Barbara Gordon: Where Do I Start?

Batman’s had his fair share of teenage sidekicks, and while some might peg Nightwing as his star pupil I’d say Barbara Gordon has put all the others to shame. As Batgirl and Oracle she’s become arguably the most well-rounded costumed crime-fighter under Batman’s wing, in some respects even surprising Bruce’s own unique skills when it comes to off-the-field resources. After two decades of being pulled out of her Batgirl guise due to a paralyzing injury, she recently returned to the battlefield with DC’s New 52 revamp and there’s a lot of catching up to do.

Originally created by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino to coincide with the debut of Batgirl in the Adam West Batman TV series in 1967, Barbara Gordon was Commissioner James Gordon’s plucky daughter who wanted to get in the family business and found a way by dressing up as a female version of Batman.Through the years she became a distinct counterpart and ally to Batman, and was thrust into a new role after Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke depicted the Joker giving her a gunshot that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Gordon took to the challenge and segued from being a crime-fighter on the front lines to being an expert tactician and hacker coordinating the field operations of Batman and later her own team, the Birds Of Prey. She mentored others stepping into her former role as Batgirl, and in the New 52 revamp last year Gordon took back her role as Batgirl and left her wheelchair, although the reasoning how is still unrevealed.

Through it all, Barbara Gordon has had a elaborate and nuanced trajectory in comics history, going from prima donna to accomplished fighter, hacker to congresswoman, and back to crime-fighter. Other heroines have taken up the guise of Batgirl, but Barbara Gordon has left her own mark in comics bigger than any one codename can hold. We picked out five stories that touch upon the key moments of Gordon’s life and pinpoint the creative highpoints in the character’s continuity so far.

Batgirl: Year One: Although her origin had been told numerous times before this, it wasn’t until writers Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty along with artist Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez took it on that it came into a clear, engrossing focus. Dixon had been working on the Barbara Gordon character for years in Birds Of Prey, so the opportunity to revisit Gordon before her debilitating injury really showed just how kinetic she could be. The story really brings into focus why this cop’s daughter would want to join the family business, and also how she works in the larger dynamic of the Bat-family. And if you like Marcos Martin’s work on Daredevil, you’ll find this earlier work as exuberant and lively as his current work.

Showcase Presents: Batgirl, Vol. 1: This brings together some of the best Barbara Gordon stories in the 60s and 70s, with her going from mild-mannered librarian to crime-fighter to congresswoman. Admittedly it portrays her in a more damsel-in-distress type role than her later more action-based stories, but its still an interesting historical perspective with loads of kitschy fun. I’m recommend this over the similar collection of early stories, Batgirl: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, as that focuses on more trivial stories that seemed picked for the villains rather than the hero.

Batman: The Killing Joke: Admittedly this story is more about Batman, the Joker and Commissioner Gordon, its the penultimate act of the Joker in shooting Barbara that reverberates most. It’s interesting how this went from being an alternate reality story to being brought in as firm canon, adding new dimension to Barbara Gordon’s comic life.

Batman: Batgirl: Set during Barbara’s early years as Batgirl, consider this Batgirl: Year Two as it shows the heroine learning the ropes of crime-fighting and facing off against the Joker for the first time. This over-looked OGN from Kelley Puckett and Matt Haley shows how Batgirl is more than just a female Batman, showing her distinct way of thinking and foreshadowing her later role as Oracle.

Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds: After being injured by the Joker in Batman: The Killing Joke, Barbara took on a new persona as Oracle, a resourceful hacker coordinating others in action. In this inaugural BoP stoy by Gail Simone, we see Gordon using her vast resources to assemble a new team of heroines to rescue Black Canary from a kidnapper trying to extort the identity of Batman. Mixing wry humor and whip-smart superheroics to carve out a niche for the characters. Gail Simone went on to become the definitive Barbara Gordon writer in modern times, and its stories like this that put her in that position.


Comments

  1. I wish they would reprint the Batgirl: Year One trade. I read it from my library and it was pretty great.

  2. Batgirl: Year One is amazing. One of my favourite dc books. Great picks all round.

    • I agree! I only just read it recently, and was not disappointed…Babs was one of my favorite characters in the 80s, and I’m glad to see that she is still getting much love

  3. Barbara Freaking Gordon (read issue #7 to understand that) is amazing, and as Batgirl she is right at home. Please check my Blog dedicated to Batgirl, Batwoman, and Mera: http://chicasderojo.blogspot.com/

  4. i like the issue i forget what book it is in, where the girls and mainly zatanna with her magic give batgirl a girls night out and batgirl thinks its just a dream, she is walking around like everyone else for one night, maybe even every year she has this dream. i think it shows the worlds longing for more barbara gordan batgirl stories. this story and year one are my top two.

  5. I said most of what I had to say about Batgirl: Year One in the turn back the clock thread the other day. But I’ll say it again. It’s great!

    And yeah, it’s ridiculous that the trade is not in print. And to my knowledge hasn’t been in a while. Took me forever to find a reasonably priced copy. Looking on eBay right now, you’re probably better off buying the single issues. For the most part, they are still fairly priced.

  6. MarkCWarner MarkCWarner (@MarkCWarner) says:

    I hate Glee. Hate it. Especially whatever the nonsense that is on now.

    But the woman watches… which pretty much means I watch it. It is the unwritten/unspoken deal that lets me fill the DVR recently with all the DC Nation and Marvel Universe (Transformer Prime) that is there now.

    The point is, on this week’s GLEE – there was a reference to Barbara Gordon that made me smile, and made the 44 mins bearable

    • I hate Glee too. At least you don’t have to watch Mob Wives, The Real Housewives of Orange County, The Real Housewives of New York City, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, The Real Housewives of Atlanta… Or maybe you do! It’s just torture. No Batgirl references on any of those shows, trust me.

    • MarkCWarner MarkCWarner (@MarkCWarner) says:

      HAHAHAHA….

      You have just made me appreciate GLEE so much more, cause it could indeed be so much worse! If I could have hit a LIKE button, I would

    • Careful guys. If I recall from past year end podcasts, the iFanGuys are big Glee fans. 😉

  7. I remember the only arc of Batman confidential i particularly enjoyed was featuring Batgirl and Catwoman. There was a great moment where Babs ran the risk of being trapped in a room with the joker and the terror in her face was vivid. It also ended on an I’ve got great legs joke, not sure how everyone took that.

  8. At what point was Barbara Jim Gordon’s NIECE, not his daughter?

  9. Whenever the youngest step-daughter is old enough to read and read well, I’m looking forward to the day she can read Batgirl: Year One. For whatever reason she has an affinity for the character; she decided to dress up as Batgirl for her fifth birthday party.