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CSBG Archive

The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – Robin Doesn’t Trust Batgirl With His Secret I.D.?

Every week, we will be examining comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

Today we look at a controversial story involving Batgirl and her knowledge of the secret identities of Batman and Robin…

For the first decade or so of her existence, Batgirl did not know Batman and Robin’s secret identity. That changed in Batman Family #3 in 1975 (written by Elliot S! Maggin)…

Well, technically she just knows Dick’s secret identity, but come on, obviously you know the one you know the other.

So anyhow, in 1980′s Detective Comics #489, writer Jack C. Harris (almost certainly because someone higher-up told him that they did not like Batgirl knowing Batman and Robin’s secret identity) changed things. In the issue, a bad guy steals her memory, piece by piece…

As these things are wont to do, though, it blows up in the face of the guy trying to sell their secrets and he ends up dead before the sale went down.

So Robin gets the tapes to play them for Batgirl to give Batgirl her memory back…

(Kind of weird to refer to yourself as “Babs,” no?)

But he purposely withholds the tape that has his and Batman’s secret identities on it, asking her to consider NOT playing this tape. Messed up stuff, right? And why would she agree to it? Well, she did…

This was met with a number of complaints, including other DC writers even. So a few years later, in 1983′s Detective Comics #526, Gerry Conway has the Joker put together a team of Batman rogues and in the process of the story, reveals that Babs just made Dick THINK that she lost her memory of their IDS…

I think the change was a good one by Conway. Batgirl should know their IDs.

Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

56 Comments

If I squint I can understand why she went along with Robin’s request to destroy the tape (and Robin’s seemingly random request): she just gave away all her secrets to a random mad scientist. Perhaps one would be hesitant to learn such a potentially exploitable secret. But she was clearly good enough to figure it out the first time; and she figured it out again.

I never quite understood what the deal was with having Barbara forget in the first place. Harris (or more likely then Bat-editor Paul Levitz) not wanting Barbara so intimately connected with Batman and Robin like it was in the ’60s? I don’t know. I remember thinking it was really dumb when I read it as a kid. I was much happier when it was undone.

Much as I admire Gene Colan’s artwork, he stills runs into a common problem:

http://forums.superherohype.com/showthread.php?t=374555

In Amazing Heroes#119 in 1987 (two years before the Michael Keaton film), MAC had an interview. He said the following:

“I’m afraid what I’m running smack up into is the old Batman TV show controversy: the old business about, Gee that was a TV show that made fun of Batman and made fun of comic books, so we have to show people that Batman and comic books are serious and they’re adult and accordingly all the fun goes out of it. There was a reason why that TV show was played for laughs and that is when you put actual human beings in those costumes and act out those stories, it looks stupid. They betray their juvenile roots. It can’t be done straight. I defy them to do the movie straight”.

[The Robin costume with pixie shoes, shaved legs, skimpy shorts, golden cape, etc. came from the source.]

It’s not Gene Colan. It’s Don Newton, but your point still stands.

Cory!! Strode

July 22, 2012 at 6:06 am

Um…none of that is Gene Colon art, the art from Detective 526 is Don Newton. Could you explain what you’re talking about?

PB, I don’t see that as causing any problems for Colan.
I really enjoyed the whole “yes of course I know … Dick” thing when Batman Family first came out. Never saw much sense in the forgetting, so I was glad Conway fixed it (his run on Bats was one I remember with fondness)

Colan? That looks like Don Newton inked by Alfredo Alcala.

Funny that Detective #489 has the evil scientist saying the secret in the presence of Barbara, so she would not need the tapes anyway.

How did things stand post-Crisis? I remember an issue of Suicide Squad in the #50s or so where Batman offers to reveal his secret ID to Oracle, implying that it is not (yet) an open matter between them.

However, it does make perfect story sense for Dick and Bruce not to want their secret spread. Quite frankly, it is a wonder that they survived given how many people knew or could learn by way of the Teen (later New) Titans.

Colan? Isn’t that Don Newton , inked by Alfredo Alcala?

Ahhhh…back in the day when Robin was Robin and Batgirl, Batgirl.

Batgirl was a Congresswoman?

I hope they run with that in the New 52. It would certainly give her a unique foothold in the DCU. Of course, she’d have to turn 25 first, and who knows how long that will take.

