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By Thomas Wheeler

There have been any number of characters named Batgirl over the years. The first was actually spelled "Bat-Girl", and was one Betty Kane, sidekick to the original Batwoman. Both characters were discontinued in 1964. Three years later, Barbara Gordon came along. Daughter to Police Commissioner James Gordon, she assumed the Batgirl moniker and maintained it until 1988, when she was shot and paralyzed by the Joker. Not long after, she took on the identity of Oracle, and began to assist super-heroes through a computer network. In 1999, the Batgirl role was briefly assumed by Helena Bertinelli, better known as the Huntress, during the "No Man's Land" storyline, but she was stripped of this role by Batman, who turned the costume and name over to a young woman named Cassandra Cain.

Most recently, the current Batgirl has been Stephanie Brown, who acted as an independent super-hero known as The Spoiler, and briefly took on the role of Robin. She has had her own series since late 2009.

One of the effects of the recent DC Relaunch has been to re-establish Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. This move has had fans of Stephanie Brown up in arms, and I don't blame them. Not that there's any shortage of reasons to be up in arms over the DC Relaunch. This particular matter is just one more item to tack onto a very lengthy list.

I mention all of this because there is a new DC-based line of action figures from Mattel, entirely compatible with Mattel's DC Universe Classics figures, called BATMAN LEGACY, and one of the recent additions to it is indeed BATGIRL. But it's also just as clearly Barbara Gordon.

What I don't want is anyone thinking that I am disrespecting Stephanie Brown, or showing any sort of support for the DC Relaunch. I'm not. This is very clearly the classic Barbara Gordon Batgirl. And in fairness, Barbara Gordon is arguably the best-known Batgirl, and has been the identity for Batgirl in most outside-the-comics incarnations of the character, including the original 1960's live-action TV series, as well as modern animated incarnations.

As such, whatever my problems with the DC Relaunch in general, I certainly have no problem picking up an excellent action figure of this particular character in a line calling itself Batman "Legacy" -- and let's emphasize the Legacy part of that, shall we?

Let's consider the character of Barbara Gordon, and of Batgirl.

Interestingly enough, Batgirl, as Barbara Gordon, came about as a result of a request from the producers of the 1960's television series. They wanted to introduce a Batgirl character into the series' third season to bolster ratings, and the character, created within the comics by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino, was then scheduled to debut in the comics almost simultaneously.

Editor Julius Schwartz claimed that when planning the new Batgir;'s comic book debut, he had considered the character to be a vehicle that might attract a female viewership to the Batman television series. When producers William Dozier and Howie Horowitz saw concept art of the character, they optioned her in a bid to help sell a third season to ABC.

Batgirl first turned up in Detective Comics #359, in 1967. The daughter of Comissioner Gordon, Barbara Gordon had a doctorate in library science and was employed as the head of the Gotham City Public Library, presumably one of the largest public libraries in the DC Universe. DC Comics featured Batgirl on several covers of Detective Comics, often overshadowing Batman and Robin in order to promote the new hero. On the cover of Detective Comics #369, Batgirl argues with Batman over whose sidekick Robin should be.

Batgirl became a lighthearted departure from the tortured characters of Batman and Robin, both depicted as fighting crime to avenge the deaths of their parents. Gordon's motivation for crime-fighting was written as being more generally altruistic.

Batgirl continued to appear in DC Comics throughout the late 1960's and 1970's as a supporting character in Detective Comics, in addition to a wide range of guest appearances in Justice League of America, World's Finest, Brave and the Bold, and elsewhere. The character was also given a starring role in DC's Batman Family book which debuted in 1975, teaming the character with Robin.

Although this series ended after three years, Batgirl continued to appear throughout DC Comics. She appeared to suffer a personal crisis during the Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, wondering what good she could possibly do as a non-super-powered being against the vast threat of the Anti-Monitor and the destruction he was causing, and the character eventually retired in the one-shot Batgirl Special in 1988.

In the 1988 graphic novel "The Killing joke", the Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon in an attempt to drive her father insane, and at the same time, prove to Batman that anyone can be morally compromised.

Writers Kim Yale and John Ostrander, who didn't care for the character being treated as she had been, oversaw the development of Barbara Gordon's new persona as Oracle for the next several years. The character first appeared as Oracle in Suicide Squad #23, anonymously offering her services to the government's Task Force X. In the following two years, Oracle made guest appearances in various DC titles under her identity was revealed as Barbara Gordon in Suicide Squad #38. In 1992, writer Dennis O'Neil gave Barbara Gordon a starring role in "Batman: Sword of Azrael", where she became Batman's primary source of information. This newly forged partnership established Oracle's status as Batman's intellectual equal.

