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Barbara Gordon: Batgirl and Oracle

BabsBatOr

Author’s Note: This is a fairly long post. I was considering breaking it up into two posts. If you think this is too long, let me know and I will break it down into two, or three smaller posts.

When I decided to write about Barbara Gordon, I thought it would be easy. She is quite simply one of my ALL TIME favorite superheroes ever. When I was a kid, I used to watch the old Adam West /Burt Ward Batman series in syndication. And while I have always loved Robin (he is also one of my favorite superhero characters ever) I used to get REALLY excited during the opening credits when animated versions of Batman and Robin would run out towards the audience knocking out some crooks with a ”Sock!” and a “Pow!” each. Suddenly, on her bat-rope, Batgirl would come swinging in out of nowhere taking out a third crook with a “Bong!” Yes it was cheesy camp, but it was MY cheesy camp dammit!

Yvonne

Ever since then, Robin and Batgirl have always been two of my favorite characters in all of comicdom. For a long time, that would be my only exposure to both of them. Then I discovered comicbooks (I cannot honestly tell you how old I was… less than thirteen, maybe ten, maybe even younger) and I was hooked forever. I didn’t know of many Batgirl comics when I was a kid. But I devoured everything Robin. I do remember one of my first comic book purchases: It was a bundle pack from K-Mart containing 6 comics. The reason I grabbed it was because on the cover was Robin on the ground with a Thug holding a gun on him, and in the background out of a skylight was this guy dressed in a blue high collar disco style costume (Hey I thought it was cool!). Yep my first comic was Batman: The New Adventures #416the first appearance between Post-Crisis Jason Todd and Dick Grayson.

Soon after that I discovered Comic Book shops, and Supergirl entered my list of favorites. My first Supergirl Issue? Crisis On Infinite Earths #7. When I read that book I literally cried my eyes out.

Throughout all this I still retained my love for Batgirl, but honestly every time I looked for issues of her I had to fend for myself in the stacks as the shop owners could not tell me where I could find any.

So for a while I was kept company by other comics. Batman, Superman, Robin, eventually finding my favorite in the Tim Drake Robin Mini-series. One day after going out to dinner with my family at our favorite Italian restaurant it was usually custom to hit up the New-stand/Liquor Store/convenience store across the street to buy gum (or in my case run to the comic book section). This one day, one book stood out for me. The cover was shiny and dark and had the image of the Joker grinning Holding a camera up to his  eyes. It seems interesting, (and Shiny… I like shiny things) and the words on the cover said Batman: The Killing Joke. So I asked my dad to buy it and I took it home to read (I would have started reading it in the car but it was dark and my dad would not allow the light on in the car for prolonged periods).

Killing Joke

Anyway when i started reading it I thought, “Wow, this is a pretty cool story.” I especially love the way it started out with Batman deciding to have a discussion with the Joker because he felt that some day, it would  ultimately come down to one of them killing the other and wanted to see if there was some way to avoid that, only for Batman to realize, this was not the Joker. “Heh, so he escaped again. I wonder…”

Then the scene opens with Barbara Gordon and her father looking over some photo albums and talking about thier admiration for Batman “Oh hey, look she’s wearing a yellow top and a purple skirt, that must be a call back to Yvonne Craig.” Door bell rings. Oh crap it’s the Joker! And he has a gun… Quick Barbara do something Batgirlish!… *Bang!* Me:…. wha… What?!?! No! She’s still alive right? Continues to read the book admiring the story telling quality of it, yet worried about the survival of Barbara Gordon. Oh look she’s in the hospital. She’s alive! YAY!… hollow bullet? completely shattered her spine? unable to walk ever?! But… she’s BATGIRL!!! (curls up into fetal position). I would like to note, I LOVE this book, it is an EXCELLENT Batman and Joker story, THE DEFINING Batman and Joker story… it was just a HORRIBLE treatment of Barbara Gordon.

