The Camp Files: Robin, Bat-Girl and “Cupid”
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
In the Dick Grayson character’s 70+ years of publication as Robin, Nightwing, and briefly as Batman, he’s had more than his fair share of romances, flirts and flings. Just off the top of my head, I can think of…
1. Barbara Gordon/Batgirl/Oracle
4. Cheyenne Freemont
5. Bridget Clancy
6. Tarantula (sort of…)
7. Raya Vestri
But there’s another name on that list that I’m sure both Dick and his fans would love to forget altogether, as it was a byproduct of the often cringe-worthy “camp era” in the ’50s and ’60s: Betty Kane, the original Bat-Girl. And no story better sums up the awkward, and in this case rather creepy nature of their relationship better than “Bat-Mite Meets Bat-Girl” from the pages of Batman #144.
Quick history lesson: In 1954, Seduction of the Innocent by Frederick Wertham was published, a book which, among other slanderous and often ludicrous accusations, referred to Batman and Robin as homosexuals. The book sparked a congressional investigation into comic books, and the industry came under heavy attack. In response, DC Comics not only lightened the tone of Batman’s stories significantly, but they gave him a surrogate family to imply that he was indeed heterosexual. In addition to our dynamic duo and their faithful butler Alfred, we got Kathy Kane/Batwoman, a costumed love interest for Batman. We also got Betty Kane, who convinced her aunt Kathy to train her as Bat-Girl. There was also Bat-Mite, a mischievous imp from the 5th dimension, and Ace the Bat-Hound.
Written by Batman co-creator Bill Finger, and pencilled by the great Dick Sprang, this issue hit the stands in December 1961, less than a year after Bat-Girl’s first appearance the previous Spring. The story starts with Commissioner Gordon telling Batman and Batwoman that they must leave Gotham City immediately in order to testify at a “Senate Crime Committee.” This leaves Robin and Bat-Girl to watch the city. Bat-Girl throws herself at the Boy Wonder almost immediately, but Robin insists he’s “devoted to another woman” (look where they’re standing if you want a clue).
Bat-Girl goes home sobbing. Bat-Mite then appears and promises to help her make Robin fall for her. Over the next few days, the imp helps Bat-Girl impress Robin with her fighting skills, and then make him jealous by getting a kiss from a movie star (who oddly enough, looks a bit like Jimmy Olsen…). They then plot to make him worry for her by staging a kidnapping, but Bat-Girl manages to get kidnapped by real thugs in the process. Robin and Bat-Mite come to the rescue.
Later, Robin tells her that the “other woman” in question is in fact the statue of justice. Like Batman, Robin is convinced he can’t get involved with a woman because his commitment to crime-fighting is full time. Just then, Batman and Batwoman show up. Batman tells him that he’s got plenty of time for sacrifice when he’s an adult, and that basically he should get some while the gettin’s good. Bat-Mite heads home, leaving Robin looking rather annoyed and perplexed, I guess chicks and imps will do that to a guy.
Now, I realize I’m talking about a story from a different era, by two of the all time greats. But with that in mind…
1. When you consider Batman, Batwoman, Robin, and Bat-Girl, there’s an obvious implied father/mother/son/daughter dynamic going on there. But if the intent was to create a family dynamic, doesn’t the Robin/Bat-Girl pairing have somewhat incestual implications? That’s kind of like Greg Brady hooking up with Marsha, isn’t it? Granted, none of these people are actually blood relatives. But still, it’s a little weird.
2. Old school Commissioner Gordon was kind of a douche in this issue, wasn’t he? He calls everybody into his office, and seemingly on a whim tells Batman and Batwoman that absolutely have to go do this Senate committee thing. ‘Cause, you know, they couldn’t have had any plans over the next three days… Incidentally, why did he need to send Batwoman? Are you really trying to sell me that Batman couldn’t have handled it by himself? He IS the goddamn Batman after all…
Also, he makes a point of telling Robin and Bat-Girl to patrol the city while the adults are gone. As opposed to, you know, the cops. Some police commissioner he turned out to be, leaving his city in the hands of a couple of scantily clad teenagers in pixie boots.
3. Robin is clearly not into Bat-Girl, which might actually bring up more questions about his sexuality than reassurances. That whole “I’m devoted to justice 100 percent” thing is a total cop out. So what’s the deal? He’s NOT interested in the leggy blonde who’s falling all over herself and making deals with imps just to get him to notice her? Sheesh, is this what chicks were like in the ’60s? Somebody get me a flux capacitor.
But you know what? I’m actually with Robin on this one. I’d have made up some B.S. story too. Why? Because Bat-Girl is FRIGGIN’ INSANE! Seriously honey, the floor of the Batcave called. It wants it’s bat shit back! All this girl can think about is Robin! She’s like one of those twisted stalker chicks from the movies, only in a cape and mask. If I’m the Boy Wonder, I’m lockin’ this babe up next to The Joker. Yeah, good call on this one Gordon. Leave Robin to defend the city with this chick…
Perhaps thankfully, Bat-Girl only appeared in six stories before DC’s then-editorial director Carmine Infantino began revamping Batman and his world in 1964. Gone were Bat-Girl, Ace the Bat-Hound, and for quite awhile Bat-Mite as well. Batwoman disappeared too, only to return briefly in the ’70s to be murdered by Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Assassins.
Obviously Betty Kane’s successor, Barbara Gordon, would go on to be a much more successful and beloved character. But there are certainly those who have a soft spot for her, and other elements from the camp era. At the very least, stories like this have made her…*ahem*…memorable.
Front page image from dc.wikia.com. Nightwing/Huntress image from fyeahdickgrayson.tumblr.com. Image 3, 5 and 6 from comics101.com. Image 4 from titanstower.com.