Her return as Batgirl during the DC Relaunch has caused no small measure of controversy. On the one hand, there are those that given the advanced technology of the DC Universe, there was no reason for Barbara Gordon to be confined to a wheelchair for as long as she was. There have been several attempts and suggestions to restore her mobility, but none have worked, and there are those who believe that her continued confinement in a wheelchair has stretched credibility too far. The flip side of that coin is those that would argue that Gordon acting as a handicapped ally of super-heroes is an important mark of "diversity" for the DC Universe, and that restoring her mobility will be a disservice to the "role model" that she might represent as such.

Precisely how it's all going to come about, I really don't know. As of the writing of this review, the DC Relaunch has yet to take place. One DC representative said that the events of The Killing Joke "still happened and she was Oracle. Now she will go through physical rehabilitation and become a more seasoned and nuanced character because she had these incredible and diverse experiences." On the other hand, another DC writer, who initially opposed the idea of bringing her out of the wheelchair, said, "But now, everything has changed. If nearly everyone in the DC Universe, not just Batgirl but almost everyone, is not at a much earlier stage in their career, then my main objection no longer applies, because we are seeing Barbara at an earlier starting point."

And don't think that "earlier stage" isn't causing some ruckus of its own...!

However, the figure definitely represents the classic, pre-Killing Joke, pre-Relaunch Batgirl. In this respect, how she took on the role of Batgirl is as follows. In her debut story, while driving to a costume ball dressed as a female version of Batman, Barbara Gordon intervenes in a kidnapping attempt on Bruce Wayne -- of all people -- but the villain known as Killer Moth, attracting the Dark Knight's attention and leading to her own crime-fighting career.

As to her abilities, although she has no super-powers, Barbara Gordon took numerous self-defense courses in judo and karate, earning brown belts prior to her tenure as Batgirl, and is described as being a "star athlete". She received further training from Batman, and even continued her physical training after being paralyzed from the waist down. She has extensive skills with eskrima fighting sticks, small firearms, and batarangs.

She also possesses considerable technological skills, including vast knowledge of computers and electronics, expert skills as a hacker, and graduate training in library sciences. She has a genius-level intellect and a photographic memory. She incorporated various devices into her costume, including an infrared scanner built into her cowl.

The character has proven to be highly popular over the years. She has been listed among fictional characters that are regarded as cultural icons. Barbara Gordon has been the subject of analysis in academia, regarding the portrayal of women, librarians, and those living with disabilities in the mainstream media. Throughout the course of the character's history, Barbara Gordon's intelligence has been one of her defining traits. According to BusinessWeek -- an interesting place to find mention of comic book characters, she is listed as one of the top ten most intelligent fictional super-heroes appearing in American comics, and is the only female character to appear on the list.

So, after all those accolades, how's the figure? I am pleased to report that the figure is just as superb as her reputation.

This is not the first time Batgirl has appeared in action figure form in a DC Universe Classics compatible line. The last time was in a DCUC two-pack alongside Azrael. Unfortunately, some of those figures had some notable quality control issues, and I never once saw a Batgirl figure that didn't appear to have some serious seam cracks in the assembly, and generally sloppy paintwork. Between that and my general lack of interest in the character of Azrael, I took a pass on that two-pack. I always sort of regretted it, as adding Batgirl to my collection was something that I was interested in, but the price tag for a two-pack that I was only half-interested in, coupled with the far too obvious construction problems, prevented me in that instance.

Fortunately, the Batman Legacy version of Batgirl proved to be well worth the wait. Although the date stamp on the back of the figure would tend to indicate that she's made from the same set of molds as her predecessor, this time around, Mattel got it right.

The Batgirl figure in the DCUC two-pack -- and I'm really going to try not to draw too many comparisons -- had a gray uniform, with an all-blue cowl and cape, and the requisite yellow boots, gloves, belt, and Bat-emblem. Now, is this a legitimate portrayal of the character? Technically, yes, and what the heck, it worked for Mego. But it also, in the case of the DCUC figure, for a rather dull-looking figure, assembly problems notwithstanding.

The Batman Legagy of Batgirl is much more impressive, giving the character an appropriately blue cowl and cape, but with black trim around the face, and a glossy black uniform, with the aforementioned yellow belt, boots, gloves, and Bat-emblem. The result is really a visually outstanding figure.

Now, no doubt there are those that would argue that the figure looks a little too flashy, maybe a little too upbeat, and that the black trim around the face of the cowl is really just meant to be shadow and therefore should not be painted on a three-dimensional figure. To which I say -- hey, she could've been even flashier. They could've painted the figure in metallic sparkling purple and made her look like Yvonne Craig from the 1960's TV series. Count your blessings.

