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

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.

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Barbara accepts.

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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. Later in 1992, Denny O’Neil introduced the concept of Oracle being Batman’s main source of info in the pages of Sword of Azrael #1, which was the biggest mini-series of that year, giving Barbara a nice shot of exposure.

However, she still did not have a high profile for the next year (she made an appearance in two issues of the Hacker Files series, but that would be expected, as it was a series about computer hackers, for crissakes).

Significantly, though, if only for later events, Oracle DID make an appearance in an issue of Black Canary!! It was only as a way for Huntress to come into contact with Nightwing to go save a captured Black Canary, but still, looking back, that appearance is interesting.

Barbara’s next big appearance was in Detective Comics #680, where Robin uses Oracle for information for the first time (that issue was written by Chuck Dixon, which is significant because, as you may know, once Dixon has decided to use a concept, he is committed to that concept for YEARS). This began the trend of Batman writers using Oracle more and more frequently, but surprisingly the character STILL did not appear all that much over the next two years, only making appearances every other month or so (in Dixon comics, mostly).

This would change with 1996’s Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey one-shot (by, who else, Chuck Dixon), which came out the same summer that John Ostrander and Kim Yale conspired to tell the origin of Oracle in Batman Chronicles #5 – “Oracle: Year One.”

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This was to be the last story that Ostrander and Yale worked together on, as Yale was sadly quite sick at the time. In fact, just writing that one story was a struggle for her, but in retrospect, it is one of the strongest issues that John and Kim ever did together.

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Kim Yale passed away in 1997.

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She lived long enough to see Oracle: Year One published, as well as the launch of Chuck Dixon’s Birds of Prey series of mini-series (as well as Barbara becoming a MAJOR part of the Batverse, during the Contagion crossover of 1996).

The rest, I suppose, is history.

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5 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.

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