Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Meandering Thoughts: Barbara Gordon

(A warning: this is a meandering, stream of consciousness post and is very likely not to be particularly coherent or make sense to anyone but me)

I have an odd confession to make, for a long time, I was very...uneasy, about the current signs in Birds of Prey that Barbara Gordon might regain her mobility.

It's not that I don't like Barbara, far from it, she's one of the best comic females ever. But I couldn't understand why it would be necessary.

After all, as bright and shining and whip-smart as Barbara was as Batgirl, she really grew into her own, I think, after her paralysis. Then she became Oracle.

I suppose it's that to me Batgirl always was subordinate to Batman, even if that wasn't actually the case in the stories. Batgirl sounds to me like someone young, uncertain, green, needs Batman's guidance. I mean, she's got *girl* in her name. It's why I was really glad that Huntress didn't remain Batgirl after No Man's Land. (Though I was annoyed that it was written as though she didn't deserve it, I've always thought Bruce was a jackass to Helena. Both Jason and even Tim have been as ruthless as she was, Batman himself, after Jason died, acted far more erratically and dangerously. Helena doesn't deserve the crap she gets from him. But that's another rant altogether).

See, I would have liked Helena to have instead quit herself. Why would a strong, passionate, independent woman like Helena ever want to be Bat-*girl*. To be subordinate and somehow *less* than Bruce. She's better than that. She's a successful vigilante, she's more violent than some, it's true, but she's effective and smart and powerful. Batgirl's a fine title for Cassandra Cain, who while capable in many ways, still requires a lot of support and nurturing, but not for Helena.

And not for Barbara either. When I heard some rumors about Barbara taking up the Batgirl mantle again, they made me wince. It's not because I'm fond of Cassandra (though I am), but it's because in my opinion, Barbara's grown so far beyond that role that to go back seems like a regression of the highest order. Especially since her way is at least as effective, I think, as Batman's. And she's a much better "leader figure" than he is. She shouldn't be returned to a subordinate position. (And who the hell is he to tell her not to operate in Gotham? It's as much her city as it is his! It's her home too! I really hope she lets him have it in the next issue.)

The thing is, I've since realized, that this has nothing to do with her mobility (or lack thereof) at all. I don't want Barbara in a subordinate position in the Batclan. Okay. So why else had the thought of her regaining her mobility made me uneasy, I thought to myself.

It might have been a slight bit of resentment at the thought that becoming mobile would make her more "effective", that it implied she couldn't be a "whole woman" or a powerful person without being able to walk. And I realized quickly that that was ridiculous. Barbara has never been portrayed as anything other than the strong, confident, brilliant, infinitely capable, undeniably beautiful and sexual being that she is. With or without the use of her legs. As Oracle, she's probably the single most influential character in the DCU. She can find out anything, she could contact anyone, and manage the Birds of Prey in a way that no other person could.

So clearly that wasn't my problem. So what *was* my problem? Why did the thought of Barbara regaining the ability to walk bother me? It's not that I haven't even asked once or twice when I was very new to comics why she didn't use JLA technology or something to regain her ability to walk before? And it doesn't have anything to do with a lack of faith in the author. Birds of Prey is fantastic and will keep being fantastic, I have no doubt about that.

But then I was reading Birds of Prey 89 and I figured out what my problem was. When Barbara tells Jim (a long awaited scene and well worth it) how she became Oracle, and she mentioned her feelings of helplessness of being trapped on that floor waiting to die, and how the need to strike back fueled her, I understood.

The problem was me. I'd linked the idea of Barbara as she has become so much with her losing her mobility, that I was thinking that somehow if she regained her ability to walk she'd lose what made her Oracle. She'd go back to really being "Batgirl".

And that's incredibly stupid. Barbara isn't the incredibly strong woman she is despite of her injury or because of her injury. She just is an incredibly strong woman. If she walks, if she doesn't, if she stays Oracle, if she wears a batsuit, hell, if she did put back on the tights and call herself "Batgirl", she would still be the character that I admire so much. I like her better as Oracle than I did as Batgirl, because she's grown up since then. And even if the impetus for growing up is removed, growing up can't be undone. So what am I worried about?

