Lesser-Known Comics: Women of Gotham—Barbara Gordon

Those are some pretty awesome ruffles you have going on over there, Batgirl...
Those are some pretty awesome ruffles you have going on over there, Batgirl…
No fewer than four Batgirls, two Batwomen, two Huntresses, and a female Question have called Gotham home in the DC Universe.

Barbara (Batgirl/Oracle) Gordon, daughter of Gotham’s police commissioner, is easily the most well-known. A one-time U.S. congresswoman; one of the smartest people in the DC Universe; and, in her identity as Oracle, an inspiration to disabled readers, and now a post-traumatic stress disorder survivor, Babs Gordon is one of DC’s most recognizable female characters, up there with Wonder Woman and Lois Lane.

Barbara’s superhero career began not in comics but with the 1960s Batman TV show. That’s where I first saw her, complete with her own motorcycle and theme song. I was hooked and went looking for any comics featuring her.

The 1970s comics stories featured her dual identity of U.S. congresswoman by day and Dominoed Daredoll by night. While those stories are awesome over-the-top fun, they haven’t aged well.

Instead, the best place for new readers to start with Batgirl comics is Batgirl: Year One by Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon, and artist Marcos Martin, which retold Barbara’s origin with a modern twist.

Don't let the establishment get you down, Batgirl!
Don’t let the establishment get you down, Batgirl!
DC was not much interested in Batgirl stories as the 1980s began, but there were two important stories. DC published Batgirl Special #1 in 1988, a sort of farewell to the character before The Killing Joke, published later in 1988, ended this portion of Babs’s career. In the story, Joker, in order to teach Batman a lesson, shoots and paralyzes Batgirl. This Alan Moore story is often listed as one of the top ten Batman stories ever. I’m not a fan. Neither, it appears, is Moore, who later had regrets about the tale üand said when he asked DC for permission to shoot Barbara, the response was “let’s cripple the bitch.”

But the events of The Killing Joke are important in Barbara’s history as they led to the creation of her new secret identity: über-computer expert Oracle.

Writers John Ostrander and the late Kim Yale took Barbara off the scrap heap and created the identity of Oracle for her in the pages of Suicide Squad, a series about super villains used by the government for suicide missions.

At first seen simply as the information source known as Oracle, her identity as Babs was eventually revealed AND she became not only the main source of information for Batman but for the entire DC superhero community.

From there, Oracle was launched into a costarring series with Black Canary, Birds of Prey, one of my favorite comics series ever. Birds of Prey; Birds of Prey: Old Friends, New Enemies; and the Nightwing: Hunt for Oracle paperbacks, all by Chuck Dixon and several artists, are terrific. Then, when Dixon left the series, Gail Simone took over and almost surpassed Dixon’s work with Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds and Birds of Prey: Sensei & Student.

Techno Batgirl? Just kidding, we know you're Oracle now, Barbara!
Techno Batgirl? Just kidding, we know you’re Oracle now, Barbara!
Oracle also appeared in the short-lived Birds of Prey television series. The overall quality of the show left much to be desired but Dina Meyer as Barbara Gordon/Oracle was perfect.

When DC decided to revamp its overall line in 2011, Babs’s history as Oracle was erased, she was no longer in a wheelchair, and she became Batgirl again. This series began as Babs just regained her mobility after the Joker’s shooting in The Killing Joke. Written by Simone, this revamped Batgirl is suffering from PTSD but slowly gaining emotional and physical strength. The first six issues are collected in Batgirl, Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection.

The elimination of Oracle, DC’s only disabled hero, led to a fan uproar so reaction to the new series has been mixed, though the stories are top-notch.

It’s hard to know how long Babs will remain as Batgirl, given how quickly comic universes can change. There seems to be a universe-altering cosmic event every year or two.

But in every incarnation, Barbara Gordon been an inspiration and that is unlikely to change.

Next up: The Batgirl who had to learn to speak.

Yvonne Craig as Batgirl from “Batman” TV show © 20th Century Fox.
A panel from a 1970s story featuring Barbara Gordon running for U.S. Congress. © DC Comics
Barbara Gordon as Oracle, art by Phil Noto. © DC Comics.

Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, thought not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom Blog on Wired.com (www.wired.com/geekmom) and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.

Read all posts by Corrina Lawson for Criminal Element.

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