DC Comics: Stop Making Barbara Gordon The Bat Family’s Community Tissue
Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl aka Oracle is the best-known longtime female member of the Batman Family. Whether you prefer the high-flying, high-kicking Batgirl or the wheelchair-bound information-broking Oracle, Barbara has remained a consistent member of the team for a long time and is often featured in various other comic versions and in other media. Daughter of longtime Batman ally Jim Gordon, Barbara Gordon is characterized as wanting to follow in her father’s footsteps as a cop but, thankfully, becoming a vigilante instead.
Babs has had many adventures and team-ups with her fellow Bat Family members and as Oracle (and Batgirl in the New 52/Rebirth era) with the Birds of Prey and teams like the Justice League and Suicide Squad. She has become close friends with the Black Canary, her fellow Bat Family members, and other heroes. When it comes to love, Barbara’s most frequent and iconic interest is none other than the original Robin, Dick Grayson. Unfortunately, many other versions decided to inexplicably pair her with other members of the Bat Family, for seemingly no other reason than she’s hot, she’s there and she’s the most noteworthy female member of the Bat Family.
Dick and Babs
Admittedly, when she first appeared, Barbara was a grown woman and Dick was still a teenager. He had a crush on her that mostly amused her, and despite at one point commenting on her thinking he was cute but agreeing that she was too old for him, nothing happened between them in the Pre-Crisis era. Post-Crisis/Pre-52 saw her get aged down to be only barely older than him, and we get our first canon pairing of them as a couple, which happened at some point while they were still Robin and Batgirl. Mostly, this was shown in flashbacks and the bulk of Dick’s on-panel romances were with Starfire during The New Teen Titans as well as Titans. But the two would later rekindle their romance after Dick’s relationship with Starfire ended tragically. By this time the two became Nightwing and Oracle, respectively. A nice aspect of their relationship at this time was that the loss of her ability to walk did nothing to diminish his feelings for her (not that they should), and the two were shown in a fully healthy adult relationship.
Whether to not you prefer Dick and Babs or Dick and Starfire, Dick and Babs, retcon or rebooted continuity or not, have the element of time on their side. They were shown dating in Batman: The Animated Series. They had a budding relationship in the Batman & Robin movie, and have been paired together in various other versions. As Robin (or Nightwing) and Batgirl, the two feel like a match on the battlefield, the ultimate Battle Couple, even more consistent than Batman and Catwoman. As Nightwing and Oracle, the two connect even deeper, with a shared and painful history but rife with the promise of an exciting, emotionally mature, and healthy adult relationship. Unlike Bruce, Dick has always been very well-rounded, fun, and emotionally available. Catwoman can handle Bruce’s detachment issues because she won’t take any shit from him and also manages to bring out the fun buried deep within. Dick and Babs, aside from being closer in age, are also united in that they are both proteges of Batman and can relate to each other in ways they cannot relate to the Dark Knight himself.
Batman and Batgirl
I would gladly take Bruce and Talia over this any day. While, yes, Barbara was introduced as a grown woman old enough to be both a librarian and later a congresswoman while Dick was still a teen, the public consciousness firmly has Dick and Babs at close to the same age and Batman being not only older, but Dick’s adoptive father. Besides that, Babs is Jim Gordon’s daughter who is, at best, Batman’s unofficial but fairly consistent co-worker, and at worst his best friend. Don’t let porn, which is a fantasy, tell you that parents’ friends hooking up with their kids is hot. It’s creepy as hell. Barbara is also Batman’s protege and for all intents and purposes her boss. The power dynamics are beyond messed up.
But perhaps the worst part is indeed Dick Grayson and how his shadow looms over the situation. In the DCAU, Bruce Timm, who would also do the Killing Joke movie and have the pair bang, was really into the idea of Bruce and Babs. especially by the time of The New Batman Adventures when she was voiced by Tara Strong. Her having a crush on him was never the issue. Bruce is hot and most people into men would be into him. The issue was, and forever will be him returning that crush. Even in the very first episode, she appears in the original iteration of the animated series pre-revamp, Bruce mentions that she has really grown (ewwwww) and wonders if it has been five or six years (or so) since he last saw her. At the time she was a young college student at least 18 or 19 years old… so she might have been 13 or 12 since he last saw her! Even if it would be legal now to do something with her, and since he didn’t raise her or help raise her it’s not technically grooming… but it still feels like he waited around until she was of age. Even if you want to ignore that, he knew her when she was a literal child, how can you not remember that time or have it not cross your mind… it’s just wrong.
The New Batman Adventures and the movie Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman would imply a relationship or at least lingering feelings on one or both sides, but Batman: Beyond, also by Timm, would confirm that the relationship indeed happened, albeit by this future timeline she has married someone else and he is forever alone. A more recent tie-in comic explains that the reason Dick is nowhere around in the Batman Beyond storyline is that while he was away, Bruce got Barbara pregnant with his child, a child that ended up being miscarried when she went out to fight crime… Dick had still very much been in love with Barbara and always planned to rekindle their romance, which they did shortly before he learned the truth, beat Bruce to a bloody pulp (which Bruce took because he knew he was wrong), and then left Gotham for good.
