Sunday, November 18, 2007

Viva Oracle!

This was originally posted as a response to Ragnell's post about Booster Gold #4, which ends with the surprise reveal that Barbara Gordon's crippling and subsequent career as Oracle happened because of the Bad Guy Time Travellers and their plot to thwart the origins of the whole Justice League -- including their "rightful" leader, Batgirl.

I love this idea, and I can't wait to see how it plays out... but until I read the comments in Ragnell's post, it never occurred to me that DC would actually have Booster and Rip succeed in "fixing" that one.

Frankly, I think they'd be damned foolish to consider it.

I can't consider Oracle a "mistake" on DC's part. Barbara Gordon as Oracle is a far more interesting, original character than Barbara Gordon ever was as the Earth-One Betty Kane, introduced to bolster the sagging ratings of a campy TV show that most fans would rather forget.

She's a more successful character, too. Her tenure as Oracle (1989-2007) is just three years shy of her tenure as Batgirl (1967-1988). At this stage, her Batgirl career was faltering; one reason Moore was allowed to treat her so cavalierly was because the character has simply failed to find a niche. She had never broken out of back-up series and Special Guest Sidekick appearances. The closest thing she'd gotten to a "team" was as a tagger-on to the Dynamic Duo. In the stories, Barbara was wondering if she was really making a difference as a crime-fighter, if she might do more good by directing her talents elsewhere.

At least one person has said that they want to see Barbara resume the Batgirl role because Oracle, the "Superhero OnStar", "makes things too easy" for other DCU characters, and writers tend to use her as a crutch. To Your Obedient Serpent, this almost qualifies for the Women in Refrigerators List: impose a major life change to a female character to produce a desired effect on a male character.

I keep hearing people object to the creation of Oracle because of the Fridge Listing of Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke. Sure, Babs's crippling is classic Fridge List material. That was Alan Moore's script -- and while it set the stage for the introduction of Oracle, it was NOT her origin.

Barbara Gordon's recreation of herself as the Oracle was the work of John Ostrander, and it was as far from the Fridge List as you can get. It pulled the character out of the shadows of the Established Male Dynastic Centerpiece, and made her a unique, exotic figure in her own right. It gave her her own story, in her own way.

Barbara Gordon was always a highly-intelligent character with a photographic memory. That was there from her introduction. Ostrander's genius was in using the crippling injury imposed by another writer to refocus the character on that intellect.

As a front-line fighter, Barbara was a B-List character, and her chosen nom de guerre insured that she'd remain there, as "Batman's Girl Sidekick". As Oracle, she's A-List. The idea of Barbara Gordon leading the Justice League only makes sense after 20 years of seeing her as Oracle. Batgirl was no leader, and showed no signs of developing into one. As a kick-fighter, she was playing catch-up to people with more training, more motivation, and more special "edges" than she would ever have. It took Ostrander's re-emphasis of the character according to her unique strengths that allowed her to become the formidable presence she is today.

Taking that away from her would be crippling the character. Frankly, if Barbara got the use of her legs back (without time-travel trickery), I'd be utterly disappointed if she gave up being Oracle. She's done far more good that way that she ever would as one more high-heeled boot to a bad guy's face.

(Okay, if she got healed and put the costume on again strictly because she was offered leadership of the JLA, I could buy it.)

And you know what? "Oracle" only works as an ex-crimefighter. Putting some random person hospitalized by violence into the chair and behind the keyboard just doesn't have the emotional impact.

Finally... I'm hardly a fan of the school that insists that a superhero has to have some driving trauma, but I've got to admit, Oracle has a lot more solid motivation than the librarian who took a few judo classes and started crimefighting for fun.


LurkerWithout said...

Wasn't Barbara Gordon a Senator for a while during the pre-A Killing Joke period? That would seem to argue for some non-Oracle related leadership skills...

Ford MF said...

Yeah, she's a far, far better character as Oracle.

I would've thought DC would want to hang on to what is essentially the only handicapped character in the length and breadth of mainstream comicdom, but I could be wrong.

(I guess Alicia Masters counts too; does she still even exist any more?)

Scott (The Mad Thinker) Anderson said...

I suspect that she won't end up walking at the end of that issue.

Lurker, I'm not sure the Senator stuff is still in continuity. It really never made much sense.

zhinxy said...

lurkerwithout - Congresswoman.

And while it wasn't quite retconned out with the Crisis, nobody's made any references to it for more than a decade, so it's pretty safe to say it's out of continuity by now.

I agree that she's better as Oracle. And I still think she'll end up crippled at the end. I just hope it won't be due to the events as played out in the Killing Joke. Something less sleazy will be fine in my book.

Anonymous said...

If she could do what she did after that trauma, and start crime-fighting without trauma, couldn't she still be awesome with the use of her legs?

Marc said...

I think they could give Babs back her legs without time travel. Heck, we can almost do that NOW.

In a DCU where Lex Luthor was president, I don't think there would have been so much dragging on stem cell research, and wheelchairs could be a thing of the past.