Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Love the Docs.
Last fall, I started writing a blog post about Batgirl, but it got bogged down, especially after an over-long preamble about comic book heroes in general. I'm going to try this again, because I've had superheroes on the mind lately (um, the last 48 hours), but...well, we'll see how it goes.

For me (and for a lot of folks) Batgirl means Barbara Gordon. Ye Old Wikipedia tells me that she was one of the most popular characters during the Silver Age of comics and was ranked #17 on IGN's "Top 100 Comic Book Heroes" list of of only four women to crack the top 20.

[the others? Cat Woman at #20 (hero?), Jean Grey at #13, and Wonder Woman at #5. If we ranked male and female superheroes on separate lists, that would put Babs Gordon at #3 overall...equal par with Spider-Man for the male side]

Trying to come up with my own such lists are extremely difficult (edit edit pages and pages of text)...but after spending much more time than I probably should have and coming up with 20 heroes of each sex (a Top 40 of spandex-clad classics), Batgirl is the clear favorite for the #1 spot in on the "Ladies List," and comes in somewhere around #6 overall (both lists combined). She is, quite clearly, my favorite super heroine of all time...something I wasn't even aware of until recently. Heck, she may not have even been in the running until I started really checking out the whole "Batgirl" concept with my son the last couple-three years. Even ignoring all that Oracle/Birds of Prey stuff that's given her an extra boost in popularity the last quarter century, Batgirl is extremely interesting conceptually...different from most any superhero out there (well, if you're looking at "big namers" from the Big Two comic companies).

First off, she's one of the few modern day heroes not possessed of actual "superpowers." Batgirl is a throwback crime fighter in the pulp tradition, despite being created a quarter century later than most of her comparable male counterparts (Batman, Green Arrow, Spirit, The Shadow, etc.). While there are plenty of "non-powered" humans found within the ranks of modern superheroes, most of these possess science-fiction gadgetry (Iron Man, Hawkeye, Vindicator, etc.) or training in fantasy-level skills (Dr. Strange, Elektra, Iron Fist, etc.). Batgirl has a few "themed" gadgets, but aside from some of the more campier items of her TV years (a laser compact capable of "destroying anything"), the pre-Oracle Batgirl was pretty low-tech when it came to the stuff in her utility belt. She's an old school detective in the same vein as Batman.

However, unlike Batman, or most non-powered superheroes, Batgirl's character isn't motivated by any sort of past tragedy. Heroes like Batman, or Punisher, or Elektra all have some sort of dark violent thing that has happened to them, causing them to "don the mask" and punish evil-doers, a violent sort of "self-therapy." Such tragedy isn't necessary for heroes gifted with powers beyond mortal ken, but even so it's often included in their origin stories (see Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, etc.) to drive home the importance of using their powers responsibly. But for the non-powered hero, tragedy is important to push the character into a life outside the norm, to justify becoming Green Arrow or Iron Man or the Huntress instead of simply living the life of a billionaire playboy/playgirl.

This formula doesn't apply to Barbara Gordon's character. Her only "tragedy" is being a product of her time...the highly intelligent daughter of a cop at a time (the 1960s) when women were underrepresented and mostly absent from the ranks of law enforcement.

[to be clear, there were female police officers by the 1960's. The first female police detective in the United States appears to have been Alice B. Clements of the Chicago P.D.. She was promoted to detective in 1913, seven years before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in this country. After her retirement, however, uniformed women officers were few and far between, not even allowed to walk beats in Chicago till the 1970s]

Alice Clements. Yes, she was a real person.
Instead of tragedy, Gordon's motivations appear to be partly duty (using her skills to make the world a better place) and partly thrill-seeking. Over time, the "duty" part gets the upper hand, and the mature Barbara Gordon becomes a U.S. Congressman and (eventually) retires from crime-fighting, hanging up the cape and allowing other heroes their day. This is yet another thing that distinguishes her from most other superheroes: her transition to maturity and a self-awareness of her own mortality (not to mention the difference she found she could make doing things other than "patrolling the streets").

