For a lot of us, the revolution didn’t come during a dry lecture or a inside a dusty polemic. For a lot of us, the revolution came in riding a lace-lined motorcycle, wearing sparkly purple tights.
When I was just a kid, raised on a remote farm in the Oregon boonies, female adventure stories were hard to find and female action heroines virtually non-existent. The can-do, go-getter comic book heroines of the ’40s, like Lois Lane and Black Canary, had long since been declawed and defanged into wispy shadows of their former selves. I didn’t know the politics of it all, I just knew that even the few books in the library that had girls on the cover mostly featured stories where adventures were thrust upon them, via Kansas tornadoes or English rabbit holes. There was a passivity to it all that was almost entirely lacking in the adventure heroes the boys all followed.
But at least books had female heroes. We lived in an area without television reception, but when I did get to watch, the women were secretaries and love interests. I already felt like an outsider, as the only kid in my school with red hair, and my love of reading seemed only to baffle many of the people around me. My family didn’t understand my childhood aspirations of becoming a writer at all, which left me bereft of encouragement, certainly, but also of role models, of heroes I could aspire to be.
I was waiting for someone. It turns out, I was waiting for Yvonne Craig.
On a rare overnight visit to a cousin’s house, I got to watch a rerun of the syndicated Batman show, and this episode had a guest star.
I can’t begin to explain what a revelation this show was to me. I remember staring, wide-eyed, as this gorgeous woman, this absolute vision, danced across her fight scenes with the grace of a Russian ballerina and the impact of Bruce Lee. She held her own with Batman…hell, there was a sense that she didn’t even really need Batman.
And it got better. As Barbara Gordon, she was also a librarian. She loved books. She was smart, smarter than Robin, maybe smarter than anyone on the show. She had the confidence and poise that every girl longs to have, and best of all (for me) she had red hair, like mine.
I’m surprised I didn’t faint.
I knew a lot of boys who wanted to be Batman. But from that day to this, I wanted to be Batgirl. And to me, Yvonne Craig was Batgirl.
The producers of the show have been frank and forthcoming over the years about bringing the character in. The ratings had dipped, and it was felt they needed to add some sex appeal. In short, they were looking for someone who could fill the costume. The very, very tight costume.
But Craig, so supernaturally gorgeous that she seemed most properly cast as aliens and superheroes, had that gift, that ability to show the human being inside the spandex. She had a knack of flashing a pirate’s smile at just the right moment, to remind you that Barbara Gordon was behind the cowl, and Yvonne Craig was behind Barbara Gordon.
And it’s quite likely that because she had that presence, she spawned a generation of geekgirls for decades to come. I know that when I went back to my little elementary school after seeing her for the first time, I stood a little taller, I spoke a little more forcefully, and when I saw kids bully other kids, I took a stand. Because I knew that’s what Batgirl would do.
I’ve never really let that portrayal go…when facing something difficult, I would think of Yvonne’s Batgirl (more than once, I practiced her smile, but it sadly remains one of a kind). I never stopped loving comics, I never stopped wanting to ride the Bat-cycle through Gotham City.
Years later, I was offered a writing gig at my favorite comics company. My first work for DC Comics. It was a title called Birds of Prey. It starred Barbara Gordon.
I have never in my life been so nervous. This was an older Barbara Gordon, who had long since stopped wearing the Batgirl outfit. She was in a wheelchair and went by the code name Oracle. But to me, it was always Yvonne Craig. I often visualized how she would say the dialog.
Years later still, the DC Universe underwent a reboot and most characters were de-aged and reinvented somewhat, and I was chosen to write a new Batgirl title, Barbara Gordon’s first ongoing solo title in history. The editors asked how I wanted her to move, and to fight, and suggested several martial arts possibilities.
No, no, no, I said. She moves like a dancer, a ballerina… because Yvonne Craig was a dancer and a ballerina.
And she could also kick your ass, should that action be required. Because that, too, is Batgirl.
I’ve been writing comics for just over a decade, and I’ve traveled to conventions all over the world. During our run, Batgirl was routinely the number one selling superheroine book, almost 50 years after her creation. A few months ago, I was at the first ever Western comic convention in mainland China, in Shanghai. The attendance was 70 percent female, and the number one choice of heroine cosplay was Batgirl, by a wide margin. Same with Mexico City and Dublin and dozens of other cities.
I gave a speech at the White House on the portrayals of LGBTQ folk and people with disability in media last year. I’m not a natural speaker, and I was terrified…until several of the prestigious attendees came up to show that under their business clothes, they were wearing Batgirl socks and Batgirl t-shirts.
It’s not just girls, either. At San Diego Comic-Con this year, I was on a panel of health care professionals who use Batgirl comics to help soldiers with PTSD to deal with their trauma. Many times, I’ve had a big, tough looking soldier or sailor come to me in tears at a con, saying how Batgirl had helped them make it through.
It doesn’t seem to matter who writes her adventures, she always manages to be an inspiring character, a character who routinely transcends the tropes and stereotypes of the genre. I firmly believe that’s because all of us, in our heart of hearts, don’t want to let Yvonne Craig down. Her shadow is cast that widely still.
And because of her, I found a hero, and to this day most of the joy in my life can be traced to that electrifying moment of seeing her burst across the screen. The princess who rescued herself, the girl who was no one’s sidekick. The woman in the cape who smiled as she kicked bad guy ass.
Batman, you’re great. You know I love you, you big broody bear.
Robin, you’re awesome. And the short pants are hot, let’s face it.
But sorry, guys. You’ll never be Batgirl.
And you’ll never be Yvonne Craig.
Gail Simone is an award-winning writer of comic books and animation, having written fan-favorite runs on such titles as Wonder Woman, Tomb Raider, Deadpool, The Simpsons, Birds of Prey, Red Sonja, and of course, Batgirl. She is currently writing Secret Six for DC Comics, and the upcoming creator-owned projects Clean Room for Vertigo, and Crosswind for Image comics. Her Kickstarter graphic novel, Leaving Megalopolis, co-created with artist Jim Calafiore, is scheduled for a sequel series soon. She lives on the Oregon coast with her family.