Jun 6, 2011

ORACLE Is Stronger Than BATGIRL Will Ever Be

Who’s your symbol for strength in the DC universe? I’m sure a lot of you are thinking Superman or Batman right now. They’ve certainly got the physical strength and fortitude to make them the perfect candidates. While Batman is my all-time favorite character in comics, he’s not the first person I look to when I need to be reminded to keep fighting in this world. For that I look to Oracle.

If you hadn't heard the big news yet, as part of the post-Flashpoint DC Universe, Oracle is no more. Barbara Gordon picks up her Batgirl suit.

As you can imagine, as a wheelchair-using redhead who also happens to be a huge DC fan, I had a few thoughts on the drastic change. You can read them all in my op/ed on Newsarama titled, ORACLE Is Stronger Than BATGIRL Will Ever Be.

28 comments:

Shelly said...

I'm heartsick about many of the changes, including Dick becoming Nightwing again, but this has me besides myself. I work with blind and visually impaired people and others who can't read standard print, including quadriplegics. I know how powerful a symbol and role model Babs as Oracle is and I know how so many people don't just get to start over or leave that wheelchair behind. I hate that DC is going backward. Just. Hate. It.

Anonymous said...

Your op/ed was very moving to read. But I'd like to present a counterpoint.

Oracle was a character born of misogyny. The notorious story of a DC editor saying to "cripple the b&&$h" during the production of "Killing Joke" is the ugly stuff of DC legend. It was an injustice that never should have happened.

Batman, Green Arrow, Jason Todd – just a few of the non-superpowered DC male heroes who who killed or disabled who are now fit and fit and running around the rooftops.

Barbara, and many other DC female characters, were never afforded such a second chance. And that was and is wrong.

Nonetheless, a handful of writers built Barbara into something special, something resonant, powerful and meaningful. But considering there have been two "official" Batgirl's since that incident, the problem wasn't Barbara. It never was.

This entire relaunch is essentially a marketing effort.And Barbara is still the most recognizable Batgirl that exists. Toys are still made in her image. She's appeared as batgirl in every iteration of Batman animation for 20 years. Reruns of the 1960s "Batman" series with Barbara still rerun on TV Land. She has cultural cachet.

I believe Gail Simone recently wrote that many fans will be hearbroken by these changes. One of my absolute favorites is Huntress. Has anyone seen her in this reboot? She;s not in "Birds of Prey." She's nowhere. Helena, alas, is likely to be lost. Too many 'Bat women," most likely.

Barbara, though, will go on. And she will apparently have her history of Oracle, allowing her to remain evolved and posing her for new layers.

As far as a vital character with a disability, Wendy has been quietly groomed as an Oracle successor for months in the pages of the current "Batgirl" series. She may very well serve as the next Oracle in Barbara's new series. She's a fantastic, vital, smart character who's learning to deal and hopefully thrive with her disability. She's very cool and loaded with potential.

I'm thrilled to see Barbara back in the cowl. It's an injustice that has long needed correction. And while your criticisms are extremely valid, I'm hoping DC fills the void left by Oracle with another vital character.

I hope I'm correct.

Kyle said...

Yeah, the changes to the Bat-books have been the hardest for me. I loathe Dick no longer being Batman and I'm completely baffled by the decision to make Barbara Batgirl again.
I would say that Barbara Gordon's journey is perhaps the greatest evolution of a comic book character we've ever seen. And they're just going to throw that out the window.
And, let's be honest -- to address Anonymous' point -- Barbara as Batgirl is NOT recognizable to anyone outside of comics. They might see a picture of her and know she's Batgirl, but if you asked them what her real name is, you're going to get a blank stare. In fact, Barbara Gordon has been not-Batgirl longer than she was ever Batgirl.
I also find it hard to believe that Alan Moore would have just gone along with DC telling him to "cripple the bitch." Maybe that's how someone reacted when the script came in, but I truly doubt Moore was commanded to do it, given that Moore probably would have said no.

Muteki Sales said...

Jill,

I read your OP/ED and I truly feel for you. I've felt for years that Barbara grew as a character far more as Oracle than as Batgirl. Batgirl, like many of her unfortunate female compatriots, are "shadows" of their male counterparts--Supergirl, Batwoman, Huntress, Jesse Quick, etc. All of them have been rebooted time and again, only to be essentially the same, just with altered origins.

