Friday, October 28, 2005

Holy tights, Batgirl!

This pre-Halloween edition of Comic Art Friday is brought to you by Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and Boo-Berry. And if you actually eat that garbage, you deserve what you get.

I was puzzling over how I was going to accomplish a tie-in between Halloween and my comic art collection. Horror comics certainly have a long and storied history, going back to the infamous EC Comics of the 1950s (you remember, the ones that almost got the comic book industry shut down entirely) and continuing through the Warren Publications magazines that began in the late 1960s (Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella), the major comics publishers' horror renaissance of the 1970s (Marvel's Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf By Night, and Man-Thing, and DC's Swamp Thing, Weird War, and numerous other titles), Todd McFarlane's Spawn (an amalgam of the horror and superhero genres) and its innumerable imitators in the 1990s, and the proliferation of graphic gorefests that pervade the independent comics industry to this day.

Just one problem: I don't collect any of the above. My gallery focuses on superhero pinup art.

So, back to square one.

Fortunately, Halloween conjures up several specific images that coincide with the superhero genre. Witches? There's a Scarlet Witch, who happens to be a favorite character of mine. Ghosts? Plenty of superheroes use the ghost motif as part of their crimefighting identities, from the Spectre to Space Ghost. Black cats? There have been a couple of prominent heroines who've gone by that moniker.

And then there are bats. Oh my, are there ever bats. Thanks to the ever-booming popularity of Batman — who today far outstrips Superman as the linchpin character in the DC Comics line — comics never run short of bat-imagery.

Which brings us to our subject for today: Batgirl.

Much in the same way as did Isis, our cover girl last Comic Art Friday, Batgirl entered the comic world through the window of television. At the height of the freakishly popular Batman TV series of the mid-'60s, the producers of the show hit on the idea of adding an attractive female counterpart to the Dynamic Duo, both in the show and in the comics. In collaboration with editors at DC, the character of Batgirl emerged.

The original Batgirl (actually the second Bat-Girl, as a little-used character of that name had appeared in Batman comics a half-dozen years earlier) was Barbara Gordon, daughter of Batman's police ally Commissioner James Gordon. The flame-haired librarian donned a distaff version of Batman's cowl, cape, and tights (the latter of which were famously snagged on the cover of Detective Comics #371, drawn by DC stalwarts Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson) and leapt into the fray against evil alongside the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder. On television, Barbara/Batgirl was portrayed by the pixieish and fetching Yvonne Craig.

In DC's convoluted and ever-evolving continuity, several other young women have taken up the Batgirl identity since Barbara Gordon retired. (Barbara was later shot by the Joker, rendering her a paraplegic. Today, she supports various DC Universe heroes as the master information-gatherer Oracle.) But when I think of Batgirl, it's always Barbara I envision behind the cowl. Consequently, the Batgirl images in my collection are exclusively those of the Barbara Gordon iteration of this classic heroine.

Here's Batgirl in playful mode, as rendered by longtime Legion of Super-Heroes artist Jeffrey Moy:

Next, Dave Hoover — one of the finest "good girl" artists working today — presents a more pensive and languid Batgirl, surveying the skyline of Gotham City from her rooftop perch:

Last, but by no means least, the stylish Joyce Chin gives us Batgirl in full-out Halloween drama, complete with bats fluttering in the light of the full moon:

Have a safe and spooky Halloween, kiddies!

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