Comics/Graphic Novels

We Need To Talk About Batgirl’s Love Life

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Sonja Palmer

Staff Writer

Sonja resides in Asheville, NC where she has a job she loves at a children’s nonprofit.  When she’s not working, she probably has a book or comic in hand as she tries to read her way out of the ever-growing stack in her small apartment.  On weekends, she’s probably clambering through the mountains with her husband and dog or trying to eat too much cake while watching Great British Bake Off.

Batgirl was the first comic I added to my pull list, and I have read it faithfully ever since, even when the quality hasn’t always been the best. I’ve seen her go through your well-known DC grimdark phases, and then be moved to a new location and have a lot of lightness added. She’s been through different love interests and friends, and many different motivations and some costume changes, but she remains an old favorite of mine because she was really my gateway into comics.  She was the first lady-hero I read, and when I picked her up originally, she was one of the first female-written comics I had ever gotten (up until that point, I had been handed your comics standards- Watchmen, Sandman, V for Vendetta, so on)

But one thing has been really bugging me lately, and that is Batgirl’s love life. In the most recent issues, Barbara Gordon falls for a dude, realizes that the dude is not good news, still goes after dude, and then ends up having to fight said dude or gets into trouble because of the relationship.

First up is Kai, a childhood friend of Barbara’s that appears during her trip out to Asia to “find herself” and get away from some of the bigger internal and external battles she had fought in Burnside. While she is in Japan, she runs into him and despite feeling like he is up to no good, they strike up a short romance. She even thinks to herself “Maybe I don’t have to save him.” When he turns out to be in trouble and to have made some bad decisions, Batgirl basically tells him to get his act together and to leave Barbara Gordon alone until he figures his shit out. This is fine.

I understand this. Sometimes people make bad decisions because they feel they don’t have the same options as everyone else. I don’t think Kai is the worst choice ever-far from it. Barbara realized what was going on, and let the relationship go because she realized it wasn’t a good idea to be involved with someone who was struggling to start over but was still had some ties to their old life.

But then we get to this recent run, where Barbara falls for Ethan Cobblepott. You know, the son of literal supervillain The Penguin.


The whole time, she thinks that he seems untrustworthy and that it isn’t a good idea, but he is so cute and there is just a *spark* there.


She muses to herself “Why do I always fall for guys who are bad for me?” I don’t really need to spoil the end of the run for you to say that Ethan Cobblepott, (again, the actual son of the Penguin) and Barbara don’t end up with a happily ever after. I get that sometimes people get into ruts, but here’s the difference. Barbara is a character written by a person, and so her decisions have a different weight to them. The fact that the creator made these two choices so close in a row is frustrating AT BEST. I’m so over superheroes being drawn to the “criminal element” because oh, they’re sexy, and I’m especially over woman superheroes falling for dudes they know are a bad idea because hey, at least they kiss well.

Also, if we are going down this path, I think Barbara/Poison Ivy would have WAY more chemistry. AND Poison Ivy is a way more interesting character to begin with than some son of a Batman villain. They had some  moments in issue 6 of Batgirl (Rebirth) that would be interesting if explored further-if we’re totally committed to this Batgirl has a thing for “bad guys.”

Point being: this seems to be an old superhero trope (which I have never really been a fan of, especially because it usually gets tied into the whole femme fatale thing) and I don’t think it is being handled well, and it is especially frustrating when it is one of DC’s longer-running female led titles. Where’s Luke Fox? That relationship was sweet and he was wonderful, and she just peaced out on it.

All I’m saying is that if some guy named Topher, the son of the Joker, appears and Barbara Gordon starts feeling butterflies,  I am finally canceling my pull and saying hello to something else. Every now and then we just have to let go of the things we used to love when they are no longer good for us.