Over in Hope Larson’s Batgirl, we’re currently in the middle of a Dick and Babs team-up. This makes it a great time to do a comprehensive look back at their relationship. While it started as a one-off joke to end the first issue of “Batman Family”, the Dick/Babs relationship has grown into one of the most endearing relationships of the Bat-books and perhaps even the DC Universe. They’ve been partners, lovers, fiancees and more. Let’s take a look at the crazy ride their relationship was been!
A NOTE ON HOW THIS IS BEING TRACKED: Going chronologically would be too big of a headache because of all the retcons and inconsistencies. We’ll be going by publication time. If you’re worried about me leaving out “Nightwing Annual 2”, it’s because that will be covered when this series reaches 2007. No Elseworlds or DCAU here. We’ll strictly be looking at main continuity in the comics.
When Barbara Gordon/Batgirl debuted in Detective Comics #359, she’s presented as a doctorate holder (“Dr. Barbara Gordon”) who has already completed graduate school. This puts her significantly older than Dick at first. Although she’s older, he outranks her in seniority among the Bat-clan. He does some “mansplaining” to her in their first key interaction.
And thus the Dick/Babs relationship was began with a condescending chin grab!
Unlike modern incarnations where they bond over both being junior partners, the age difference here makes Batgirl more of a peer of Batman than Robin. As a result, the early appearances don’t contain much interactions. Detective Comics #369 is an exception to this rule.
Batman has a rare swamp fever, and because it’s the Silver Age this means the only solution is to perpetuate a hoax. Robin and Batgirl decide that the best way to keep an eye on Batman is to fake a partnership.
Telling Batman seems like a better solution, but it was the sixties. Batman deduces Robin having a crush on Batgirl. He’s a bit early for that…but it does come to pass. Because it’s the Silver Age, things do return to normal. Batman recovers from his swamp fever and finds out the deal “fake partnership” thing was just their way of keeping an eye on him.
By the time we got to Batman Family #1 in 1975, both character have evolved. Dick Grayson is now a college student at Hudson University and Barbara Gordon is a United States Congresswoman.
Thanks to that bit of exposition, we find out that Dick has been summertime aide to Congresswoman Gordon.
Continuity note: Babs Gordon had in fact been set up on a date with Clark Kent in an earlier story.
This is our first indication of Barbara Gordon’s private thoughts on Dick Grayson. Eventually they must become Robin and Batgirl for superhero action. Once it’s over, Robin pulls the same “mansplaining” stuff he tried when Babs debuted. It’s no longer 1967, so she decides to shut him up.
The first Dick/Babs kiss! The readers were just as stunned as Robin was.
The response from DC is interesting. “There are no plans to develop a romance between the two”. My how those plans would change. The response also addresses the age difference between them. While it was more vague during the 60s, it begins to get more precise here. A later letter column says that Dick is 19, and Babs refers to herself as 25 in a future issue. While Crisis and subsequent reality altering events would change Dick and Babs ages, they originally started off with a six year age difference.
By the conclusion of Batman Family #3, Robin and Batgirl come to the obvious conclusion when their alter egos continue to show up where Congresswoman Barbara Gordon and college student Dick Grayson are…
It’s worth noting that Dick discovered Barbara’s identity before Batman did (before the retcons). While not outright stated here, knowledge that Dick is Robin means that Barbara has also deduced that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Bruce Wayne doesn’t address Barbara’s knowledge of this until the hospital scene in The Killing Joke over ten years later.
Batman Family continued to be the Robin/Batgirl team-up book. Despite DC stating they had no plans of a relationship between the two, Robin progressively gets more flirty. Check out this scene from issue #5.
Their partnership becomes so successful, that it even catches the attention of Batman by issue #7.
You can practically feel Alfred rolling his eyes. Shut up Bruce. Just say you’re impressed.
The growing affection between Dick and Babs, both in costume and out, is enough to make Lori Elton (Dick Grayson’s Hudson University girlfriend) jealous in Batman Family #9.