I think the Suicide Squad stories were the first direct statement on it post-Crisis, and I was happy with that resolution– it fit the post-Year One Batman, while also leaving open the possibility that she actually knew because she’d figured it out. Later on, her history got meddled with more and more (partly out of the silly fanfic-y urge to give her and Dick lifelong romantic/ sexual tension) until she was practically an adopted Wayne herself, and everyone had always known everything. I thought that was less interesting.

Ian, Babs ran for Congress as a reform candidate the late sixties and hung up her cape for several years (there were a couple of appearances in costume when Clark Kent showed up in DC on a story or two). I thought it was a neat thing to do with her at the time (and still do). I believe Batman Family is when she started getting back into action on a regular basis.
I always liked Dick’s 1970s take on his feelings for her: Like having a hopeless crush on your high-school teacher and not being able to convince yourself it’s impossible. Of course, back then he was a college student and she was mid-to-late twenties.

@PB210 Detective Comics#526 was pencilled by Don Newton. (Newton and Colan made a fantastic one-two punch with the art during this era.)

Chuck Melville

July 22, 2012 at 10:00 am

“Much as I admire Gene Colan’s artwork…”

I admire it too — but there’s none on display here.

I see Don Heck and Don Newton, but no Gene Colan.

Scott Lovrine aka Cherokee Jack

July 22, 2012 at 10:44 am

I’m rather confused. How does Gene Colan fit into any of the above?

Man, I need a rant of my own that I can recycle over and over again in the comments all over the site at even the shakiest keyword provocation. Maybe the thing about when and why I gave up on the X-books; I’m off to an OK start with that one.

I’m also trying to figure out what Gene Colan has to do with any of this – both the original post or the comments. If it’s a reference to those last few pages, the art is unmistakably by Don Newton, NOT Gene Colan. As for the first two examples, I’m not entirely sure who the artists are without checking at the GCD (Irv Novick?), but the inking is definitely by Vince Colletta.

Scott Lovrine:”I’m rather confused. How does Gene Colan fit into any of the above?”

So am I. None of the posted artwork is Colan’s.

I love old comics, where Babs is BURNING the tape. BURNING. Burnt plastic is like, the worst… but it’s the simplest way to get the point across in one final panel.

I love how Gerry Conway wrote the un-ret-con scene. “I just let you think that because it seemed important to you.” “You’re doing wonders for my ego, Barbara.” Good stuff, that!

I’m puzzled by the Gene Colan reference as well. If it has to do with those last few pages, the artwork there is unmistakably by Don Newton.

Also, Detective Comics #526 was a terrific comic. It really did feel like something special when I read that one as a kid.

RE: Gene Colan art. His Batman was great, but Don Newton`s version was always my favourite.

always figured that batgirl would working with batman learn a few tricks or two including making some one think she lost something like her memory of batmans and robins i.d that plus the fact that one pannel shows her burning the tape. can not believe dc back then did not like other allies of the batman wind up learning the big secret his i.d when batgirl worked along side of him and robin

@Ian, it was eventually explained that Babs became a Congresswoman on Earth 1 younger than she could on ours due to something called the Knights Dependents Act. Something to do with the original Black Condor, who was a politician.

And whatever Gene Colan may have said, his Batman work was a beautiful part of a fantastic run by Conway, Moench, Newton and co. I have no idea why it was brought up, mind …

I know the “Batgirl doesn’t know Batman and Robin’s secret identities” bit was a holdover from the 60′s tv show, for which Babs Gordon/Batgirl was created in the first place. Neither knew the others’ identities, in fact. I kind of miss the days when every hero didn’t know every other hero’s secret ID, and each title was more or less it’s own contained reality. Felt a bit more intimate that way.

“(Kind of weird to refer to yourself as “Babs,” no?)”

Calling herself “Babs” was kinda weird, but not nearly as much as her dad calling her “babe”.

I had no idea about the congresswoman stuff either. My pre-Crisis DC knowledge is not very deep.

The Mad Monkey

July 22, 2012 at 4:52 pm

The “Gene Colan” art is Don Newton.

I don’t recall Batgirl hanging up her cape while in congress. She was still a congresswoman during those Batman Family stories, wasn’t she? She didn’t have a regular feature for a while, which can sure make it seem like her cape was hung up.

That beautiful artwork attributed to Gene Colon is Don Newton’s, is it not? Inked by Alfredo Acala, I’d say. Always loved Newton’s Batman. His capes were like no one else’s -they seemed so leathery – and he always gave the colorists plenty of room to play. Beautiful!

@Rob “in fact. I kind of miss the days when every hero didn’t know every other hero’s secret ID, and each title was more or less it’s own contained reality. Felt a bit more intimate that way.”

