In Gotham Knights, Nightwing, Red Hood, Robin, and Batgirl take up Batman's crusade in the wake of his death. Their fight for justice leads to a battle against the Court of Owls, a clandestine organization that has existed in Gotham for decades right under their noses. In the same way I wondered why WB Games Montréal chose Tim Drake's Robin as opposed to Stephanie Brown or Damian Wayne, I've also pondered why the studio decided to use Barbara Gordon's Batgirl. She is by far the most popular Batgirl, but many cool women have donned that mantle. For WB Games Montréal, however, it was important to have Barbara out in the field with the others, front and center in the story.
Batgirl will have storylines that relate to Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, and her late father, Jim Gordon, but her inclusion in the playable line-up affords the team to explore the often overlooked connection between her and Jason Todd, aka Red Hood. In the comics, both Barbara and Jason suffer at the hands of the Joker. Barbara is shot in the spine and paralyzed, while Jason is beaten to death (and then subsequently resurrected) by the Clown Prince of Crime. Most iterations of the two characters don't explore that shared history, and Gotham Knights aims to fill that void.
"Barbara and Jason's relationship is probably one of the ones I'm most excited for people to see," Gotham Knights lead writer Ceri Young told me. "They have both been through some extremely traumatic situations, and as such, we felt that they would really have a deep understanding of how it feels to deal with and recover from that--in a way that Tim and Dick, while they're sympathetic, can't grasp. So, you'll see moments where Barbara and Jason recognize that in one another, and step in to help each other."
Gotham Knights begins a little over a year after Barbara's return to being Batgirl, so there's been some space from the initial trauma that left her in a wheelchair, but not much. According to Young, Gotham Knights' story doesn't delve into that specific trauma much, with the actual event differing "in some important ways from the comics." The aftereffects of the event are still present in Barbara's life, however, and although she has recovered her mobility following extensive surgeries and rehabilitation, she's still recuperating as Gotham Knights begins.
"Batgirl's injury and rehab, her time as Oracle, is part of her story and part of who she is," Young said. "So, of course, we recognize it in Gotham Knights, and there are a lot of moments that will reflect that. Physically, you'll see that she wears a back brace. If she's idling in the Belfry, you'll see her doing exercises that are specifically geared to her injuries. Story-wise, she will talk about her time as Oracle. There's some friction at first with her and the team because they're operating out of the Belfry, which she's used to thinking of as her space. We know that it's very important to a lot of people so we worked with consultants at Ablegamers to make sure that we were handling it with the care and respect that it deserves."
It's in the midst of still recovering from her trauma that Barbara learns of Bruce's death, presenting yet another hurdle for her to overcome in her life. She connects with Jason in that struggle and the two come to terms with their shared expectation to work through emotional and mental roadblocks. "Everyone's narrative arc turns on Bruce's death because that's the big recent thing, but in Barbara's case, she's working under layers of major events in her life--being injured, becoming Oracle, her father’s death, now Bruce," Young said. "It's a lot to take on, and she's very much thinking about where her place is in all of this, and the people she's lost along the way."
Granted, Barbara's extremely traumatic backstory and how it allows her to somewhat connect with Jason could still have easily been explored if Barbara had remained Oracle, and another Batgirl had been included in Gotham Knights. But by becoming Batgirl, Barbara once again dons the Bat symbol, which notably is also only worn by Jason. The two wear Batman's symbol for very different reasons, of course, but it also comes to represent a shared bond of survival between them, connecting them to Batman in a way that Nightwing and Robin can't.
"Barbara really takes it on before she ever meets Batman, sort of by accident," Young said. "Jason takes it on as a bit of an 'F-U' to Batman, at a time when he feels like Batman betrayed him. But over time, I think both Barbara and Jason come to use it as a point of pride, and a mark of being a member of this team/family they're part of."
In Gotham Knight's history, it's a family that Barbara has been a part of since the very beginning, as she operated alongside Batman for quite a while as one of his oldest allies. "Barbara is one of the characters who has known Bruce the longest, so that's definitely a factor in including her in our cast," Young said. "And it's not just Bruce--she knows Nightwing better than anyone, she's known Jason from the very beginning and seen how his relationship to Bruce has grown and changed. That lets us build on some team dynamics that we wouldn't otherwise have."
It also allows the team to include a character who is like Batman but isn't Batman. Nightwing, Red Hood, and Robin all look up to Batman as an adoptive father figure, leading to their respective decisions to put on a mask and fight crime. That's not the case for Barbara, who, like Batman, became a vigilante of her own accord and operated independently for a time. "She had a father, and it's Jim Gordon," Young said. "For her, Bruce is a mentor and more of a beloved uncle. And in a lot of ways, she's the most like him, but she's also the one who has the most perspective on him."