Barbara grew into a more complex, dynamic, and heartfelt character--I was thrilled when I learned she found a new way to fight crime as Oracle in SUICIDE SQUAD, and when BIRDS OF PREY started, it was truly a brains & brawn team--one did the thinking, the other the trained & experienced muscle. I was happy to see that being stuck in her chair made her use more of her senses than just kicking some punk in an alley--she was making a difference in the entire world being Oracle.

I liked it that she found ways to defeat enemies from afar, I liked it that when she confronted the Joker, she was scared but found a way to rise above it and beat him down. This is the growth and maturation of a character--making her Batgirl again just makes it crowded with women who adore Batman and are carbon clones of his style.

I'm going to miss Barbara as Oracle--one of the most deep and intricate character developments ever. I agree with you--Barbara Gordon isn't the same anymore.

Nice OP/ED--you made a great "eulogy" for a fantastic character--and just because the general public can only name one Batgirl is no reason to turn back a progressive stand in today's comic book world that is supposed to appeal to all shapes, sizes, creeds, and types.

Long live Barbara Gordon--Oracle.

Anonymous said...

Has Oracle served a wonderful, vital and progressive role within the DCU? Absolutely. There is zero debate about that. But the irony is that as Oracle, Barbara refused to be defined by her disability. Yet that's exactly what all these naysayers are doing – defining the character because she's in a wheelchair. That's apparently the only trait that matters to many.

Anonymous said...

Kyle:

Barbara Gordon is the most recognizable Batgirl. There's really no question about it nor a debate.

Also:

"When Moore phoned his editor, Len Wein, to ask for permission to cripple the current Batgirl, Wein went to check with Dick Giordano, who was DC Comics Executive Editorial Director at the time. Moore was put on hold and then “Len [Wein] got back onto the phone and said, ‘Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch’” (Moore, qtd. in Cochran)."

http://www.comicbookdaily.com/wp/columns/diary-of-a-comic-book-goddess-mrp-of-doom-01/

Shelly said...

I'm not defining Oracle by her disability. I think people need role models and she's one of the very few who are positive role models for disabled people. She's a shining example of overcoming adversity and doing something special with her life, even more than when she was Batgirl. I don't want her to be a BatGIRL. I want her to be what she's been: a fully realized awesome WOMAN who has played a vital role for the DC Superhero community. Anyone can be Batgirl; after all, there have been others besides Babs (the first one I knew was Betty Kane) and Steph Brown has filled the role admirably and capably and her costume is awesome! In fact, the current Batgirl is one of the most fun comics DC publishes. And Babs, as Oracle, has been the amazing anchor of Birds of Prey. Why anyone wants to go backward from that is beyond me. Well beyond me.

BDS said...

Your column should be reading for all those that make decisions about the comics we love. Your comments about how Oracle is a character that displays more than a story really tells the truth. No, we do not own the characters, but without us the companies would not be able to fund there jobs. They forget that we invest in these characters and when one that means as much as Barbara Gordon does to so many people is made irrelevant, it makes us want to leave comics behind.

I am just a shy, overweight, single guy that is almost the entire cliche. I know what feeling different and being made to feel different is like, so I empathize with what you said. Thank you for saying it

johnmiic said...

I thought there was a contract w/Alan Moore which stated DC could not undo the events of The Killing Joke. Continuity from that point forward would stand regardless. That's why Barbara has remained wheelchair bound for 30 years. Now every DC blurb says The Killing Joke was an "imaginary tale." If that's the case what kept DC from doing this all these years?

Eric Lindberg said...

Not liking this one bit. To be honest, Barbara being miraculously cured or retconned isn't what bothers me the most. It's a superhero universe and such things have happened before. What bugs me is that Barbara as Oracle was a stronger and more interesting character than she ever was as Batgirl.

Yes, her Batgirl role is iconic and recognizable but in that capacity, she's simply a sidekick. She's in Batman's shadow, the distaff spin-off version of a popular male hero.

As Oracle, Barbara is her own woman. She's the leader of a team of heroes, coordinator of global operations, an invaluable resource to the DCU, and one of the most intelligent and resourceful characters around. To throw all that aside so she can go back to being Batman's plucky kid sidekick seems like a huge step backward for the character.

Granted, I don't know what DC has planned or how much of the old continuity will remain. But I seem to be liking this reboot less and less with each announcement.

Andrew said...

Great article.

