Pictured above is the million-dollar debut of Bat-Girl in the pages of Batman #139 in 1961. Bat-Girl was young Betty Kane, crafty and resourceful niece of then-current Batwoman, Kathy Kane. Betty’s origin was established like many golden age origins were: via a couple pages of clunky exposition:
The Kane girls, legend has it, were introduced as love interests for Batman and Robin so that readers would stop questioning what Bruce and Dick did in their spare time, and how often, and in what positions.
Bat-Girl and Batwoman retired in 1964, when somebody at DC decided there was nothing wrong with letting two heterosexual men share a close bond and live in the same house and work alongside each other, even if the younger one spent most of his time running around in what were basically green underpants.
In 1966, two years after the Kanes’ disappearing act, Barbara Gordon debuted as a hyphen-less Batgirl, and Betty was seemingly erased from history (nobody ever asked Babs: “Hey aren’t you supposed to be blonde? And ridiculous?”)
In 1977, more than 13 years after Betty Kane’s last appearance, a group of super-powered youths appeared in the pages of the popular sidekick drama Teen Titans. Dubbing themselves the Titans West, their ranks included future corpses Hawk and Dove, Lilith, Golden Eagle, and Joker’s Daughter. Also present: Betty Kane in her Bat-Girl costume.
What’s important to note here is the emphasis on Betty’s tennis career, her affection for Robin, and the way Hawk’s incredulity mirrors the reader’s:
The improbability of two Batgirls (Bat-Girls?) existing at the same time – one quite popular, the other completely forgotten – was the sort of continuity snafu that eventually led DC to wipe the slate clean with Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985.
After Crisis, only one Batgirl had ever existed. Problem solved! Or at least it would have been, if it weren’t for the fact that 1989’s Secret Origins Annual #3 re-introduced Titans West to continuity, and, instead of leaving things well enough alone, the team included a young woman named Mary Elizabeth “Bette” Kane, dressed in a costume remarkably similar to Bat-Girl’s.
Bette, like Betty, was a tennis pro, received a significant career boost aboard a panic-stricken ocean vessel, and had a major girl-bone for Robin:
So Bette Kane is clearly intended to be Betty Kane, yes? Hard to deny such irrefutable evidence. Except for the Who’s Who entry at the end of the book:
That’s right – we’re supposed to pretend this is an all-new character. Groan.
Also, her name is Flamebird now. Flamebird and Nightwing were a legendary Kryptonian duo inspired by Earth heroes Batman and Robin. Originally Superman and Jimmy Olsen, the names would later be taken up by Supergirl and Power Girl (in the 2005 Supergirl storyline “Candor”) and Thara Ak-Var and Chris Kent (in 2008/2009’s multiple-title “New Krypton” storyline). So when Bette took up the Flamebird mantle in 1989, she was actually providing the punchline to a joke Dick Grayson had started five years earlier by assuming the name Nightwing.