses qualities generally unaffected by means: beauty, intelligence, self-confidence and a supportive family. One wonders, why is she at public school, rather than private? Mother and Father Lodge must raise a privileged child, without letting loose on the world an entitled adult.

Mr. Lodge thinks thatVeronica is exposed to a more diverse group of students and is hopefully developing some lasting friendships.

-Victor Gorelick, Archie Comics Co-President/Editor-in-Chief

Betty Cooper has everything endless sweetness can provide: loyal friends, a true heart, a clear conscience and altruistic intentions. She also possesses qualities generally unaffected by means: beauty, intelligence, self-confidence and a supportive family.

Old-fashioned, American pluck runs in Betty's family: working-class parents, an investigative-reporter sister, and a secret-agent brother. Old-fashioned, American success runs in Veronica's family: a self-made, multimillionaire father and a generous, elegant mother. Whether inner strength comes via nurture or nature, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge are two girls not to cross. American rules state if you mess with the bull, you get the horns. Betty and Veronica are those horns.

Veronica, admittedly, takes her own sweet time doing the right thing: case in point, Betty & Veronica in Bad Boy Trouble (2007). Whilst she is unarguably the more difficult girl, running hot to cold, vindictive to protective, petulant to pleasing in the blink of a sapphire-blue eye, she always comes around, right to where Betty's been all along.

Individually, Betty and Veronica are enviable high school girls living, relatively, carefree lives in Riverdale, U.S.A.. Like any American town, trouble certainly exists; but here, it's surmountable, not by superpowers, but by self-assurance and, more importantly, the steely bonds of friendship. In a country and era without caste-systems or sumptuary laws, two girls of diametrical socioeconomic status find their BFF in each other. Betty is as welcome in the Lodge mansion as Veronica is in the Cooper abode … although, Veronica would always rather Betty came to her house.

Together, B&V are a spirited sword-and-shield vanquishing foes and deflecting any bad juju disrupting Riverdale's harmony. Whether Veronica is the victim of sartorial espionage or Betty is harassed by a malevolent newcomer, they are as forceful in response as a tornado catapulting cows across an Oklahoma prairie. With a glossy flip of the hair and pearly whites, they can set the world right. In comics, where duos are as ubiquitous as aliases, B&V stand tall and curvy amongst the greatest. Shaggy and Scooby, Batman and Robin, Snoopy and Woodstock, Ernie and Bert, Mickey and Minnie, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Betty and Veronica. Hard to imagine one without the other.

In 1941, America entered WWII, and met Archie and his girls in MLJ Magazines' Pep Comics #22. Archie Comics co-founder John Goldwater created Archie, Betty and Veronica, based on his own youthful experience of an evening with two sisters he had met out west”. The new characters attended Riverdale High under the auspices of Principal Weatherbee, Ms. Grundy and Mr. Flutesnoot. Classmates included Archie's best pal, Jughead Jones, Moose and his girlfriend Midge, and resident jerk, Reggie Mantle. Artist Bob Montana modeled R.H.S. after his alma mater in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

So, take two road-trip chicks, add happy school-days in New England and Archie is as American as summers on Cape Cod, tearful admission prices at Disneyland, Hallowe'en in Salem and a Starbucks addiction.

First introduced under MLJ Magazines - named for founders Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater - Archie Andrews proved affable enough to merit his own title: Archie #1 (November 1942). Archie stood center-stage, yet it was gorgeous tomboy Betty Cooper and vivacious jet-setter Veronica Lodge whom stole the show.

Archie may have put the company of the map … but for me it's always been about Betty and Veronica. Archie is the steak, Ronnie and Betts are the sizzle.

- Craig Yoe, cartoonist

Like many septuagenarians, B&V have evolved, mostly. The 1940s/1950s pitted Ronnie and Betts as harsh rivals. Vicious, shifty antics were de rigueur to win the heart of dopey Archie, happily out of his league, or really any male. Betty and Veronica #27 (July/August 1947) proffers multiple catfights over a lifeguard, a nerd with a speed boat, and a pair of nylons. Through mid-Century, they spar over Archie, pulling him in opposite directions, sometimes literally, and team up only when Archie's affections fall on another girl. Even in the '90s they launch a bikini-battle for beach business. In Wiener Wars, Betty and Veronica Spectacular #5 (1993) the girls learn sex sells.

Come and get your all American hot dogs, boys!

- Betty, in stars-and-stripes bikini

However, starting with Betty and Veronica #179 (1970), B&V began earnestly contemplating social responsibility. The cover shows more message than midriff as the girls paint protest signs. Archie began highlighting women's liberation, civil rights and ecology, all while keeping B&V sassy and stylish. That style is a timeline of American fashion-zeitgeist.

It started in the 1940s with Old Hollywood couture. Marlene Dietrich and Jane Russell could have modeled for the chiseled jaws, tiny waists and shoulder pads drawn by Archie artists Bill Vigoda, Al Fagaly, Irv Novick and Samm Schwartz.