Couldn't just let her retire
 with dignity, could you?
'Course popular heroes can never stay retired/dead/crippled, right? Comic companies have to sell comics and known commodities have more draw (and sell more copy) than the new unknown, yeah? *sigh*

[low-hanging fruit. yay]

I started thinking about Batgirl (back in October-November) mainly because I was watching and digging on the new Flash TV show and considering how well these WB folks could do something like Batgirl, drawing on the combined experience of both Flash and Arrow. It wouldn't have to include Batman at all, just focus on this interesting character who's somehow got herself into the vigilante business...not because she learned some sort of zen archery/salmon ladder shtick on an island, but because...well, just because. I mean, she's Phoenix Jones with a better rogues gallery (and probably better gadgets) living in an alternate universe where godlike beings (Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.) walk among the mere mortals. What's the mental thought process that leads one into that particular pickle? She must be a little cracked in the head, right? But without all the negative, tragic-past baggage you find in Batman or Luke Cage or Jessica Jones. Someone with the fun side of the "new" Barry Allen...but without the powers. Now, THAT would be a show I'd like to see.

As for gaming (the thing that brought me back to this 7-month old blog topic)...Batgirl is the type of superhero who really works best in a granular level RPG, like Heroes Unlimited. Games like MSH or Supers! or (God forbid) Mutants & Masterminds are a bit too far above her pay grade in terms of scale. Oh, I'm sure there's a write-up for the character in Green Ronin's DC-licensed version of M&M, but O So Ugly I don't even want to contemplate the stat block. I'm thinking of maybe, just maybe, returning to a Very Old (& Dusty) project that I was working on...back before I started worrying about things like being "innovative" or "subversive" in my design process. Something a little B/Xish (class and level based) without actually being B/X. I do have a street-level game on the design table, but that's all about being angry...and Batgirl's not really an angry person. There's quite a bit of the "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" to her. I wonder if I have it in me to write a fun game..while still keeping things gritty and granular with bullets that make you bleed.

[by "fun" I really mean "light-hearted." I hope my games are somewhat fun to play!]

Maybe. That's what I'm thinking anyway...something that inverts the scale problems one finds in games like MSH and DC/Blood of Heroes, without being as fiddly as M&M and without being as hit-or-miss as Heroes Unlimited. Something with the right amount of crunch, while allowing for comic book tropes (super punches not disintegrating folks, for example), and with consequences for failure that are rough without "canceling the series" of a character. That's a tall order...but I'm thinking about it.

Inspired by Babs


  1. I have also spilled a lot of text on Batgirl. Easily one of my favorite characters.

  2. I love Batgirl for all the reasons you give.

    P.S. Have you seen Bulletproof Blues? Bulletproof Blues is designed around superpowers, uses a simple 2d6 task resolution, is available in a very pretty PDF (or softcover print version), and is released under both the OGL and a Creative Commons license. The full text is online at, and a French translation is currently in the works. If you'd like a coupon for the pretty PDF, just drop me a line at

    1. @ Brandon:

      I haven't seen Bulletproof Blues. I'll email you for the coupon as the wiki's a little tough to flip through. Thanks.

  3. Joker shooting Batgirl is still a sore subject with me. I don't think that I have ever been as emotionally distraught from a comic book before or, really since. That stuff isn't supposed to happen in comics! Especially hero comics.

  4. She's particularly unusual for female superheroes in lacking a tragic past. It's hard to think of another superheroine whose main motive was a simple desire to do good.

    Incidentally, I think there's at least two old school D&D style superhero games floating out there, maybe more. Any opinions on them?

  5. I wonder if we shouldnt pitch in on a public property superhero setting and perhaps even a game engine.

    Any thoughts? Normals? That gamma ray event that happened in the medieval period? Happens again sparking a superhero about that?

  6. I wonder if we shouldnt pitch in on a public property superhero setting and perhaps even a game engine.

    Any thoughts? Normals? That gamma ray event that happened in the medieval period? Happens again sparking a superhero about that?