You obviously know the character inside and out.

I'm seriously torn about the decision to make her Batgirl again, but I see all the other changes they're making and it's obvious that they're totally throwing caution to the wind this time around and all bets are off.

Apparently this is all pretty much a WB decision rather than a DC one.
That's my understanding anyway.
More books + more recognizable characters + more diverse characters = more younger readers = greater DC market share.

Anyway, about Babs, I never understood why, after all those years in the chair, she couldn't get herself fixed AND STILL BE ORACLE. She definitely has a ton more power as Oracle than she ever will as Batgirl. I thought time ang again how cool it would be to have her (only occasionally) hop out onto the streets in a kick-ass Oracle costume (with the awesome Oracle-symbol mask!) and then return home to her computers at the end of the night.

My two favorite characters for years have been Ted Kord and J'onn J'onzz(the ultimate tech-nerd inventor hero & the ultimate introspective outcast loner hero, respectively), so... not a great couple of years for me and DC either. It was awesome back in old BOP when Gail Simone was obviously setting up Babs and Ted for further development. At least that's how it seemed to me.

Oh well.

I think I understand where you're coming from with your points about Barbara's social impact and relevance and I think it's an even greater kick in the pants that they've been grooming this Wendy character to be the next Oracle - as though they needed a new hot genius girl to become paralyzed so she could become the next Oracle to replace the other hot genius girl who got paralyzed and became Oracle. Sheesh. Oracle should not be around at all if it's not Barbara. To boot, I liked Stephanie Brown as Batgirl.

Anyway...

Sorry about all this.

I'd fix it if I could. :\

strugglingwriter said...

That was a really well written and thought out column.

With this reboot they are basically saying screw you to all those people who have been reading for years and becoming invested in these characters. All to attract the casual or new readers, who most likely won't convert into the loyal reader.

Paul
bigdirkmalone.tumblr.com

adrian said...

I think we should look at it in more descriptive terms. "Strength" is vague at best; Fortitude and determination better serve Barbara's character, I think.

Kyle said...

Anon-

All your additional information does is prove that Moore came up with the idea of shooting Barbara Gordon on his own. Regardless of how others reacted in the DC offices, it was Moore's decision, and I think anyone would be hard pressed to make the claim that Moore's work is misogynistic.
So, no, this isn't an injustice being corrected, as there was no injustice to begin with.

Shelly said...

I never had a problem with Babs being crippled. I would like it if male characters were treated in such a way, too, as often as females. Motivation is, of course, important, but the end results are what matter more to me as a reader and the end result is that Babs became more interesting and had more chance to grow and develop.

Then again, the shooting happened during my boycott over the original Supergirl's death. DC didn't care about my protest (I didn't really affect the bottom line, after all) and I doubt they'll lose any money when I cut my pull list come Sept.

j_tish68 said...

My 5 year old son has Cerebral Palsy and before he was born I really didn't pay much attention to how difficult life for people with disabilities can be.

Your op/ed was spot on. I enjoy sharing my love of comics with my children and I'm sorry to see a potentially great character lose that aspect of her that might resonate with my son.

Mariann said...

I'm really torn on this. I love Barbara Gordon as both Oracle and Batgirl.

I can not imagine BoP without Oracle. I love the book because of her and her relationship with Black Canary.

On the other hand, I am excited to see Barbara back in the swing of things as Batgirl. With cable showing the old Batman show again, I've been reminded how much I loved her as Batgirl. I still love the idea that a mild mannered librarian can be a super hero.

CDerosby said...

Very powerfully written Jill. Just another example of the Comics industry making these big changes for shock value then not wanting to live with the decisions afterward. "let's just bring ___ back from the dead again". It's a sh*tty practice and my one big pet peeve with comics as a whole. Yeah I may love the character whose life you just ended, but bringing them back takes away all the impact you were trying to make in the first place.

Xenos said...

All my complaints about this change seem almost silly compared to what you had to say about it here. I'm just a typical fanboy who has followed the character. With your disability the character clearly means so much more to you. There's such a personal connection. I gotta admit I kinda teared up over some of your comments because you share an even deeper connection with the character than I have. I though I was sad and angry about this, ready to cry and cry foul about the loss of a character I loved, but your connection is even so much more than mine. You truly highlight how foolish DC is in losing such an important character as Oracle.