Me I’m the totlal opposite. I MUCH prefer heroes knowing each other’s IDs. Calling each other (in private) Bruce, Clark/Kal and Diana etc is so much more interesting/intimate to me. I especially HATE the ludicrous pretzel they’ve made Spider-Man’s identity.

That Detective 526 was a great comic, from cover to cover. It gave me a great thrill to see pages from it again. Thank you.

Great story, here! Can anyone tell me who the artists were for these issues, please? Especially for Detective Comics #489 and #526?

Chuck Melville

July 22, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Well, we can tell you that it’s NOT Gene Colan…

Chuck Melville

July 22, 2012 at 7:09 pm

The pencilling for those issues are Don Heck and Don Newton, respectively. I’m not sure who did the Batman Family issue; Jose Delbo perhaps?

The other artist was Jose Luis Garcia Lopez… but he didn’t ink that issue so it is a little hard to tell…

Xum

I thought way back when there was a period where B&R knew Batgirl was Barbara Gordon but she had no clue about theirs.

If so, I could see an in-story explanation that since she couldn’t keep her own identity secret, they couldn’t trust her with theirs.

Don Newton was the best Bat artist of the time, bar-none.

I have to go back and track-down his Batman Family run. I read it sporadically when I could find it on new stands as a kid and it was one of the first times I ever really noticed the beautiful artwork in a comic book. I’ve never sought out his stuff as an adult, but it’s high time I did.

Chuck Melville

July 22, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Yeah, my first impression was that the Batman Family artist was Garcia-Lopez, but the inking had thrown me off.

Thanks! Don Heck’s rendition of Barbara and Batgirl is absolutely gorgeous! And, even better, Gerry Conway’s retconning the end of the second story.

Commander Benson

July 22, 2012 at 11:50 pm

“. . . it was eventually explained that Babs became a Congresswoman on Earth 1 younger than she could on ours due to something called the Knights Dependents Act.”

I remember shaking my head—literally—when I read that, in the Batgirl segment of Secret Origins # 20 (Nov., 1987). Given how many errors in military procedure, protocol, and uniforms I’d seen in DC comics from the ’70′s onward, I wasn’t surprised at all to see that the writer hadn’t done his homework with regard to the law, either.

The minimum age for a member of the House of Representatives is mandated by the Constitution of the United States. That means no act, no law, no executive order can change it or supersede it. Only a Constitutional amendment would permit someone not having yet obtained that age to serve as a Congressman.

Thus, the Knights Dependents Act is just so much nonsense. I’ll give the writer, Barbara Randall, one upcheck for realising that the matter of Barbara Gordon being too young to serve as a Congresswoman had to be addressed. But no points are awarded for the wrong-headed way she tried to do it. I mean, come on, the qualifications for running for Congress or the Presidency is basic stuff, the sort of thing you learn in high school civics class.

“. . . in fact. I kind of miss the days when every hero didn’t know every other hero’s secret ID . . . .”

I have to go along with Rob here. There is no valid reason for Batgirl to know who the Batman and Robin are under their masks. Nor for the Justice League members to share the knowledge of their individual secret identities. All it does is increase, exponentially, the chances of a hero’s civilian I.D. being exposed.

Besides, there was always something special in the fact that only certain heroes exchanged the knowledge of each other’s secret I.D. Usually, it bespoke of a particular friendship. Superman and Batman, obviously. But also the Flash and the Green Lantern. And Hawkman and the Atom.

One of my favourite bits of business along this line occurs in the story “The Key-Master of the World”, from JLA # 41 (Dec., 1965). When Hawkman tumbles to the fact that the villain of the piece, the Key, has managed to subtly influence the minds of the JLAers, it becomes urgent for the Winged Wonder to contact them immediately without tipping off the Key (hence, he cannot use the JLA emergency signal).

Hawkman’s only other recourse is to contact his fellow members though their secret identities, and to do that, he reaches for the absorbascon. He reflects on the fact that he had pledged to his fellow Leaguers that he would not use his absorbascon to learn their secret identities. But he feels he has no other option, so he uses the device and gains the knowledge of their civilian selves.

And, boy, are the other Justice Leaguers pissed about it, too. It takes a lot of pursuading by Hawkman before they agree it was necessary.

I’m still not sure, is that Gene Colan art?

Jeez, guys, it’s been established by plenty of commenters, it’s not Colan here. You don’t need to add it in again.

I wondered how old Babs had to be to have been a congresswoman. (Ex, even, as it says here.)