Barbara begins to ponder her feelings in issue #10, but is put off by the age difference.
However, in Batman Family #11 does give us the wedding of Robin and Batgirl.
The story is odd. The Robin-groom outfit and Batgirl-wedding dress-costume seen on the splash page and cover don’t actually appear in the story. Instead they wear their traditional costumes for a fake wedding. The wedding is a ruse where the two pretend to be brainwashed in order to draw out some criminals. Why was a wedding necessary for this? I have no clue.
Dick Grayson’s flirting continues, and Babs sets down some boundaries in Batman Family #13.
Pages later, Dick throws caution to the wind and makes his move.
Ouch! Sometimes a girl will make up crazy excuses to get out of dating you, but losing consciousness is a whole new ballgame! For years there was a fan theory that Babs was faking it to spare Dick’s feelings. Decades later, in Nightwing Annual #2 (more on that in a future part) made that theory canon.
Gradually Batgirl and Robin began having solo stories as separate Batman Family features. Batman Family merged with Detective Comics, but continued the numbering for the latter. It was a while before Batgirl and Robin came together again.
In Detective Comics #489 the duo reunite. Something is off though.
If Robin’s behavior here is confusing to you, then you’ve been paying attention. Jack C. Harris is writing this story, and he seems to be unfamiliar with the openness that Robin and Batgirl shared regarding their identities in during their previous adventures. Robin regularly met with Babs while he was in his civilian clothes and never tried to convince her that he wasn’t Dick Grayson. If you think this is weird, wait until you see what happened with Catwoman and Batman during the 80’s.
Jack or someone at DC editorial hated the idea of Batgirl knowing Batman and Robin’s secret identities. This story was one huge plot device to reverse it. Batgirl loses all of her memories and the only way she can regain them is by listening to cassettes.
Give me a break. The double standard of Robin retaining knowledge of her identity, while she lost knowledge of his was nothing short of infuriating.
Let’s flash forward to another Dick and Babs interaction. This scene from Detective Comics #524 is notable for many reasons.
So many things to bring up here.
1) Check out Dick Grayson’s disco suit!
2) This is indeed the first meeting between Jason Todd and Barbara Gordon.
3) This is when Jason Todd was a circus boy. Check out that bowl cut!
4) The guy Barbara is with is Jason Bard. This is the last Jason/Babs moment until 1999! They may or may not have been engaged during this panel.
5) The Batman Family era flirtation is forgotten. Dick is at ease around Babs and has no issues with her bringing a date either.
Now we move onto Detective Comics #526. It’s important because it rights some wrongs..
We can thank writer Gerry Conway for this one! I love Babs attitude about the whole thing here! “It seemed so important to you I let you believe I had”.
Throughout the story we keep cutting back to a great Robin and Batgirl team up as they trail Batman, Catwoman and Talia. It even includes Batgirl’s first confrontation with the Joker.
Later Jason Todd shows up and is not too pleased to learn that Killer Croc murdered his parents.
I included that panel for a very historical purpose. It’s the last time we see Dick and Babs interact (while in the same room) for eleven years! We’d see them together in flashbacks and he’d talk to her as Oracle via pre-Skype, but Detective Comics #526 is the last time we see them directly interact until Showcase ’94 #12.
After Crisis on Infinite Earths, Batgirl’s origin was updated and recapped in Secret Origins #20. She reflects on her former partnership/flirtation with Robin..
Once again, the age difference is brought up as the factor keeping them apart. The Batman crush is a weird thing that is mostly ignored in subsequent years.
While not quite a Dick/Babs moment, we do see them on the same page (albeit far away from each other and not interacting) in the Batgirl Special one-shot.
Another historical note; this is the last time Jason Todd and Dick Grayson would interact (non-flashback) for almost twenty years. No signs of romance for Dick/Babs yet here, as Barbara has zero reaction to seeing Nightwing other than realizing she isn’t needed.
That covers the Robin/Batgirl era! At this point we have covered 1967-1988. Next time, we look at the nineties and see how the two of them grew closer and became a couple!