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A (Perhaps Unnecessary) Guide to Oracle’s Formative Years

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This originally appeared at The Great Curve in 2005, but as that site no longer exists, I thought it’d be nice to have this piece appear where folks could read it. Enjoy!

I don’t think folks know enough of Oracle’s backstory, so I figure I should lay it out for you.

Our story begins in May of 1988, with the publication of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke.

In this much-hyped event, the Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon, formerly known as the heroine Batgirl (Barbara had given up the identity in a Batgirl Special earlier that year by Barbara Kesel, to pave the way for the Killing Joke. The idea was to give her a quick presence before the Killing Joke so that the event would have more of an “impact,” as it were).

Almost immediately, Kim Yale had a problem with the comic.

Discussing her dislike of the treatment of Batgirl in the issue with her husband, John Ostrander, the two formulated a plan to address what would happen next for Barbara. As Ostrander recalls, “There were no plans for her in the continuity at that time. We decided that if that happened, we weren’t just going to make her better magically — we wanted to explore what happened when someone like her was crippled and how she would respond.”

In late 1988, Oracle made her first appearance, but only as the NAME “Oracle,” a hacker who aided the Suicide Squad, in Suicide Squad #23.

Oracle aided the Squad for the next year, with hints given to his/her identity piling up (and Oracle started appearing in Manhunter, also written by Ostrander and Yale).

Finally, in Suicide Squad #38, in early 1990, Oracle is revealed to the readers as Barbara Gordon!

After that, Barbara laid low for most of 1990, making a few appearances in various titles, such as Ostrander’s Firestorm and Roger Stern’s Starman (plus a quick appearance in Batman #451, reacting to the return of the Joker, believed dead after Jason Todd’s death), but she made a big return in Suicide Squad #48, when Amanda Waller saves Barbara from the psychotic new Thinker, and asks Barbara (who she knows as the alias Amy Beddoes…does anyone know if that name has any significance?) to join the Squad full-time.

SuicideSquad48

Barbara accepts.

SuicideSquad49

At about the same time, Barbara Kesel becomes the first writer other than Ostrander and Yale to use this new take on Barbara Gordon extensively, as Kesel brings Barbara to the pages of Hawk & Dove to resolve some old plots from the Batgirl backups that Kesel used to write in Detective Comics.

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Soon after, Barbara, for a time, even became the leader of the Suicide Squad when Amanda Waller became incapacitated.

However, when Suicide Squad folded in early 1992, Barbara’s future was in real doubt.

Luckily, she had a new patron, one who would shape her destiny dramatically for the next decade. Go to the next page to find out what happened next…

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14 Comments

Oracle is a really, really brilliant salvaging of a character, and it’s a credit to Ostrander and Yale for coming up with that direction for Barbara.

I wish more creators — instead of doing the obvious and eventually returning things to the status quo — would instead take major developments, even those they don’t like, and try to think up interesting places to take them. Lots of times we see major changes reversed out of a sense of inevitability as much as anything else, and I think that’s silly. If Ostrander and Yale hadn’t taken Barbara Gordon in the direction they did, it’s likely the character would just be walking around like nothing had happened today, and I think her, and the DCU, would be worse off for it.

Patrick said it all!
(Nice post, Brian.)

Consider that comment seconded (thirded?), Patrick!

.. And here we are in Sept. 2011, with Babs as Batgirl again! But at this point I don’t know if it’s with robot legs, some kind of surgery, or an editorial reduction of her original injuries.

And here we are in 2015, when some people think that women dedicated to a better representation of female characters are something new to Barbara Gordon, when they essentially made the character what she is.

Great summation of Oracle by Brian Cronin! Oracle became very important to the DCU, much more integral than Martian Manhunter ever managed to be. Although I’m solidly behind what Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr are doing with Batgirl, I still think that Oracle is the best take on Barbara Gordon: Oracle rocks!

I actually liked their TV show

Babs was lucky. She’d been retired before The Killing Joke and before that she’d barely appeared for years outside a few token appearances.

People who get worked up about TKJ tend to ignore the historical context.

@elbel01: Babs wasn’t lucky TKJ happened to her. As Patrick said, Babs was lucky Yale and Ostrander happened to her after TKJ. DC didn’t really know what to do with her in the 80’s, as was evidenced by TKJ editor Len Wein’s “Cripple the bitch!” response to Alan Moore’s permission to paralyse her. Moore himself has gone on record explaining why he severely regretted doing that to Barbara.

TKJ has enormous problems in the way it uses Barbara. A story about a superheroine losing a fight with a villain and ending up disabled could be an interesting plotline. A story about a superheroine suffering permanent injury simply for the emotional reaction it elicits from the men in her life is horrific. TKJ has many things people understandably enjoy about it, but it seems entirely unaware that women are actual people with our own feelings and inner lives that exist independently from how men feel about us.

nice article it does the job of babs time as oracle perfectly including the most important part of her use the suicide squad and chuck dixon deciding this is too good a character to waste any more

Oracle is the best character to come out of a bad situation in the history of comics. I like Batgirl, but I kind of like Oracle better conceptually and story wise.

Should update article to include Oracle as an official member of Morrison’s JLA.

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