Overall, Batman and Batgirl just don’t work. The closest version that could have been was the Lego Batman movie, where Babs is the new commissioner and grown and Dick is again a minor. Batman had a crush on her, but ultimately it went nowhere.
Barbara and Tim Drake
Though an enjoyable game, Batman: Arkham Knight had a lot of problems and one of them was the game suddenly, and I mean suddenly putting Barbara in a relationship with Tim Drake. Not only is Tim usually much younger than Barbara in most versions and is more of a little brother to her than anything else, but the game gave hints that Barbara and Dick were indeed once together in this version as well. Babs was shown wearing a Flying Graysons necklace in some materials, the Flying Graysons of course being the circus team including Dick’s late parents. The necklace was a subtle hint or reminder of Dick and Babs being such a famous and iconic couple in the Batman mythos.
The previous games had zero indication that Barbara and Tim were interested in each other or even established the ages of the characters. Barbara, voiced originally by Kimberly Brooks, came across as a woman in her prime while Tim could be considered a teen or a young man no older than twenty-one. In Arkham Knight Barbara’s voice actress was recast as Ashley Greene (known for playing Alice Cullen in the Twilight movies), and this change helped Barbara come across as younger than in previous games. I’m unsure as to why Brooks couldn’t reprise the role (imo Brooks voice was the perfect voice for Oracle) or whether or not Greene was brought in to help Babs seem younger to soften the blow of her suddenly dating Tim. Either way, Knight being the finale game and Babs seeming younger was jarring at best. I’m also unsure as to why Tim was chosen to be with her in the first place, again given that Dick is present in the story and hints were given of Dick and Babs having been together. The only thing I can think of is shock value. It just came out of left field and had no time to properly develop or justify its existence.
Babs and Jason Todd
I think the Three Jokers storyline was non-canon, but don’t quote me on that. I didn’t read it, but I saw videos discussing the storyline, including the fact that Babs kisses Jason after a bunch of belligerent sexual tension throughout the storyline. Because I have yet to read this storyline, I have less to say about it aside from the fact that it feels unnecessary and helps highlight the fact that many writers (mostly male, I’m sure) seem to think that Babs should just be able to date or smash just about any male member of the Bat Family, as long as they (and she) are of age. It is quite possible that in this storyline that Barbara and Jason’s relationship was very well-handled and that they had excellent chemistry. The problem is that it didn’t need to be Barbara, and it didn’t need to be Jason. These are fictional characters who are drawn and written to behave and do certain things. I believe that some writers just want to pair Barabara with some of these guys just to push the envelope and get attention because Dick and Babs are the accepted and expected pairing.
As always, your mileage may vary on any or all of this. You might be in favor of any or all, or none of these ships. You might even like or dislike Babs’ other canon ships such as Jason Bard or Ted Kord (the latter of which I did actually like during the very first Birds of Prey run, written by Chuck Dixon). You might also feel that because these other Bat Family ships are non-canon to the main comics storyline (again, I’m not sure whether or not Three Jokers is or not), it doesn’t matter. I am of two opinions about it: it cheapens Babs’ character to just be available for any writer to pair her with the closet penis, and it also undermines the ick factor of Bruce, Dick, Jason, and Tim all being family beyond just co-workers.
Unfortunately, a lot of fans don’t take into consideration that Dick, Jason, and Tim (among others) are Bruce’s adoptive children. They are not just his protegés or partners in crimefighting. Damian Wayne (and/or Helena Wayne or Terry McGinnis, depending on the canon) is not Bruce’s only child, even if he might be the only biological one. In fact, Bruce took in Dick Grayson at age 8 (originally in the golden age Pre-Crisis) or 12 years old (in Pre-52/Post-Crisis). These people are his children, regardless of biology or the fact that Bruce is frozen at 35 years old while Dick and Jason have grown into adults, and Dick is now the male sex symbol of American superhero comics. Babs is generally not treated as a surrogate daughter of Bruce, mostly because she has dated Dick, but she was always something of a protegé or a fellow partner in vigilantism.
Babs doesn’t always need to have a love interest, and it certainly doesn’t always need to be Dick, nor does she always need to be his, but writers and creators should take their relationship into consideration when they try putting her together with his adoptive father or siblings. Even if it’s not biological, incest is still incest, and this is pretty close, and pretty gross. Besides, let the others have ships worth their time: Batman and Catwoman are iconic when handled right, Dick and Babs or Dick and Starfire are awesome, and Jason doesn’t need to keep going for Dick’s exes (the New 52 also had him sleeping with Starfire) to exacerbate his inferiority complex to him or otherwise feeling second best, Tim has a good thing with Bernard right now and can eventually date Stephanie or anyone else who isn’t closely tied to his family.
Babs is not formally a Wayne, but she and her father are very closely tied and if she were to marry Dick she would be a legal part of the family. Just leave Babs alone and find other ways to get attention or shock fans.