By the 1950s/1960s, a bouncier Betty and Veronica took shape under Bob Montana. In concert with fellow artists George Frese and Harry Lucey, the girls softened considerably after the 1940s hard-dame look. The post-War curves were softer, but all the more intense, perhaps because Harry Lucey drew the girls nude. (Note: B&V were drawn nude; Lucey did not draw in the nude. Ha!) Like Disney artists studying fawns and rabbits to best mimic nature, Lucey's method produced more natural looking figures, not to mention a treat for inkers. Betty became more Marilyn Monroe, Veronica more Bettie Page.

As the 1960s progressed, so did Archie's art department, adding Dan DeCarlo. Today, if you need to pick B&V out of police lineup, you'll point out the DeCarlo Girls. Under his pen, they became the iconic, comic book characters most recognized: less Hollywood glam, more TV animation, the medium most identifiable with '60s readers. Veronica was still a bombshell, but better suited to pizza at Pop Tate's, rather than descending the spiral staircase in Sunset Blvd. Betty was still a stunner, but better suited to her part-time gig at the garage, rather than enticing libidinous Nazis for bombing codes.

DeCarlo introduced us to all-American girls whom could live next door, depending on your neighborhood. They were, after all, high school girls, not forty-year-old leading ladies. DeCarlo drew the lion's share in the '60s/'70s; but the visions of Dan Parent, Al Hartley, Fernando Ruiz and Jeff Schulz escorted them all the way into the 2000s with verve and attitude.

As with Dietrich and Russell in the '40s, Jennie Garth and Yasmine Bleeth could have served as B&V models through the bubble gum '80s/'90s: approachable, California beach beauties. By the hipper mid-'90s, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Rose McGowan could have served: pretty faces and Pacific Northwest funk via artists Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz.

In the 21stC., Betty and Veronica are their own women, no longer props or prizes for Archie. Maybe they learned self-value from Hermione Granger, Agent Carter, Taylor Swift and 2 Broke Girls. They still compete for Archie, but won't catfight over him today, shredding their clothes as in A Ripping Good Time, Betty and Veronica #158 (1969) … wait, 2 Broke Girls would totally catfight.

In 2015, Archie Comics published New Look” Archie #1, with a new writer: Mark Waid (Daredevil). Waid has the Herculean task of simultaneously keeping B&V contemporary and historic. A 2015 interview with Comic Book Resources unearthed Waid's reverence for Archie.

... to approach long-standing franchises with enough respect for its history … it's a huge responsibility … but that makes it sound like grim drudgework, and this is wholly the opposite. This is a blast.

- Mark Waid, Archie Comics

2016 presents Waid with vastly different social cues than those for former writers like Bob Bolling, George Gladir and Kathleen Webb. Regardless of era, Ronnie and Betts' tale remains, simply, enduring friendship … and cuteness.

That cuteness is now in the hands of artists Fiona Staples (Saga) and Annie Wu (Hawkeye). Realistic with a digital hue, “New Look” B&V are more human than cartoon. Traditional Look” titles are still published, but as Archie Digests. However they are drawn, new or traditional, sporting debutante gowns or jeans and baby-tees, Betty and Veronica are an American standard.

On Archie's 75th, in a culture that calls foul with the swiftness of Jughead on a plate of burgers, Archie has one mission: treat our American girls with respect and keep them cute.


Contributor bio: Jennifer Susannah Devore lives at the beach, loves Disneyland, watches too much Netflix and is currently prowling the con-floor buying anything Hello Kitty. She authors the 18thC. historical-fiction series Savannah of Williamsburg, the contemporary-fiction The Darlings of Orange County and covers WC/SDCC for GoodToBeAGeek with her BFF Betty.

*A reprint from the Official 2016 Comic-Con Int'l Souvenir Book, editor Gary Sassaman*




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Tuesday, 21 July 2015 00:00 Jennifer Devore
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Reform, Relapse and What She Wore: 75 Years of Catwoman Chic



Jennifer Susannah Devore

Jennifer Susannah Devore, SDCC Souvenir Book #5, Catwoman


They say a little black dress is a timeless classic. We say a little patent-leather jumpsuit with a mask and a whip beats that.

-Suzan Colón, Catwoman: The Life and Times of a Feline Fatale


Simply because the night includes midnight Parkour and pilfering, doesn't mean a girl should look homeless, even if she is. Confident yet wary, the youngest Selina Kyle yet, of FOX's Gotham, sprightly portrayed by Camren Bicondova, has perfectly honed the hip, desperately-casual style of Millennial America (designed by Lisa Padovani): storm colours in leather and wool, jeans, hoodies and knee-boots. Although, oddly, like Star Wars, Gotham seems set in the future and a long, long time ago, thus explaining Selina's futuristic/vintage steampunk goggles and 1930s, Marion Davies curls.

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Jennifer Susannah Devore

Jenny Pop is the acclaimed Author of the Savannah of Williamsburg series of books and The Darlings of Orange County. In addition, Jen is a prolific consumer of media and pop culture. Never leaving the house without her journal and fave Waterman pen, an old-fashioned, analog book (usually Hunter S. Thompson) and a fresh coat of lipstick, she is constantly on the hunt for fun, espresso, animation  and comics of any kind and always ready for an impromptu day at Disneyland. is a natural extension of  Jen's World; so, spend some time visiting. You'll have fun, she promises!

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