When Batgirl made her big screen debut in director Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin (1997), Alicia Silverstone took on the role. The actress suited up alongside the Dynamic Duo, to take on the menacing might of Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy and Bane.
But one thing about Batgirl’s movie debut stood out to long-standing Bat-fans, and it was connected to the character’s alter-ego. Instead of being called Barbara Gordon, in the film Alicia Silverstone played Barbara Wilson.
So, who is Barbara Wilson, where is Barbara Gordon, and what does any of this have to do with Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler, Alfred Pennyworth? In this post, I provide all the answers.
Who is Batgirl in Batman & Robin?
In Batman & Robin, Batgirl is Barbara Wilson. The character is introduced part-way through the movie, after arriving (unexpectedly) at Wayne Manor.
Barbara is the niece of Alfred Pennyworth. She is the daughter of Alfred’s dearly departed sister, Margaret, and she has come to Wayne Manor to take care of Alfred.
Barbara believes that Alfred is locked in a life of servitude and she wants to unshackle him. However, little does she know that Alfred is a key member of the Bat-family and regularly helps Batman and Robin.
But as the film progresses, Barbara discovers the secrets of the Batcave. She then suits up to become Batgirl – a crime-fighting ally.
Why is Batgirl called Barbara Wilson?
Fans of the classic Batman television show from the 1960s, as well as those who tuned into Batman: The Animated Series during the 1990s, will know that Batgirl’s secret identity is Barbara Gordon – aka Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. It’s true – but Barbara Gordon isn’t the only Batgirl in Batman mythology.
In terms of comics, the very first Batgirl (known at the time as Bat-Girl) was Betty Kane. Kane made her debut in 1961 (via Batman issue #139), preceding Barbara Gordon’s arrival in 1967 by six years (Detective Comics issue #359).
Subsequent Bat-characters have also adopted the guise of Batgirl, including Helena Bertinelli, Stephanie Brown, and Cassandra Cain. So, if you think there is only one Batgirl, you are mistaken.
But what does this have to do with Batman & Robin?
When screenwriter Akiva Goldsman began to script Batman & Robin, he wanted to alter the emotional angle of the movie. Previous entries in the Batman Anthology – Batman (1989), and Batman Forever (1995) – centred around the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents and Goldsman wanted to move away from this.
In Batman Forever, Bruce Wayne made a choice to be Batman, forever – not because he had to, but because he wanted to. By making this important decision, it freed future movies up from the need to reference the tragedy of Bruce Wayne’s parents.
But keen to still include an element of tragedy in the story, Goldsman decided to introduce a storyline in which Alfred is dying of MacGregor’s Syndrome. Alfred’s plight becomes a key focus of the film, and as such he becomes a central figure.
When introducing Batgirl into the movie, given Alfred’s prominence in the story, Goldsman felt it would make more sense to link the character to Alfred. As Alfred’s niece, who was also an orphan like Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (aka Robin), she would share a connection with the entire Wayne household, which would strengthen the story.
Speaking in Batman & Robin: The Making of the Movie (by Michael Singer), Goldsman said: “When you have a lot of characters, you need to create relationships so that they can be brought together. We tied Barbara to Alfred as his niece rather than retain her as Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, because Alfred is a more central character in our story. And by re-creating her as an orphan, we echo both Bruce and Dick’s plight.”
Working from the basis that there have been multiple Batgirls in the Batman mythology, Goldsman felt free to use some creative license with the character. Therefore, changing her secret identity and origin was something which was implemented to better suit the film.
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