I can only hope and pray that these early solicits are misleading and Oracle is not truly gone. Hell, maybe it's not actually babs but some robot she controls with her mind? An exo-suit that she uses and is still in the chair in her civilian and Oracle identity?

I can't imagine a DCU where Oracle is gone. I don't know if I can buy a single book of one where she is.

the other mike said...

great article. while i don't have the attachment to oracle like you do, i do feel disappointed she's going away (at least it looks that way). i think part of it is that i didn't grow up with batgirl, i grew up with barbara post-killing joke. but also oracle is just so damn more interesting than being yet one more bat-themed hero.

...but that's not why i'm writing this.

when i was around 14 or so, doctors diagnosed me with muscular dystrophy, specifically spinal muscular atrophy. for about 15 years, i thought that's what i had until new doctors gave me a new (and correct) diagnosis: psoriatic arthritis. (i'm not even sure if i'm spelling it right ;D). anyhoo, what i'm trying to say is that whatever i had was called, it was still a disability and your article just said what i try to explain to my friends, family and strangers. THAT'S what i go through every single damn day. i'm not complaining! its like that quote form pixar's bug's life: "thats our lot in life. it's not a lot, but it's our life.". you put it across so eloquently. hell, its weird because its like you're writing about ME.

thank you for your article, for giving voice to what's been in my head for so long!

-mike

ps-i truly hope the oracle/batgirl thing works out.

Ryan said...

This is probably the only comic news that's ever pissed me off, and I've been reading comics for 20 years. The whole appeal of Oracle for me was that she had overcome her disability and embraced herself as a strong, confident woman in spite of it. In the process, she became a very different type of hero, one who was set apart from all the others in the DCU. She had her own identity, she was in no one's shadow, and she was an inspiration to a whole group of readers. Now she's not only back in Batman's shadow, she's not even unique in her role as a redhead in a bat-suit, as they are still launching Batwoman.

My ex-girlfriend has spent most of her life in a wheelchair, and was never into comics until I introduced her to Oracle. She was legitimately inspired by Barbara Gordon's transformation. She cosplayed as Oracle at Comic-Con and loved dressing as her for Halloween. Through following Oracle in Birds of Prey, she became interested in Hawk & Dove, Huntress, and Batman. Though we eventually broke up, we're still great friends, and telling her about this was like having to tell her that a friend had passed away. I've never seen a woman cry over a comic book before, and I doubt I ever will again. This is the power that Oracle had that Batgirl has never did. My ex is far from a fangirl, she's about as casual a reader as you can be, but she felt a connection to this fictional character that is unlikely to be duplicated.

As for me, I'm not going to go all nerd rage and say I'll never read a DC book again, but right now I just don't feel like handing them my money. Will they miss my 50 bucks a month? Probably not, but that's 50 bucks I can spend picking up more titles from Marvel or other publishers until I get this bitter taste out of my mouth.

AlighieriOYH said...

When I hear the name Barbara Gordon, I don't think of a red-headed girl leaping off rooftops in a modified Batman costume. To me, Barbara Gordon is & forever will be Oracle.

As a narrative, Barbara's story is unmatched in the DCU. She was a beautiful & vital young woman who tasted the freedom & physical primacy of being a costumed vigilante. Being confined to a wheelchair by the actions of a homicidal lunatic? That instead of delving into self-pity & sorrow she became a force of nature. It's arguable that she is one of the most influential (if not powerful) of all of DC's heroes.

She might not be punching in Darkseid's head or racing across rooftops but as the All-Seeing Oracle? Batgirl on her own is no different than the Cain or Brown. Just another girl in tights wearing Batman's emblem. As the Oracle, we saw Barbara grow as a character & as a person. The fact that she could still physically defend herself while still in a wheelchair is seriously impressive.

This does not cheapen her time as the original Batgirl. Oracle had to be Batgirl before she could grow into being Oracle. Wally West would be a different Flash if he never was Kid Flash. It's the same.

I say this is very likely to turn into a fiasco. As much as I love the idea of Barbara going back to her basics & walking again, it still feels like a step back for her as a character. That & anyone else stepping into the Oracle role, the other heroes might not be aware of it in continuity, but it feels like a massive cop out.

Anonymous said...

For me I first knew her as Batgirl and I've always felt the Killing Joke was nothing short of needless grimdark that I never wanted to see be made part of canon. Oracle was a cool way to deal with fact it was canon but to get Oracle you had to accept Killing Joke.

