Long before I ever started reading comic books I watched Barbara Gordon as Batgirl on Batman: The Animated Series. It was the Batman animated cartoon that introduced me to the world of Batman, the caped crusader, and to Barbara as his feisty sidekick- full of life, ambition and determination. In fact, one of the first graphic novels I ever purchased (and one that remains at the top of my list as one of my favorites) is Chuck Dixon's Batgirl: Year One, published in 2003. This incarnation of Barbara is one of the few that depicted her as Batgirl post Killing Joke. My first encounter with Barbara Gordon was Barbara Gordon, Batgirl. It wasn't until I started reading back issues of the first volume of Birds of Prey that I became aware of Barbara as Oracle.
I think I really fell in love with Barbara after reading her on BoP as Oracle. Her strength both mentally and emotionally, when written to her fullest was remarkable- and it is her story that was the first to bring me to tears over a comic book character. There is something about Oracle that is empowering to many girls- I know she was to me. In a world of female characters who use their sexuality first to get things done, Oracle was starkly different. It wasn't just the fact that Oracle used her smarts first, either. Oracle also became a symbol for a grossly misrepresented part of society- she became a symbol for people who could relate to her because they too suffered some kind of disability. In a sense, Oracle became greater than herself because of all that she represented. A woman who used her intellect and cunning and who refused to ever allow a physical disability to hold her back. Perhaps that's why the decision to make Barbara Gordon Batgirl is such a controversial one.== TEASER ==
News first broke late Monday morning that Barbara Gordon would become the new Batgirl in an all new series launching fall, 2011. This new Batgirl would be written by Birds of Prey writer Gail Simone with artists Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes. The news was revealed with an accompanying cover by the great Adam Hughes. Simone revealed similar sentiments regarding Barbara as the new Batgirl on the DC Source blog.
"Barbara Gordon is pretty much my everything. Because of the Batman TV show, she was the reason I fell in love with superheroes. Because she was a redhead who could kick ass, she is the reason I fell in love with comics. She was always forward-looking as Batgirl, a girl who was smarter than the male characters, who had class and elegance and style, as well as tough-as-nails grit. For a long time, there was simply nothing else like her in comics, and for me and a lot of other readers, her every appearance was joyful and explosive.
For many years, I got to write the character as Oracle, and there is to this day, no character who means more to me. This is classic Barbara as she was originally conceived, with a few big surprises. It's a bit of a shock, to be sure, but we're doing everything we can to be respectful to this character's amazing legacy, while presenting something thrilling that a generation of comics readers will be experiencing for the first time...Barbara Gordon leaping, fighting, and swinging over Gotham. Now, when citizens of that city look up, they are going to see BATGIRL. And that is absolutely thrilling."
Since the announcement, several people have cited both the controversy in making Barbara the new Batgirl, as well as the weight that kind of change holds; I point to Andy Khouri's blog on Comics Alliance and Jill Pantozzi's blog specifically. I think Batgirl's new writer, Gail Simone is right; Barbara's every appearance is indeed "joyful and explosive" and I hope they will continue to be so under her pen. However, the question remains, is this the right decision for the evolution of Barbara's character? It's true, Barbara has been in a wheelchair longer than she had been out of it, which is partially why this change to her character is so dramatic; but does that mean that in order for Barbara to evolve she must walk again?
When you become a symbol, the changes made to your character weigh much heavier on everyone invested. While Barbara in the black and yellow costume is as identifiable as Barbara in a wheelchair, isn't reverting back to Batgirl a step backwards? Barbara has evolved as a mentor to not only both Batgirl's that followed in her footsteps ( Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown), but also to her teammates. Just because Barbara was confined to a wheelchair, doesn't mean she had any trouble teaching and leading the Birds of Prey. As the Oracle, Barbara was not only a well of information; she was also a fountain of wisdom that guided other characters through their hardships- Oracle helped push other characters. Her inability to race across the rooftops of Gotham meant that she could evolve in ways other comic book characters don't.
Saying goodbye to Barbara as Oracle will be bittersweet, and I don't know if that's something I'm comfortable with quite yet because I feel her role as a mascot for both young female readers and for people with disabilities is more important than seeing her don the cape and cowl again. Having said that though, it will be nice to see Barbara in the costume swinging across the skyline of Gotham City; something sometimes secretly hoped for, but that I never thought I would see again. Barbara Gordon as Batgirl will give the character the ability to evolve in other ways. Perhaps she may even rekindle the romance she lost with former "Boy Wonder," Dick Grayson. I'd be lying if I said those weren't some of my favorite stories, and I wouldn't want to see that again...
What do you think of the news of Barbara Gordon as the new Batgirl? Do you think her role as Oracle is more important than returning to Batgirl? Are you looking forward to the 52 new titles coming from DC later this year?