But, okay, let's consider that argument for a moment. If you look at some of the early appearances of Batgirl, her costume is pretty heavily inked. Such were the artistic and printing trends of the time. Now, does that mean that it is meant that her costume is supposed to be dark gray, or perhaps black with a bit of a sheen to it somehow? I think it could readily go either way. And while I do tend to agree that the black on the cowl is more likely shadow than actual trim, again we have to defer to the artistic styles of the time, which would seem to indicate a sort of "either-or" proposition.

I think one of the hardest things to try to render as an action figure is when the character's customary appearance in the comics has been heavy on the blacks, with the only color area being apparent trim. Consider not only Batgirl, but characters such as Cyclops of the X-Men, or Daredevil from Marvel Comics. Is his costume black with red trim, red in weird lighting, what? How would this be perceived in the real world?

In Batgirl's case, I think Mattel came up with a very ingenious solution, giving the figure a glossy black finish to the bulk of the costume. This accommodates the heavy black inks of the early illustrations of the character -- and this is a "Legacy" line after all -- while the glossy finish allows for an above-average amount of light reflection, that accommodates as well as possible the lighter areas of the illustrated costume from the comics.

The black around the face of the cowl may have a certain amount of borderline campiness to it, but recalling what the previous Batgirl figure looked like without it, in this case I'm calling it an improvement and I'm not about to complain.

There is one degree to which the glossy finish has an effect on the figure, especially since virtually every articulation point except the head and ankles are contained within the black areas. Glossy paint can retain a certain amount of tackiness longer than most colors. And as quickly as these figures are likely assembled, maybe the paint wasn't quite as dry as it needed to be. As such, when I freed Batgirl from her package, most of her articulation points were good and stuck.

Now, I've encountered stuck parts on DC Universe Classics figures before. And I have learned, especially in the case of the legs, that they need to be handled very carefully, or you're asking for a broken figure. Sometimes they'll free up, sometimes they don't. In this case, I was reasonably confident that Batgirl would free up. There was no way that there were this many permanently stuck parts on this figure. This had to be a paint issue -- not an assembly one.

I received some assorted advice online. Some said to heat the figure. That this would free the parts. Others said to refrigerate or briefly freeze the figure, adding that heating the figure, which was already made from a somewhat flexible plastic, would only backfire and make the problem worse. I was somewhat more inclined to believe the "freezers", although I know there are occasions where heating a figure can help with making certain adjustments.

Nevertheless, I was disinclined to attempt either if I could help it. Through patience -- and working in a fairly cool room -- I was eventually able to free Batgirl's articulation points. I'm still working on the glove tops as of this writing, but I consider that relatively minimal compared to more crucial areas like arms, elbows, knees, legs, that sort of thing.

Should you encounter a similar situation, I suggest time and patience. Do not try to force the figure. And a cooler environment (granted, I live in Arizona) did seem to help.

Overall, the Batgirl figure is outstanding. The headsculpt is excellent, and very neatly painted. Batgirl's red hair is molded as a separate piece, and attached to the back of the head. Fortunately, it's flexible enough so that it doesn't seriously hinder head movement. The facial features are superbly painted, especially the eyes.

The costume looks really outstanding in glossy black. The Bat-emblem has been very neatly imprinted on the chest. This cannot have been easy. In my experience, the toughest thing to do is paint yellow over black. But it looks great.

The gloves and boots are molded in yellow, and really look outstanding. They are also proof of the degree to which Mattel is willing to make figure-specific parts. While a lot of the figure uses the same female body molds that a number of other figures have used, the gloves and boots are distinct unto themselves. The gloves are flared at the top, and have the little jutting diagonal details on them common to bat-gloves. The boots are sculpted, not just painted, on the lower legs, and are topped with their own version of the Bat-emblem, and the underside of the boots are nicely traded.

Batgirl's utility belt is also an impressive piece, separately molded and attached during assembly. It is mostly yellow, with a gold Bat-buckle and various small equipment capsules placed along the perimeter of the ridged belt. Batgirl's cape is molded in blue, and drapes very nicely from the shoulders. It is highly flexible and in no way adversely affects the figure's articulation.

And as one would expect, the figure is superbly articulated. Batgirl is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, glove tops (representing wrists), mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.

Batgirl doesn't come with any accessories which she can directly use, but she does come with a display stand with her name on it, as well as a small poster.

So, what's my final word? This is a really outstanding figure. I have no idea how Batgirl will look on the heels of the DC Relaunch -- and I'm not sure I much care, either. This figure represents the classic, best known incarnation of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, and is a really excellent figure. The Batman Legacy line is fully compatible with the DC Universe Classics line, so she can be easily integrated into that collection as well. If you're any sort of Bat-fan, you'll definitely want to add this figure to your collection.

The DC UNIVERSE BATMAN LEGACY figure of BATGIRL most definitely has my highest recommendation!