4:14pm PT by Graeme McMillan
Keeping It In the Bat-Family: The Dark Knight's Many Helpers
To think of Batman's war on crime as a one-man mission is a grave mistake; not only has he been helped out by a number of teenagers calling themselves Robin throughout the years, but there has been a veritable army of fellow crime fighters willing to act as back-up to the Dark Knight since his debut.
Here's a guide to the many, many other helping hands willing to throw Batarangs to keep Gotham City safe after dark.
Traditionally Batgirl has been Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon, who was inspired by Batman's example, but there have been a number of characters calling themselves "Batgirl" through the years, including Cassandra Cain — an assassin seeking redemption through crime fighting — and Stephanie Brown, one-time Robin and, currently, the superhero known as Spoiler. The first Batgirl was actually a Bat-Girl: Betty Kane was the niece of the first Batwoman, who joined her aunt in her crime-fighting hobby.
Confusingly, there have been two central Batwomen in the Batman mythos, and they have almost the same name. Kathy Kane was a love interest for the Dark Knight in the 1950s who adopted her costumed identity to win over Batman's heart (It almost worked, even though Batman's true love is actually justice). Kate Kane, meanwhile, was created half a century later; a former soldier forced out of service by the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, and who took on the guise of Batwoman when Batman was missing from Gotham City.
The first Robin, Dick Grayson finally stepped out of his mentor's shadow — somewhat — by adopting his own superhero name and costume in the 1980s as part of the fan-favorite New Teen Titans comic book series. That didn't mean he stepped away from Batman altogether; before too long he was back in the fold, even serving as a replacement Dark Knight on two separate occasions.
Another former Robin, Tim Drake, took on an alternate superhero identity when replaced as the Boy Wonder by Bruce Wayne's son, Damien. Displaying a lack of imagination — or, perhaps, a particularly thin skin — he chose the name "Red Robin" when casting around for new names with which to keep bob bob bobbin' around. (The identity actually initially appeared as part of Alex Ross and Mark Waid's fan-favorite alternate future series, Kingdom Come, in 1996; Drake didn't adopt the identity in the "main" comic book timeline until 2009.)
Originally, the Red Hood was the supervillain identity used by the Joker before he became the Joker — or, at least, that's the suggestion of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke. In more recent years, it's a name that's been adopted by Jason Todd, the second Robin who was murdered by the Joker and later brought back to life as an anti-hero who had trouble working out whether he was a good guy or just a thorn in everyone's sides.
Explaining away the Huntress involves evoking the multiple timelines that have made up DC's superhero tapestry through the years. In her original and current incarnations, she is Helena Wayne, daughter of a deceased Bruce Wayne who's decided to uphold his legacy, but for a quarter century she was Helena Bertanelli, the daughter of a crime family who adopted her costumed alter ego first for revenge, only to come around to being a hero later. Either way, she is consistently deadly with a crossbow and given to a cynicism that makes Batman look like an optimist about human nature.
Jean-Paul Valley was a troubled soul who started life as a religious assassin trained to enforce God's Will by any means necessary before being recruited to replace Batman himself after a seemingly career-ending accident. While that didn't work out too well — he might have ended up a slightly homicidal maniac — he returned to the Azrael identity to make amends, eventually dying in the service of Gotham City. Years later, a former cop called Michael Lane assumed the identity for a short-lived stint as a second Azrael.
For all his proclamations about being a loner, Batman has always believed in the idea of safety in numbers — so much so, in fact, that when he quit the Justice League in the 1980s he immediately formed his own super team with members including Halo, a teenager possessed by an angel; Metamorpho, a man who could turn his body into any element; Black Lightning, an African-American man with lightning powers — it was the 1980s — and Katana, a woman whose sword contained the spirit of her dead husband.
In more recent years, Batman has tried to organize a global task force of heroes inspired by his example, including El Gaucho, the Hood, the Knight, Raven Red and Wingman. The idea, which was spotlit in a comic book series of the same name that ran from 2011-2013, was an outgrowth of a 1950s team of heroes called "The Batman of All Nations." That original version, however, didn't have a Bat-Cow. Yes, really; there's a Bat-Cow as part of Batman, Inc. If only he could make it into a future Zack Snyder movie...