The Gotham Knights team has written Barbara and Bruce's history as one of mutual respect, where the two initially teamed up out of necessity, not desire. Barbara needed the advice and tech Bruce's decades of training and vast wealth allowed, while Bruce could turn to Barbara--who was taking forensic science classes--to gain access to evidence, case files, and intel that a supposedly care-free billionaire couldn't look into without blowing his cover. Barbara and Bruce were like equal partners, which is a somewhat unique dynamic within the Bat Family, where almost everyone simply follows Batman's lead.
And don't worry, Gotham Knights does not push the "they're both adults and equals" dynamic to its most icky extreme. The team does not take inspiration from how the relationship is occasionally explored in Batman media, where Bruce and Barbara are romantically involved or secretly lovers.
"Story-wise we've drawn from a lot of different places," Young said. "I'd say the top three were Batgirl Year One, Batgirl of Burnside, and Birds of Prey. ...In terms of personality, we definitely wanted to keep Barbara's determination, her strong sense of justice, and [her] focus on fighting for what's right, even when no one else will. She has a strong sense of purpose. In terms of skillset, she's our computer expert and hacker, and she'll balance that with physical combat moves."
Barbara's default outfit in Gotham Knights is bluish purple and bright yellow. It reminds me a lot of the uniform she first wears in Batgirl of Burnside, a soft reboot for Barbara helmed by writers Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart, artist Babs Tarr, and colorist Maris Wicks. The new direction did see Barbara coming to terms with her past trauma as she left Oracle behind and once again became Batgirl, but dropped the edgier and darker tones of most Batman comics for one far more fun and brightly colored. Barbara is noticeably a lot more sassy and social media-savvy in that comic run as well, which seems to have informed how actor America Young voices Barbara in Gotham Knights, giving the seasoned vigilante a little spunk with a playful and snarky attitude.
That characterization feeds into how Batgirl is designed, animated, and fights in Gotham Knights. As one of the most mature and experienced members of the Bat-Family, Barbara's in-game model stands and walks with self-assured confidence, and she reveals her strong leadership and detective skills in conversation. She also has an incredibly versatile fighting style that borrows inspiration from a wide range of martial arts. She's not the Batman, and there are differences between her and Bruce, but as Gotham Knights game director Geoff Ellenor told me, Barbara is the "most Bat" of the playable characters.
"In terms of animation and movements, we've crafted her in a way to be this strong, confident woman that can totally kick-ass," Gotham Knights animation director Lloyd Colaco said. "She fights very effectively and has mastered a wide range of combat skills that can only come with experience and maturity."
"Batgirl's tonfa is a key component of her martial arts style, and it's a connection to her father, an experienced cop who would have trained with similar gear," Ellenor added. "Her hacking abilities and even her smart-drone were designed as an extension of her skillset as Oracle, and she gets to use hacking abilities at a longer range than what was seen in some previous incarnations of 'Bat-gameplay.' Batgirl's physical abilities are a reflection of her grit and determination. She's fought her way back, rebuilt her strength, and she keeps getting back up where others falter."
"When we initially started prototyping her fight style with some very talented martial artists and animators, the focus was to combine various forms of martial arts that would feel effective, elegant, and flow well together," Colaco said. "It took a lot of R&D to figure out Batgirl's combat moves, and we ended up redoing her animations about three times to finally achieve something that we were happy with."
As seen in trailers featuring Batgirl, those animations incorporate movements that primarily focus on Capoeira, Judo, and Taekwondo, and see Batgirl wielding both tonfa and nunchucks. It's very fluid, leaning into a combat style where Batgirl overcomes her smaller stature by using her entire body weight with every strike.
"A lot of her combat animations use her body weight into them, whether it's a Judo hip-toss, a takedown, or a Taekwondo spin kick," Colaco said. "Another thing we took into account was the long legs her character design had, so we made sure that she is dangerous with her legs too! Capoeira, for example, utilizes a lot of kicks and has a fluid dance feel to it."
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If I had to guess, I assume that Gotham Knights is structured in a way that Nightwing, Red Hood, Robin, and Batgirl realize that, together, the four can be "the next Batman" and protect Gotham in a manner Bruce never could alone. But it certainly sounds like WB Games Montréal has at least written Batgirl to take on a bit more of a leadership-like role on the team and provide a perspective to Batman's mission that Nightwing, Red Hood, and Robin lack. It's at least convinced me to play through Gotham Knights the first time through as Batgirl, just to see how all those dynamics play out.
Gotham Knights is scheduled to launch for Xbox Series X|S, PS5, and PC on October 25. Preordering Gotham Knights nets you the 233 Kustom Batcycle cosmetic skin for free.
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