Post-Crisis, she apparently still was, as the Nightwing Year One tpb (collecting that series issues 101-106, iirc) has a timeline/introduction to characters, and I distinctly remember it saying that Babs had been a Congresswoman. I was wondering how old she had to be, and how old that would make Dick and Bruce. I’m guessing that’s why it wasn’t brought up much after that.

Babs definitely should have known. She should have figured it out (fairly easily, really), and especially once Jason came into the picture it shouldn’t have been in question at all.

Y’know, it’s quite easily explainable that the tape with the IDs on it WASN’T the one Babs burned there.

I kind of like how Dick leaves the decision up to her — he’d rather she didn’t know, there’s a way for her to not know, but since she did know, he’s willing to let her know again.

Gavin, when she ran for Congress, she (IIRC–anyone with the story handy, feel free to correct me) did indeed decide to hang up her cape so she could devote herself to her new role. She did put on the cape again, regularly, in Batman Family, but that was three years later and a different team working on her. Between then she just donned it in emergencies in Superman, but she certainly wasn’t active–patrolling regularly, or even investigating crimes outside of Congressional committees.
Commander Benson while I’m inclined to agree with you about secret identities, I rather like the idea that Babs is capable of figuring it out on her own.

Just how old was Barbara at the time she became a Congresswoman? According to Wikipedia, the Constitutuonal requirements for a member of the House of Representatives are as follows: 1) they must be 25 years of age or older, 2) have been a US citizen for at least 7 years, and 3), inhabit the area that they intend to serve as of Election Day. So, as long as she had met all those qualifications at the time, she would have been legally able to serve. It just would have put her in her late twenties, early thirties at the time of Detective #489.

Besides, as Luis pointed out earlier, the villain had already re-revealed Dick’s secret identity when the Duo confronted him, so she could have easily reconstructed the data. Plus, considering the “security breach” in the New Teen Titans, aka The Judas Affair”, Dick isn’t in any position to talk about anyone else’s lapses. Especially one that occured because the villain had attacked her to get revenge on her dad, Commissioner Gordon, not because he knew she was Batgirl.

I can see how someone could think the last pages could be Colan’s…at first glance, that’s what I thought… wonderful stuff either way…

Travis: I think a bunch of the early “it’s not Colan” comments took a while to be approved and all popped up at once, long after they were posted, so in some cases at least there are extenuating circumstances.

When Batgirl first appeared she was the head librarian at the Gotham City Public Library, which I would presume is similar to the one in New York. I would also presume she would have to have been a post graduate with years of experience in order to hold that position. So she could have been in her late-twenties or older from the very beginning.

This would be Pre-Crisis of course.

Xum

Commander Benson

July 23, 2012 at 8:42 am

Piggybacking on Mr. Yukinori’s comments, in Barbara (Batgirl) Gordon’s debut—in Detective Comics # 359 (Jan., 1967)—it was established that she had earned a PhD. from Gotham State University. A reasonable time-line from her high school graduation, college, and then obtaining her Master’s degree and doctorate would put her at or close to the age of twenty-five. Definitely twenty-five, once you factor in the time-creep from Detective Comics # 359 to Batman Family # 3. (Dick Grayson having graduated from high school and now in his sophomore year at Hudson U.)

So, actually, Barbara’s age shouldn’t have been a factor at all in her status as a member of the House of Representatives. But DC didn’t want her to be that old. There had been a minor sub-plot running through the Robin-Batgirl team-ups in Batman Family—that of some flirtation between Robin and the Dominoed Daredoll and a playful suggestion that it might develop into a romance.

Since DC was insisting that Dick Grayson was still a teen-ager—to justify his slot in the Teen Titans—it felt that it wouldn’t do to have Barbara Gordon some seven or eight years older than him.

There was also the idea that putting Batgirl’s age at twenty-seven or so would put her to close to the new standard for the ages of Superman and Batman—twenty-nine. It would make her more of a peer to the Big Two, rather than that of Robin.

So DC reduced Barbara’s age to around twenty-two or three, to make everything more palatable. Or at least, so it thought. It unreasonably compressed the time-line of her academic achievements and it made her too young to fill a seat in Congress. And I already mentioned how the writer screwed up the effort to account for that.

I really don’t understand why DC didn’t just retcon away her time as a Congressowman. That would’ve been a lot simpler than making up a fictional law to justify it. Was there anything especially memorable about that time in her history, anyway?

