What’s in a Name? Ask Barbara Kean
As we celebrate Batman’s 75th anniversary three months late (Detective Comics #27 hit newsstands on April 18, 1939), I see the usual hubbub over creators and creator credit. Thankfully, DC Comics has finally started to acknowledge Bill Finger as a contributor to the Batman legacy. He and his heirs will never see the kind of money such work deserves but at least the name is no longer hidden by obfuscation.
Another creation of sorts has been hotly debated the last few weeks as Alan Brennert lamented on his Facebook page that he will not be compensated for his naming and characterization for Mrs. James W. Gordon. In the 500th issue of Detective, Alan wrote “To Kill a Legend” which featured Barbara Kean, Gordon’s fiancée, as a red-headed librarian in the alternate reality the Phantom Stranger showed the Dynamic Duo. Her depiction is a wink to her daughter, also Barbara, growing up to potentially become Batgirl.
Prior to that point, Mrs. Gordon had appeared in just two stories: ‘Tec #72 in 1943 as a potential robbery victim and then in World’s Finest Comics #53 in 1951 (where we met their one son, Tony). It wasn’t until 1981, after which both stories were consigned to the reality of Earth-2, that she appeared again and only in a cameo at the wedding of Bruce Wayne to Selina Kyle in Superman Family #211. It cannot be argued she had anything resembling a personality prior to Alan’s story.
As for Earth-1, the main continuity for DC prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths, Jim Gordon’s wife was never seen, not even once although Batgirl/Barbara Gordon proved he had to have been married. In 1982, there was a fleeting reference to Gordon being a widower but it was a thread never explored.
Barbara Eileen Gordon, married to Jim Gordon, mother to James Jr., first arrived in the post-Crisis Earth in Batman #404. For the record, Frank Miller and Denny O’Neil both forgot about daughter Barbara when Batman: Year One was being produced and Frank told Barbara Randall Kesel that he named the character of Gordon’s wife after her without referencing Alan’s story. When that error saw print, Barbara and I quickly prepped a retcon patch making young Barbara Jim’s niece, something which stuck until the New 52 revised history. In the current continuity, Barbara was mother to both James Jr. and Barbara, unusual in having both children named after each parent.
With Erin Richards set to play Barbara Kean in Fox’s Gotham series this fall, the Kean name endures. And yet, for naming her, he won’t even receive a bonus check as a thank you. He pointed out to DC’s execs that this derivative nature is similar to Bart Allen/Impulse being derivative of Barry Allen but they weren’t biting.
The story went viral and as usual various pundits and web reporters didn’t do their due diligence, some referring to an erroneous entry on Wikipedia for proof. Thankfully, I wrote the Essential Batman Encyclopedia and have the data before me and without a law degree, suspect Alan is due something based on previous DC practice.
Speaking of Wikipedia, as useful as it can be, errors still creep in or fans with an agenda can skew the results. Not only did someone inaccurately give Earth-2’s Mrs. Gordon the Kean maiden name, someone else decided the W. in James Gordon’s name stood for Worthington although not a single comic book story establish this fact.
Happy birthday, Batman!