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The Beginner's Guide to Barbara Gordon 
30th-Sep-2008 07:54 pm
DC comics has an interesting history of inventing female characters for their TV shows and re-incorporating them into the comic continuity. Usually, when this happens, the character becomes more interesting and complex, a function of the ongoing comic medium, which generally has more room for characterisation than motion media. Batman: The Animated Series gave rise to Harley Quinn (now well known) and Renee Montoya (less so), and back in the sixties, the powers behind the TV show Batman asked the comic producers for a female character. They gave them Batgirl.

If you've seen the 60s show, you might remember Batgirl as Commissoner Gordon's daughter, who imitated Batman independent of him and worked alongside him, although neither knew the other's identity. In the comics, she was similarly independent: sharp, clever and determined, and had a continual flirtation with Dick Grayson, Robin

Batgirl: Year One #3

The Batgirl character was retired in  1988, and in the same year, DC published The Killing Joke, written by Alan Moore, in which the Joker shot Barbara through the spine. The purpose of this shooting, both in continuity and for narrative purposes, was to focus on the effect on Commissioner Gordon and Batman; the Joker never discovered Barbara used to be Batgirl. The Killing Joke was a one-off Batman story, not specifically intended to be part of the main continuity, but became incorporated after it was met with great critical acclaim as a fantastic Batman story. The central theme - whether one bad day is all it takes to send a good man onto a descent into madness - was picked up by the recent movie The Dark Knight, albeit with a different man as the Joker's object, and with the opposite conclusion to the question.

Batman: The Killing Joke

The next year, in the DC title Suicide Squad, written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale, a character called Oracle appeared - a genius level hacker who helps the team out anonymously, as a computer hacker and information broker. A few years later it was revealed that this was Barbara herself, who had decided she wanted to get back into the superhero business, and so was determined to use the skills she hadn't lost when the Joker shot her: her photographic memory, superlative tactics, computer expertise  and years of experience as a librarian.

Birds of Prey #59

In the Birds of Prey series, created by Chuck Dixon and later written by Gail Simone and current writer Tony Bedard, Barbara runs and operates her own all-female team, snarkily titled by one of its members (Huntress) as the "Broken Superheroine Club". After a disastrous start with Powergirl (an alternate version of Supergirl), the real first operative of this team was Dinah Lance - the Black Canary. At the same time that Barbara was recovering from a bullet in her spine, Dinah lost her superpowers (a sonic scream) when she was tortured by drug runners in the 1988 Green Arrow  story The Longbow Hunters. While the in-character motivation was to more focused on Dinah and her actions, the story itself was as much focused around her boyfriend Green Arrow as The Killing Joke had been about Jim Gordon. The two women's histories were aligned, if not exactly parallel, in the timing of these incidents and the emotional problems that followed. Dinah was still able bodied, but she had lost an ability she had relied on, and part of Barbara's motivation in choosing her as Oracle's representative in the physical world, was that she believed she could provide a direction and purpose the older woman lacked since the break up with the (also recently deceased) Green Arrow.

Black-Canary Oracle: Birds of Prey

Oracle's primary strength is her tremendous mental capacity and information skills, but she's also a proficient martial artist. Even though her techniques have changed since she lost the use of her legs, she's more than capable with eksrima sticks, and keeps her body in great shape. She consistently shows great determination and strength of character and is an indispensable resource for, not just her own team, but both the Justice teams and the entire Bat family.

Birds of Prey #111

Writers have on more than one occasion debated giving her back the use of her legs - there's no doubt the agency exists in the DC verse, and Barbara herself would certainly not turn it down - but she remains such a great character as Oracle, and one of the very few decent, sympathetic and complex disabled characters in any fictional format, that I think it would be a loss, not to the DC fictional world, but to DC comics and to the storytelling arts as a whole.

Further Reading:

Dead Tree reading:
The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told vol. 2
Birds of Prey by Chuck Dixon, Gail Simone and various artists

On the internet:
Barbara Gordon on Wikipedia
Oracle on the Comic Book Database.
nevermore999 on Barbara Gordon: Part OnePart Two

TV Shows on DVD:
Birds of Prey
30th-Sep-2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
I love Barbara Gordon's character and she was the main reason I bought the Birds Of Prey series when it hit DVD
30th-Sep-2008 09:31 pm (UTC)
I want to see the BoP tv series now!
30th-Sep-2008 11:10 pm (UTC)
That's really interesting, cheers for that.
1st-Oct-2008 12:52 am (UTC)
I think my first knowledge of Babs was from the animated series in an episode where she and Dick were just being bratty teens or college students at each other.