Nothing. :-) I'm not worried about it anymore. I'm not even mildly uneasy. If she can walk or if she can't, if she's Oracle, Batwoman, or Batgirl (though I'd still be annoyed at such a clearly mature adult woman being called "girl"), if she's at the computer or hopping rooftops...hell, even if she's wearing a damn midriff bearing costume (bleh!), I'm sure she'll still be fantastic.


  • At January 11, 2006 8:17 PM, Blogger CalvinPitt said…

    My problem with Barbara going back to the mantle of Batgirl are twofold. One, I like Cassandra, I don't want her shoved aside so that Baba can take back her own title. Why can't Barbara be Batwoman, let Cass be Batgirl? I'd be ok with that.

    Still, my second though is, would Barbara, having regained use of her legs (and you're right, she should have been able to do that years ago. Between the Martian Kryptonian, Apokoliptian tech on that planet, it shouldn't have taken this long) decide to risk that mobility by going back to jumping around on rooftops? I could see her more as a civilian memeber, going into places where the costume might be a problem.

    Mostly I just don't was Cassandra lost in the shuffle.

  • At January 11, 2006 9:36 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Actually, he did make the offer a long time ago, but she didn't want to become something of a cyborg and decided to wait for a more organic chance for curing. So that doesn't bother me.

    Aww, and you know Barbara isn't going to leave Cass in the lurch. No matter who's Batgirl (I'd like Cass to remain Batgirl too. Though it might actually be good for her to take some time off, pursue something of a normal life for a little bit before coming back to heroing. Cass's never had the chance for anything remotely "normal" before.)

    I'm hoping Cass'll be a new Bird of Prey. The ladies there'll help her develop her skills in ways that don't involve just beating people up. (I like Batgirl the comic, but a bit too often for my taste it centers around how great a fighter she is so thus she has to fight someone else...which gets old after a while. She definitely could use some guidance and Barbara's always cared about her)

  • At January 11, 2006 11:11 PM, Blogger Diamondrock said…

    Also hoping not to see Cassie get left in the lurch. And I've actually followed a similar tack in my view on Barbara. I was also against the idea of her getting back the use of her legs. But now I've come to realize that that doesn't matter. As long as she stays Oracle, I won't care.

  • At January 12, 2006 12:15 AM, Blogger JP said…

    I'm not even certain that Barbara would *want* to don tights and patrol the streets again if she recovered. Someone as intelligent as her must realise that she achieves far more as Oracle than she ever would as yet another Batty vigilante on the streets of Gotham.

    Honestly, I increasingly feel that Oracle is effectively the real leader of the Batclan, only Oracle doesn't feel the need to make this obvious to anyone. Batman probably senses this, and that's why he acts like such a prick to Helena and virtually everyone else. Just a silly theory, but it explains a few things, dunnit?

  • At January 12, 2006 1:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Umm yeah I still don't care about this matter. Like I've always said, Rarely does Batman intrest me, and the only member of his "Family" i care about even remotely is Tim Drake.

    Even then I haven't bought robin in a while either.

    Meh I don't even buy Birds of Prey. Everyone else seems to though. "It's such a good comic!" "Squeal!!!!!!!" and the what not, but me I've never really saw it as that good.

    Meh I like Ghost Rider so that probably says something to my tastes any way.

    In fact I don't even know why I'm posting this. Essentially it says "I don't really care." I could have gotten that across with out posting.

    Now I'm rambling.

  • At January 12, 2006 1:12 AM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    (Excellent post, Kali, one of your best)

    I hope she recovers but remains Oracle. It's only fair she get to heal up her injury like Bruce did. but she is currently so effective, she doesn't need to don a costume aside from extremely special occassions (the annual company crossover?)

  • At January 12, 2006 2:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I don't think regaining the use of her legs would change Oracle much as a character. I agree that she's far too interesting a character to slip back into a Batman-understudy role. I'd prefer that she remain in the wheelchair, though.

    Her disability makes Oracle stand out and makes her immediately intriguing for new readers. An origin blurb and a glance make you want to buy her comic. I think that's key to the long-term success of a major character, and she's definitely got it.