So that was the last I heard about Batgirl for a long time (I Did not hear about Oracle until much much later). However she continued to be one of my favorite characters ever… Then 1992 rolled around and Bruce Timm’s Batman The Animated Series (BTAS) came into my life! Oh Bruce Timm, I have had a love affair with your Animation and your stories even until this present day! Loved it from day one. Then the Episode "Heart of Steel"came on and Barbara had a cameo in it. I was like “Oh my god that’s Barbara Gordon! she’s going to be Batgirl!” Every now and then throughout that first season she would appear, but it wasn’t until the season two premier Entitled “Shadow of the Bat" where Barbara finally dons the Cape and Cowl, first Posing as Batman to help support her father who had been framed for corruption, then in part two of that arc in her own identity as Batgirl! She still didn’t come on as often, but every now and then during that original series she would pop in and my little fanboy heart would explode in glee! Then FINALLY The New Batman Adventures (Or Gotham Knights whichever you prefer to call it) aired and Batgirl was finally a regular character! That season also brought me Jason Drake (okay it was Tim Drake in name with Jason Todd’s backstory pretty much but what ever) and Nightwing as well. I was the happiest fan boy I could ever be!

About a year after the series ended (an event which shattered my geeky little heart until Justice League came around and I was revelling in watching Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman interacting with ) I was in my Local Comic Book Store (Comics Factory in Pasadena, California) that I came across something I did not expect.

Batgirl #1 “What?” i ran to the stand, nearly dropping my other precious books and started thumbing through this new book (they are really good about that there) and I thought to myself… this isn’t Barbara Gordon… huh… this girl is pretty cool… Wow… she’s pretty bad ass actually… Cassandra Cain I might pick this up. And OH did i EVER. Really this character was… (really it would take another post just to describe how much I loved this character) one of the things i loved about this book (aside from the Ninja Ass kicking) and some of the other Batbooks at this time, were that I was slowing being reintroduced to Barbara Gordon again, who it would seem to me was doing okay, though I was a little annoyed at her still being in a chair (Purple healing rays, Cybernetics?!?!) But whatever, she still seems to retain her inner strength and intelligence, plus the hacker thing was pretty cool.

Cassandra

So another four years or so on another of my weekly (well really it became Biweekly) visits to my Local Comic Book Store, I came across a title I had seen before yet never thought to pick up. On the Cover was a character I had recognized from her appearances in other titles but mostly from Robin III: Cry of the Huntress. Helena Bertinelli AKA the Huntress. The title of the book was Birds of Prey issue 57, and the cover had her crashing through a window, glass shattering everywhere, cross bow in hand and the look of a War Cry look on her face. The art was what attracted me (the belly window was annoying) but the colors and the drawing were amazing.

BoP57

Something else popped out at me. Write Gail Simone. “A female writer, hmm that’s interesting, haven’t seen to many of those writing comics.” So I flipped through the comic and really started to LOVE this story. This was also my first official introduction into the character of Oracle aka Barbara Gordon. The dialogue was amazing, and the Characters were so… REAL. Right off the bat (teehee) you could see that Oracle was a powerful presence. So powerful in that she could gather information, and lead covert teams from behind her green tinted screens. Really I had forgotten she was in a wheel chair. Because the story was not about her being in a wheel chair, the story was about this woman, who in the issue before hand (I picked that one up right after reading #57) had one of her operatives and friends disappear and has become locked in a battle of minds and wills with the man who is responsible for it.

This was some real Mind-fu. In this issue she has to deal with calling in a new operative she did not trust (Huntress). Huntress was at this point pretty much a loose cannon in the DCUniverse, except when written by Greg Rucka during No Man’s Land. But she was available, capable and the only one Oracle could use. In only a few pages Gail Simone was able to take three characters, two of whom I know some of, and one who I knew next to little of  (Black Canary) and make them in to fully flesh-out, three dimensional, complex, flawed and WONDERFUL characters. (Alot of credit is due to Chuck Dixon for starting the Babs and Canary Dynamic in the mini-series and initial run and to John Ostrander and Kim Yale For reinventing Barbara as Oracle during his run on Suicide Squad). I was in LOVE with this book. And My PASSION for Barbara Gordon was blazing anew!

This Idea that Barbara Gordon despite being crippled, and used, pulled herself up, reinvented herself into an even more powerful and influential character than she already was. I loved her before, but thanks to Birds of Prey I LOVED her. The Number 1 and Number 2 characters in my heart are Barbara Gordon and Supergirl respectively. Supergirl for herself sacrifice and strength in Infinite Crisis #7 and Barabara for her intelligence, strength of mind, and self determination. She can take down dictators with the stoke of a few keys, yet needs agents to do the “leg work” she can no longer do. Even acting as mission control for the Justice League itself at one point in her career, then acting as information broker for the entire Hero community. What’s not to love. 

Now they want to Make Barbara Gordon Batgirl again.  To be completely honest at first I was majorly conflicted. I LOVE Barbara as Oracle, and I LOVE the new Batgirl (Stephanie Brown) I didn’t wanted it to change. Yet at the same Time, Barbara Gordon is the first Batgirl I ever knew, the first Batgirl I fell  in love with all the way back to Yvonne Craig. And the Batgirl I have know all through television and film. I have loved every Batgirl who has come after. I really have. So a part of me is wondering why would DC do this? What is going to happen to Stephanie, and Cassandra? What about Oracle (If it can’t be Barbara then, Chole Sullivan please!)? What about the Killing Joke?

Pulling myself back away from for a while, and reflecting on my memories. I think I understand WHY DC is doing it. When you ask people who are not comic book fans “Who is Batgirl?” They might say “Or the girl with red hair that dresses in purple and yellow?” or “Oh yeah! Commissioner Gordon’s Daughter right? With the red hair?” “Wasn’t she shot by the Joker?” Go do a Google image search for “Batgirl” and the top three will be Barbara, Cassandra, and Stephanie, but the rest of the images, at LEAST 95% of the images are different versions of Barbara Gordon. As incredible characters as Oracle, Cassandra and Stephanie are (and i will be very pissed if they do not show up at all in this reLaunch!) Barbara Gordon is known as Batgirl to a much wider audience than Steph and Cassandra are. Barbara Gordon as Oracle  has appeared TWICE on screen; once in ONE episode of The Batman series and for the short lived TV Series based on the Birds of Prey.

So yeah, I understand why DC is doing what it is doing. Do I like it? I don’t know. Gail Simone is writing it, so its a BIG draw, she knows Barbara, Loves Barbara, so I trust her. I am worried though. Oracle was such a strong Character and there have been many powerful and heartfelt reactions to this change. I agree with a lot of what has been said. But I also think Gail Simone makes a good point:

"A lot of readers and a lot of editors had a story problem with Oracle, in that she made for such an easy, convenient story accelerator, that we missed the sense of having characters have to struggle to discover, to solve mysteries."

The fact that Oracle is so powerful is such a great thing, but story telling wise, i can see where that would be a problem. She becomes a near Deus Ex Machina at times. If there is anyone I trust with taking this character that I love in a new direction, then it’s Gail Simone. I am also comforted by the fact that The Killing Joke, and Barbara’s injury are not going to be swept under the rug. Some tweaks might be made… but we don’t know what they are yet, but we have been told they will be told in story. I am also comforted by the fact that it does look like there is some hope for Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain, because Gail herself said that if she is not being used, SHE would be glad to use them in her stories.

I am still very nervous. Yet I am still very hopeful that in Gail’s hands, and with the assertions from DC that while changes are being made in an effort to draw more new readers, they are not forgetting the histories of their characters. Do I get my Blue Lantern Ring yet? :D

Suggested Reading:

Birds of Prey Vol. 1: Of Like Minds (Gail Simon’s first arc of Birds of Prey)

Batman: The Killing Joke (Joker cripple’s Barbara Gordon)

Suicide Squad: Vol.1 #23 (first appearance of Oracle)

Batgirl Vol. 1: Silent Running (Cassandra Cain’s Debut as Batgirl)

Batgirl Vol. 1 Batgirl Rising (Stephanie Brown’s Debeut as Batgirl)