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Barbara Gordon debuted in Detective Comics #359 (January 1967) as the daughter of Commissioner Jim Gordon, and also the newest addition to Batman's crime-fighting family. Batgirl then gained pop culture icon status when she debuted in the third season premiere of "Batman" on September 14th, 1967. Here, too, she was Commissioner Gordon's daughter. This remained true until the 1985 reboot, Crisis on Infinite Earths, where her origin changed.

From Wikipedia:

Following the reboot, Barbara Gordon is born to Roger and Thelma Gordon, and she is Jim Gordon's niece/adopted daughter in current canon.

Has it ever been explained why this change was made? It seems rather arbitrary, as she still became Commissioner Gordon's adopted daughter.

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I'm speculating, but just after Crisis on Infinite Earths, Batman: Year One was released, showing a much younger Jim Gordon starting his career in Gotham at the same time as Batman. Gordon's first son was born in this series, so it wouldn't be possible for Gordon to have a daughter which would fight crime in a few years.

It's hard to tell a specific reason for the change, but one would think that Frank Miller intended to show parallel beginnings for the two protagonists of the story, Batman and Gordon. It would be hard to give much credit to Gordon if he was much older and was still beginning a career.

  • Not to mention that Gordon having a young son gives him some character motivations that he wouldn't have otherwise. – Jeff Dec 2 '11 at 18:48

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