In a nutshell the way some of you feel about her being taken out of the wheelchair is the way I felt about her being put in it in the first place. The creative choice was to me as senseless as the Joker's actual deed in the story.

That said, I think the more respectful thing to have done would be to have ended the previous continuity and wrap up Oracle's story in a way that would speak to everything she had been about, giving meaningful closure to fans who had come to the character as Oracle and then moving on to the reboot with a new Barbara Gordon.

Then again I hardly trust DC with anything these days let alone doing a good Batgirl comic.

trhersh said...

Had to stop by after reading your Op/Ed @ Newsarama. And, sorry, this might be a little scatter-brained...

Background. Middle aged, started reading comics in the late 80s, stopped last year, for financial reasons. Married a comic reader (I was Marvel, she was DC/Batman). 2 daughters. Sister was born disabled, died when I was 5. Worked in comics stores for about 10 years. DC's decision touches me in a few ways, and I still don't know what I think, yet.

I remember reading Killing Joke, and loving it (love Bolland). I remember it bothering me, too (knew early on that S&M wasn't my thing...). I was never angry that Moore or DC published the story, though.

When Oracle came along, I was surprised. Fully expected DC to "fix" Barbara; did not expect them to be able to find a use for her in the chair. AND, she was a complete entity. Sure, she worked with Batman, but she was not a sidekick (though, I always thought she positioned herself as more than "just a sidekick" when Batgirl, too...). Soon, she had her own team. Yes, part of the Bat-Family, but more autonomous than Dick or Tim. My Wife LOVED BoP.

I like smart women. Always have. The fact that Barbara was beautiful (artist dependent) AND smart? Oooh, that's the good stuff. Then, we find out that she can still kick ass from the chair, too?? Nice. Never saw a reason to reboot this character.

So, reboot. Lots of things going through my head. Loss of a great character. Loss of a great idea. (A possibly) Better marketing position for DC? But, something had changed since Killing Joke: my daughters. Haven't opened Killing Joke in over a decade, but I vividly remember Gordon's pain, fear, anger, & helplessness (thank you, Bolland!). I felt bad, but just "story bad". He was fictional, so big deal. Now, I get it. My daughters changed it. I didn't want her to be crippled, because it's a horrible thing to experience. For her, and for her father.

I'd like to fix a lot of things. Babs didn't need to be fixed, but as a father, I like the idea (just like in the comic you posted). You don't need to be fixed, either, but I'd wish I could do it, just the same. Selfish? Sure. I would feel a lot better.

Then, I step back and remember "it's just comics". It's hard to disconnect like that, but I need to, sometimes. Do I think Barbara in the cape & cowl could bring more (& new) readers into the stores? Yes. Do I think it'll work long-term? No. Who knows? It's a shame to try it with a well-done, successful character, though.

notintheface said...

Your Newsarama post gave me some needed perspective. Here's my "mea culpa".

http://stars-and-garters.blogspot.com/2011/06/mea-culpa-to-oracle-fans.html

Anonymous said...

"The Killing Joke" was misogynist and a cynical marketing ploy. "Yeah, cripple the b--ch, the shock value will be great for publicity." Later writers made a necessity into a virtue and Barbara became a strong character and an inspiration for PWD's. Now DC has ruined even that. Maybe Wendy Harris could be the new Oracle and token handicapped character. But how long will that last? By the time fans get attached to her, she will probably get cured in the next regularly scheduled Crisis/reboot/relaunch/revision/travesty.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if Barbara Gordon is the most recognizable Batgirl to non-fans. The Alicia Silverstone version might be the most familiar to adults who don't read comics or watch cartoons. And if the idea is to make the new comics accessible to new fans-who know the characters only from TV and/or movies-then making Dick Grayson Nightwing again makes no sense. To those people, Dick Grayson is Robin. They've never heard of Nightwing (or Jason Todd or Tim Drake, either).

Anonymous said...

Oracle was a better way to deal with "The Killing Joke" (which I hated) than a retcon would have been. I've heard (e.g. Comics Bulletin) that TKJ was an imaginary story, not canon. That has become the convenient excuse for any bad story that has to be swept under the rug: Mopee, Black Zero, the story with Clark Kent's glasses hypnotizing everyone to make him look different from Superman. If they didn't publish bad stories in the first place, they wouldn't need to try to explain them away.