02 September 2012

Batgirl as an Editorial Mandate

A while back, the DC Women Tumblr offered former DC Comics editor Scott Peterson space to reveal “The Secret Origin of Batgirl”. This was Cassandra Cain, the third crime-fighter to take that name, after Betty Kane (active as “Bat-Girl” in spurts from 1961 to 1986) and Barbara Gordon (Batgirl from 1967 to 1988).

Three things struck me about Peterson’s recollection. The first was an aspect of his editorial job at DC in the 1990s:
I was, among other things, the Batoffice’s designed heavy, the guy tasked with saying “no” to people who wanted to use Batman or one of the other Batcharacters. My job title was Editor/Batman Group Liaison, which meant that as the liaison, I was the guy who looked at everything from toothbrushes and lunchboxes to posters and novels and beach towels and, yes, the scripts and pencils when other editors borrowed a Batcharacter. The feeling was that even a character as great as Batman could be overused, so that most requests had to be turned down. Which meant I said “no” a lot. You can guess how popular that made me.
Of course, saying that other departments or licensors couldn’t use Batman and his supporting cast is different from limiting one’s own department. By mid-1999 the Batman desk was carrying Batman, Detective, Robin, Nightwing, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Batman: Shadow of the Bat, Azrael: Agent of the Bat, Catwoman, and Anarky. In addition, prominent members of the bat-family were appearing in JLA, World’s Finest, and Young Justice. And for the kids, there was Batman: The Gotham Adventures, with scripts by Peterson (by then a freelance writer).

Plus a magazine called Birds of Prey. Launched from the Batman desk in late 1998, it featured Barbara Gordon, that former Batgirl, and Black Canary as a team of female crime-fighters. This was a new approach, and its sales exceeded the company’s (modest) expectations. DC Comics executives became strongly interested in more female superheroes.

The creation of Batgirl was thus an editorial mandate. And not even from within the Batman office—from a higher manager. Peterson begins his article with the news:
“Create a new Batgirl. Or I will.”

So said then DC Universe Executive Editor Mike Carlin in his always cute and cuddly way.
Peterson writes that Carlin had been suggesting a new Batgirl “for years” before he turned that suggestion into a demand. He might have seen value in a recognized name, or a corporate need to keep the Batgirl trademark alive and valuable. Peterson resisted out of nostalgic fondness for the Barbara Gordon version (and Carlin was merely the Superman group editor until 1996). But once the company realized it might be leaving money on the table, Carlin’s idea became a mandate.

COMING UP: The new Batgirl’s Unresolvable Foundational Conlfict.

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks to Scott Peterson for some helpful guidance on the timing of these events. He recalls leaving the editorial desk in mid-1998, taking up Batman: The Gotham Adventures soon afterward. That suggests the new Batgirl was in development at least a year before she appeared in print.