And Batgirl shouldn’t know Batman & Robin’s secret identities. She’s a girl, and everyone knows that girls are icky and have cooties.

I like that he had to figure it out all over again. After all, like she says, she’s a detective, she’s not stupid.

Man with No Face

July 27, 2012 at 1:31 pm

So, pre-Crisis, Robin was 19 (college sophomore), with a crush on an exceptionally intelligent and capable woman who was 25 or 26 (Ph.D., head librarian, and Congresswoman). What on earth was wrong with THAT?

As I recall, in Batman Family #7, Dick and Bruce are talking about Barbara, and Dick says, “I have the WHAT for her? Listen, she’s got to be seven years older…” Bruce replies, “Older women looked pretty good to me when I was your age, too.”

Another example of later writers “fixing” something that never needed it…only required basic research.

Somewhat off-topic, but I’m looking for the book that showed Barbara walking up to Dick’s apartment – and the door is answered by a barely-dressed Koriand’r, who clearly towers over Barbara. Can anyone give me that book and issue number, please?

I_Captain Blanco

July 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm

KoriandrJean, I’m pretty sure you’re talking about NIGHTWING Annual # 2 (1996), written by Marc Andreyko and drawn by Joe Bennett. It was a GREAT issue, and told the whole story of Dick and Barbara’s relationship. It set a great direction for Dick and Babs, which DC has unfortunately chosen not to pursue. One of my favorite comics of all time, actually.

Thanks, for the tip about Nightwing Annual #2 (1996), I_Captain Blanco! I’m going to try to hunt down these fabulous issues and fill in the gaps of the Barbara/Dick history. It should be fun to get a different point of view on Dick’s romantic history besides the one presented in New Teen Titans, which is the version I’m most familiar with.

A similar question about ages arises with Batman’s very brief stint as a Senator. Okay that was in an issue of the Brave and Bold, but it was the one where they began revamping Green Arrow so it’s harder to dismiss than most.

Commander Benson

August 4, 2012 at 1:04 pm

“A similar question about ages arises with Batman’s very brief stint as a Senator.”

Not necessarily, sir. That is, if you are implying that Bruce Wayne was too young to be a United States Senator, as I am assuming.

Constitutionally, in order to be a U.S. senator, one must have attained the age of thirty. The established facts in effect regarding Bruce Wayne/the Batman, at the time of that story, “The Senator’s Been Shot”, did not disqualify him from being a senator.

Bruce Wayne was (and is) considered to be a contemporary of Clark (Superboy/man) Kent. Certain stories—such as “The Super-Mystery of Metropolis”, World’s Finest Comics # 84 (Sep.-Oct., 1956), and “The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team”, Adventure Comics # 275 (Aug., 1960)—corroborate this.

In other words, Bruce Wayne is the same age as Clark Kent.

Bruce Wayne serving as a U.S. senator would be a problem, if he were twenty-nine years old, as he and Superman are considered, and have been for decades, to be.

However, the standardisation of Superman’s (and thus, Batman’s) age as twenty-nine did not occur until a two-page piece at the end of Superboy # 171 (Jan., 1971).

Before then, Superman was considered to be over the age of thirty, as shown in Superman # 180 (Oct., 1965), Superman # 181 (Nov., 1965), Lois Lane # 62 (Jan., 1966), et al..

If Superman was over thirty, then, as his contemporary, so was the Batman.

As you pointed out, Bruce Wayne briefly served as a senator in The Brave and the Bold # 85. This issue was cover-dated August-September, 1969, well before Superman’s age was reëstablished as twenty-nine in Superboy # 171. At the time of “The Senator’s Been Shot”, the standard for Batman and Superman’s ages was still “over thirty”. Thus, Wayne met the age qualification to be a U.S. senator.

Hope this helps.

Ah mea culpa. I thought the age limit for Senators was 35 for some reason.

Commander Benson

August 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm

No worries, friend.

Thirty-five is the Constitutionally-set minimum age that one can serve as the President or Vice President of the United States.

And that is another indication—albeit an implied one—that, before 1971, Superman’s age was over thirty. In every Presidential election year of the Silver Age, fan letters would suggest that Superman run for President. Mort Weisinger’s inevitable response was that the Man of Steel was ineligble to serve as the Chief Executive because the Constitution required the President to be a “natural-born” citizen of the United States; having been born on Krypton, Superman could not be President.

However, Mort never mentioned anything about Superman being too young to meet the age requirement for President; hence—again, by implication—the Metropolis Marvel was at least thirty-five.

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