April 21, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #297: Flamebird

The original Batgirl is a bit of a mystery in certain ways as a Silver Age hold-over.

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

I wrote up a really nice entry for someone I considered a forgotten hero, even with plans for a follow-up column for the following week that I had already started when…I looked it up and saw I had already covered the character something like one hundred entries ago.  I’ve done nearly 300 of these.  It was bound to happen eventually.

Heck, the guy I picked for a replacement for the entry I had to trash was also someone I covered before.

So, here’s a quick thing on DC’s Flamebird.

In the Silver Age, there were certain…accusations about Batman and Robin.  In order to counter those accusations, the thing to do was introduce a female pair of crime-fighters in the form of the original Batwoman and her sidekick, Bat-Girl.

Yes, with a hyphen.

Batwoman was Kathy Kane, a wealthy socialite who fought crime with her utility purse (seriously) and her niece Betty Kane in tow.  Betty went by Bat-Girl at first, and she was there to be a potential love interest to Robin as Kathy was to Batman.

So, yes, this happened.

Now, this Bat-Girl only appeared six time before disappearing in 1964 due to editorial mandate to remove all the silly characters from Batman’s world, and the Batgirl name would eventually be taken by the more popular Barbara Gordon.  Betty would probably be a forgotten footnote today were it not for one little thing.  See, while the Crisis more or less erased characters like Betty from the comics, in the 70s, she had appeared a couple times with the Teen Titans, more specifically Titans West, and that made her a lot harder to ignore.  The only thing to do then was to revise her origin.

No longer Bat-Girl, niece to Batwoman, now she was Flamebird. Betty, now known as Bette, was a socialite and tennis progeny with a thing for Dick Grayson’s costumed alter ego and literally took up crimefighting to meet the fellow she had a crush on.  There may be worse reasons to become a superhero, but I’d be hard pressed to think of one aside from the manga hero One-Punch Man who because a superhero because he wanted to fight his own boredom.  However, this time around, Dick Grayson wasn’t much interested in Bette.

By the by, Bette was not the first DC hero to go by Flamebird.  Superman was.  No joke.  “Nightwing and Flamebird” were legendary Kryptonian vigilante heroes in the Batman and Robin mold and Superman and Jimmy Olsen would occasionally shrink themselves down to fight crime in the bottled city of Kandor with those names.  And yes, stories of Nightwing and Flamebird did inspire Dick Grayson’s new superhero code name when he decided to stop being Robin.

Point is, Bette’s attempts to meet Dick didn’t do dick, particularly when he challenged her seriousness as a crimefighter.  To her credit, Flamebird did then work hard to be a better superhero and got over his crush to actually do well by others.

But then the Infinite Crisis happened and we see the chance to make Bette go bye-bye again.  This time, however, it almost stuck.  But then a new Batwoman appeared.  This Kathy Kane was now Kate Kane, Bruce Wayne’s cousin, a gay woman with a military background and a much more serious crimefighter than the original character had ever been.  This one would not be carrying a utility purse, that’s for certain.

And then her other cousin Bette showed up.  Is Bette also Bruce’s cousin?  I don’t know.  Probably.  But this time around, Bette gained some pyrotechnic equipment and took the really bad superhero name of Hawkfire, which sounds like what happens when you put “Flamebird” into Google Translate a few times to random languages before going back to English.

I suppose the costume isn’t too bad, but the Hawkfire name still sucks.

The New 562/Rebirth era has Bette as a West Point Cadet who occasionally visits her cousin Kate in Gotham, but that’s about all I can find right now.  Aren’t continuity reboots a wonderful thing when people try to figure out what did and didn’t happen?