I loved it and then sort of forgot about her until Ana had Oracle in Bar and I just remembered why I loved her so much. Thank you for doing this and now I want to read more.

Also Dinah is amazing, thank you for adding her to the list of heroes playing in Sherwood and kicking some guards rearends.
1st-Oct-2008 09:30 am (UTC)
♥ Thank you for being so welcoming with her. I love this unoffical Young Avenger status she has: she never gets the opportunity to be in a Teen Team in canon, thanks to being the youngest JLAer.
1st-Oct-2008 01:54 pm (UTC)
Excellent stuff. And very informative for folks like me who've only ever had a pasing acquaintance with the DC Universe.

Now, if you do a beginner's guide to Black Canary that would be fab, because I know even less about her!
1st-Oct-2008 03:36 pm (UTC)
Well, I did this once. Would you like something more simple?

Edited at 2008-10-01 15:36 (UTC)
1st-Oct-2008 06:01 pm (UTC)
No, that'll do nicely! :)

So, there have been two Black Canaries, mother and daughter. This I did not know!

I'm sure I had some JLA comics featuring the original BC from waaaay back in the early 80s, but I think I threw them out years ago. :(
1st-Oct-2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
This is convincing me that I should probably obtain the non-Simone BoP collections.

(I don't like to buy Western comics out of my comfort zone of "I know this author does not suck.")
1st-Oct-2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
The Chuck Dixon collections are really very good.
1st-Oct-2008 04:25 pm (UTC)
This is a fantastic breakdown and history of the character Oracle. Now, I know I said Oracle and not Batgirl, and there is a real reason. The character Batgirl of the Barbara Gordon identity has gone through at least two historical changes and many do not mesh(Something that makes the Killing Joke an unusual read. Though of a side note to the side note, Alan Moore has a very specific history he adhers to for DCU). Of the many are honestly her age and that at her first beginnings she was more of a female pseudo older Robin; then there was her interesting time as a congresswoman. To be honest her older history reminded me of Kathy Kane with a new gloss of paint, then a reimaging of Batgirl. With the new revised history they made of her, they gave her a history and look that made her an identity of her own.

Of the first note is you gave her Batgirl time which is, for me, a superior retcon. It gives her as Batgirl as a time of her youthversus the unusual time they choose for her originally. It is meant as a start, and like most of the Teen Titans a beginning, not a bad midlife crisis because of an odd costume ball choice(Which they modified as well). In this that they could keep the choice bits(librarian, her time with Jason, and finally a meeting with Black Canary that didn't look weird) but not make her into some odd third wheel. This also eliminated the whole "I became a congresswoman!", a storyline that never panned out well or made any sense when it collided with later stories.

The flirtation with Robin was a creation of this retcon and was another bonus Devin Grayson and Chuck Dixon to better flesh out the younger character, and for the most part it does work. Well, it worked better for me then to have Dick Grayson go from nobody to Starfire. Giving this connection with Dick Grayson also gives a firmer connection with the Bat family. Though I will note here, while they have made changes I am glad they have not and likely never will go the DC animated route. Mostly because I enjoy that Babs may like slightly crazy guys, she's not nuts enough to date Bruce Wayne(which I consider a little more then nuts).

As for the final part? It is a fantastic look and breakdown of the character she has become and is fine showing how a character like Batgirl can become far far more then a pseudo wannabe.
2nd-Oct-2008 08:20 am (UTC)
Well, it's a 'for beginners' post, so I stuck to post-crisis continuity, and also went for the history I like, because it's my history.
2nd-Oct-2008 01:21 pm (UTC)
Which is what I liked about it. I still have to repeat myself...I enjoyed it because it was a look at Oracle which in most Babs history gets put to the wayside because that's the present, even it already has a large dose of history attached as is.
2nd-Oct-2008 06:57 am (UTC)
I suddenly really miss reading comics. :( Totally unrelated, I know, but still.
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