22 March 2008

The Friends and Foes of Batman - Oracle

After getting shot in the spinal cord by the Joker, the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon became Oracle. Oracle has appeared in the Birds of Prey TV series, but Babs has appeared in nearly every incarnation of Batman.

During the early eighties, Batman editors sporadically put Batgirl into retirement; the character resumed her role for special cases. In 1988, in The Killing Joke, she was deployed as a plot device to cement the Joker’s vendetta against Commissioner Gordon and Batman.

The Joker’s aggravated assault of Barbara Gordon has become a classic example of Women in Refrigerators syndrome, in which “severe injury or death of a female comic book character [occurs] as a means to antagonize a male superhero.” Following the release of the graphic novel, comic book editor and writer Kim Yale discussed how distasteful she found the treatment of Barbara Gordon with her husband, fellow comic writer John Ostrander. Rather than allow the character to fall into obscurity, the two decided to revive her as a character living with a disability.

Both Yale and Ostrander would oversee the development of Barbara Gordon's new persona as Oracle for the next several years. The character made her first comic book appearance as Oracle in Suicide Squad #23, anonymously offering her services to the government's Task Force X. In the following two years, Oracle, under pen of Ostander and Yale, made guest appearances in various DC titles until her identity was revealed to be Barbara Gordon in Suicide Squad #38 (1990) and she officially becomes a member of the Squad in issue #48 following an invitation from fictional government agent Amanda Waller. In 1992, Dennis O’Neil gave Barbara Gordon’s Oracle a starring role in Batman: Sword of Azrael #1, where she became Batman’s sole source of information. This newly forged partnership established Oracle’s status as Batman's intellectual equal.

The success of Chuck Dixon’s Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey (1996) lead to the comic series Birds of Prey starring the two title characters. Kim Yale and John Ostrander tell the origin of Oracle in "Oracle: Year One," a story arc contained in Batman Chronicles #5. Since the launch of Birds of Prey, the Oracle character has become a high-profile figure in the DC Comics universe - moving beyond her ties to the Batman Family and forging alliances with groups such as Justice League of America. Gail Simone took over as writer of Birds of Prey with issue #56, taking the series in a "Bold New Direction!" In an interview with Columnist Jennifer Contino, Simone explains her fondness of Barbara Gordon:

Kim Yale and John Ostrander picked up the character and made her into a brilliant master computer operator and one of the most fascinating characters in comics. From there, Chuck Dixon did wonderful things with her in his Birds of Prey run...She’s fantastic because even just sitting in a chair in a dark room by herself, she’s tremendously compelling. The DCU without her would be a much less interesting place.

Throughout the course of the character's history, Barbara Gordon's intelligence has been one of the character's defining attributes. According to BusinessWeek, Oracle is listed as one of the top ten most intelligent fictional superheroes appearing in American comics and is the only female character to appear on the list.

The Dark Knight returns in 125 days!

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