    More personally, I like characters who succeed despite limitations. As a real person living in a real world without Kryptonian technology and whatnot, I often have no option but to play the hand I'm dealt. I'm more inspired by characters who are in the same position than ones for whom no problem is ever permanent.

  • At January 12, 2006 4:27 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    diamondrock: Yeah, but Cass'll do okay, I think.

    jp: One can only hope, though even if she does put on a batsuit, I'm sure she'll still be the leader of the Birds of Prey. It doesn't really matter what she decides to call herself. Though Oracle's a better name, IMO.

    And yeah, she's the real leader I think too, Batman's almost the most peripheral member of the Batclan, linked more through Robin (who has more connections/communications with Barbara and Dick, and actually gets along with Helena pretty well.)

    mallet: That's okay dear, I like you anyway. :-P

    ragnell: Thanks! And I agree completely of course.

    kris: I see what you're saying and I agree in a sense. But I also wonder at the wisdom of ignoring opportunities to heal when they *are* available.

    I mean, in real life, yeah you deal with what you've got, but how many of us, if offered a cure for our ailments (especially something like paralysis which while it of course won't keep you from living as full a life as you want, it *is* damned inconvenient) would actually turn it down? That requires, for me, a suspension of belief that in the end, I have trouble with. It's a difficult issue.

  • At January 13, 2006 12:42 AM, Blogger thekelvingreen said…

    As I see it:

    Barbara really developed as Oracle, in a way she might not have as Batgirl. Mobility or no mobility, Oracle is the deeper, more interesting, character. If they kept that depth of characterisation with the switch back to Batgirl, then fine.

    But that's being unfair to thhe current Batgirl, who's also a fascinating character. She'd remain a fascinating character if she took on another identity (Shivette?), but both she and Oracle would suffeer for it, I think.

    Also, if she immediately jumped back into thhe costume upon regaining mobility, what kind of message does that send? It's okay to be disabled as long as you're useful in some way, but being physical and active is still better?

  • At January 13, 2006 3:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I promise, no midriffs. :) But thank you for one of my favorite commentaries on Babs, ever.

    To me, Babs is Babs is Oracle is Batgirl is Oracle and no one's underling.


  • At January 13, 2006 8:53 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    kelvin: I can see what you mean a little, but I suppose I tend to think that sometimes it would probably be better to do somethings yourself. As a tactician, Barbara's invaluable, but I'd imagine given the chance, she probably would want to be out there sometimes. It's hard being stuck watching as your friends are in trouble.

    Regardless though, I'm sure everyone will be taken care of. It's silly, I think, to worry so much about OYL, after all, we've been enjoying these characters thus far, I think we can trust the folks at DC to continue making them enjoyable. (And we'll complain loudly if they don't. :-))

    Gail: Wow, that's really nice of you to say. (and thank you for the reassurance! I'm relieved to hear that!). And I agree totally. I just had to figure that out myself. :-)

  • At January 13, 2006 10:21 AM, Blogger Elayne said…

    I don't think I'm supposed to say anything, but obviously I'm privy to Birds of Prey stuff since my husband's the inker on the book, and so far I've seen the pencils for about half of #93, and I just want to assure you that you won't be disappointed. I loved #89, by the way, and would even if Robin weren't involved (although I think his inks make everything look that much more wonderful!). I would highly recommend, if you haven't already read it, the Kim Yale story about Oracle's origin. Seek it out if you can, I think it's in a Batman Chronicles issue from about a decade ago. Kim was my hero. She was taken from us way too soon. There's so much of Kim in that story it's heartbreaking, especially to those of us who knew her. But at the same time it's very uplifting.

  • At January 13, 2006 4:35 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    elayne: I'll have to hunt down that story. I've never read it but it sounds great!

    And you're a cruel, evil tease, you know. I'm exercising all of my will-power not to beg for more hints/details about 93. :-)

  • At January 13, 2006 6:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    She knows I'll destroy her.

    Back in your cage, Elayne! :P

    Gail, enemy of spoilers


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