web stats

CSBG Archive

The Comic Book Alphabet of Cool – Y

We continue our tour through the alphabet, with a different cool comic book item each day, from A to Z!
Here‘s an archive of A-T.

Today we look at a late, great comic book writer who helped turn a sour moment in comic history into a bright spot.

Kim Yale was a fine writer who was married to John Ostrander (another great writer). She worked with him on Suicide Squad and Manhunter, with the latter book being more Yale-centric. Basically, if you enjoy the writing of John Ostrander, you’d likely enjoy the writing of Kim Yale, I’d say.

Her biggest contribution to comic book history, though, resulted in her being dismayed at a comic book DC put out in the late 80s (the following appeared on the blog a couple of years ago in a less Yale-centric form)…

The 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 Ostrander and Yale’s Manhunter).

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.

3385_2_48.jpg

Barbara accepts.

3385_2_49.jpg

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.

3797_2_24.jpg

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.”

5497_2_1.jpg

This was to be the last story that Ostrander and Yale worked together on, as Yale was sadly quite sick at the time with breast cancer. 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.

7095_2_005.jpg

Kim Yale passed away in 1997.

7134_2_1.jpg

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.

6991_2_001.jpg6991_2_008.jpg5747_2_0037.jpg6991_2_059.jpg6991_2_075.jpg6991_4_0100.jpg

Kim Yale was a special writer, and it’s great to know that she had such a significant impact in comic book history before she passed at far too early of an age (only 43 years old).

14 Comments

Great retrospective. Learned a lot, thanks.

Great article Brian. Oracle is one of those great characters who I assumed was always around, but it sounds like if Ostrander and Yale weren’t committed to her, then Barbara Gordon may have just disappeared. And that would’ve been a huge shame.

Years later, Barbara had a rematch with the Joker, where she got in one good shot and was then pushed down a flight of stairs. This was all part of destroying her self-worth so she could disband the Birds of Prey for no reason, setting up a bold new era for the character!

“Years later, Barbara had a rematch with the Joker, where she got in one good shot and was then pushed down a flight of stairs. This was all part of destroying her self-worth so she could disband the Birds of Prey for no reason, setting up a bold new era for the character!”

Do you honestly think she should have been able to take him?

He’s gone toe to toe with Batman and nearly beat Cassandra Cain. He’s considered one of the most dangerous men in the DCU. I’d say it was handled pretty well.

The Batgirl-to-Oracle transformation is the pretty much the best argument in favor of continuity and a shared universe in DC comics. It is important to note how a creator like Kim Yale was able to keep the torch alive as Barbara Gordon moved from title-to-title until the concept caught fire.

As an aside, Ostrander and Tim Truman worked on “Grim Jack” at First Comics. Truman and Chuck Dixon worked together on “Airboy” at Eclipse Comics. It seems likely that Dixon knew Ostrander and Yale through either Truman or directly. Also, Karl Kesel was the original inker on “Suicide Squad” and designed the logo. So, it is not like either Dixon or Brabara Kesel picked up Oracle randomly. They probably all exchanged ideas about how to use Barbara Gordon post-“Killing Joke”.

It would be interesting to know how that worked behind the scenes, but it really boils down the “Suicide Squad” being an awesome team both on the page and behind the scenes.

Really, the single most over-looked aspect of comics creation is that the creators work together. I mean, how many times has DC or Marvel signed some big name away from the competition and gotten much less than you would think based on the body of work?

The early Marvel were flat-out amazing. However, you had a tight group doing almost everything. Stan Lee or his brother Larry Lieber did pretty much all the scripts. Either Jack Kirby, or Steve Ditko, did almost all the early issues. When those writers and artists left, it was mostly to folks they’d trained. Marvel got a lot more inconsistent in the Bronze Age when they started pulling in outsiders and losing their homegrown talent to DC.

great history lesson there for always wondered whose idea was it to have barbera become oracle and glad to see yale will always live on in her work espically in reprints.

Mike Loughlin

May 31, 2009 at 4:39 pm

I have to track down that Batman Chronicles issue, now. Ostrander’s work, especially with Yale, is always worth reading.

If Yale and Ostrander hadn’t created Oracle, some yahoo would’ve undid the crippling by now…either through some convoluted story that ended with her being healed or by simply rebooting the character. Barbara would not have disappeared forever.

That said, I’m glad Yale created Oracle. The evolution of Barbara from crippled former Batgirl to Oracle is a far more compelling story than any attempt to put her back in the tights could have possibly been. I haven’t read any Birds Of Prey but love the role she has played in the Batman comics. And LOVED the BofP tv show. Shame that one only lasted a season.

Incredible choice for Y. It is so important to show that the stories of the creators can be more inspiring than what they create. Thank you for this one.

Nice retrospective. Might have to track down a copy of that Black Canary issue, as it really does seem like a neat prelude to the Dixon era of the Batman family books that I love so much (and with Huntress there, it ties into Simone’s tenure on BoP, as well).

I always thoguht that meltzer’s upgrading of Calculator to the walking job board of the DCU was setting up an Anti-Oracle, someone any villain can call to get any dumb criminal jb, or any weird crossover-demanded appearance. How many other charatcers can so easily make their wayinto just abotu any comic that they want? Nick Fury, maybe.

And Quasar. Although mostly I have to draw him in mself, because the aritst forgets to.

“I always thought that Meltzer’s upgrading of Calculator to the walking job board of the DCU was setting up an Anti-Oracle, someone any villain can call to get any dumb criminal jb, or any weird crossover-demanded appearance.”

Simone and the follow-up writers ran wit this concept quite a bit in BoP.

How many other charatcers can so easily make their wayinto just abotu any comic that they want? Nick Fury, maybe.

Batman, Wolverine, for a while, Lobo.

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives