– by Sammie Wetherell –
Barbara Gordon isn’t an unfamiliar character in the world of TV & comics. Ever since 1967 when Barbara stormed through in DC Comics’ Detective comics #359, she has been a predominant character in Batman’s universe. Her story arc has taken her back and forth as “Batgirl” to “Oracle” then back to “Batgirl” again.
For me, Barbara is a very special character that I fell in love with through Gail Simone’s words. I always had her in the back of mind after I read Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke. If you’ve not read Alan Moore’s amazing masterpiece, Barbara is shot by the Joker in an attempt to drive Commissioner Gordon mad. After this incident Barbara was paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. Comic book writer Kim Yale was appalled by the treatment of Barbara Gordon and decided, along with her husband, to make sure this character didn’t fall into obscurity. They revived her character as the codebreaker and computer genius Oracle.
There have been other Batgirls while Barbara was Oracle. Cassandra Cain, Helena Bertinelli (aka The Huntress), and Stephanie Brown have taken up the mantle in her place, but they didn’t come close (in my eyes) to Barbara Gordon. Gail Simone had previously written Barbara as Oracle in the 2003 Birds of Prey, however Barbara made her big return as Batgirl in September 2011 as part of DC Comics’ New 52.
The New 52 series (which ran up to 2016) follows a Barbara already fully trained by Batman. Gail Simone takes us on a journey with Barbara, dealing with her fear of the Joker, handling her daytime life, along with her nighttime life, and some family drama to go with it. I found the first issue back in 2014 when I was on a Christmas break. Through the first several issues, you could get a sense of Gail’s writing style, and how she constructed Barbara from page to page. It was very clear to me when Gail was removed from the series part way through, for a few issues before she had been brought back. Gail was actually fired from the series, which I believe is because of creative differences, but thank the nerd gods that she was brought back. The few issues she was away, the writing style was completely different, and for me it lost the sparkle it originally had. But I’m really glad I picked this up 3 years after it was released, as it would’ve been enough for me to walk away from the series.
Around the same time I read this series when Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr were doing a soft reboot of the character. Their brief stint on the series was very contemporary for today’s society and it was bright and engaging, but something (for me) was lacking. I really like the creative team and other works they have done, but this didn’t feel like the Barbara I got to know from Gail’s work. I really preferred the dark and gritty side to Barbara’s life compared to what the PhD, bubbly student that Brenden Fletcher and his team brought to the table. Gail had Barbara face her fears head-on, which was something I could get on board with and relate to more.
Barbara has faced some controversy in her time, one as recent as 2015. To celebrate the Joker’s 75th anniversary, comic book artists were asked to do variant covers as part of the celebration. Artist Rafael Albuquerque’s variant cover was released too much dismay from Batgirl fans. His cover depicted the joker standing next to a crying Barbara in her Batgirl costume. The Joker had his fingers pointed like a gun, and placed on her cheek. The cover sparked a social outrage, as it highlighted a dark time in the character’s history. The hashtag #changethecover was all over Twitter at the time, with dozens of fans crying out for this cover to not be released. DC did withdraw the cover from sale at the request of the artist. He quickly apologized, stating “My intention was never to hurt or upset anyone through my art . . . for that reason, I have recommended to DC that the variant cover be pulled.” After reading Gail’s series and how she depicted the fear Barbara felt over what had happened to her at the hands of the joker, I could easily see why people were upset. It felt like pouring salt into wounds that were almost healed for the character.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my little insight into Barbara Gordon, and I highly recommend picking up Gail’s runs on the character, I’m confident it will be one you will find you can’t put it down. From PTSD, survivor’s guilt, facing her fears, fighting crime, and generally being a nice person. Barbara is a strong female character that has dealt with a lot in her 56 years in print. If Gail and her team didn’t create WiR I wonder if this character would have ever received the issues that she did. Would she have been a forsaken character after her shooting? Would she ever be Batgirl again?
Thankfully these are questions that we don’t need answers to any longer.
Until Next time . . .
Peace, love & Peanut Butter xoxo.