When DC decided to renew their entire comic line— not reboot, that was a bad word during that event— the New 52 changed a lot of characters in ways some fans weren’t happy with. One of the losses was Stephanie Brown as Batgirl. She would vanish from the DC Universe to be replaced by the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon (or Babs as she’s affectionately called by fans), who was indeed the first to use that title but had not been Batgirl for over twenty “comic” years. Having lost the use of her legs when the Joker shot her in her own home, Gordon took up the mantle of Oracle instead: assisting the Bat team from behind the lines as the go-to tech gal, hacking her way into the information needed in pursuit of the bad guys. It was a modern take on what a super hero could be, and a physically disabled role model for readers. Gordon may no longer have been Batgirl but she was still every bit a hero. DC’s announcement that the New 52’s Batgirl would be Barbara Gordon— out of the wheelchair with no explanation as to how or why when first announced— caused a huge stir. A lot of positive work had been done with the Oracle character and it seemed like it was about to be erased. To do this right, they needed a writer who could handle this transition with grace. That writer was Gail Simone.
No stranger to Babs, Simone penned Oracle’s exploits for over four years on Birds of Prey. Her run is considered to be the definitive work on the series, writing the all women team in a fresh, fun and female friendly way. These women held their own in a typically male hero-focused comic world and were a blast to read, no matter what gender you are. Simone brought the same approach to the New 52 Batgirl and treated the character with the respect she deserved. The first few issues detailed Gordon’s decision to return to crime fighting and her first times out, holding her own but still not quite at the same level of physicality she once had. We don’t find out exactly how she’s regained the use of her legs until later on and it’s a matter of fact revelation, nothing mystical about it. Science prevails. That’s not where the true story is though, which is why her tale starts off with her return to crime fighting. She’s relearning a lot along the way and comes close to making some near fatal errors early on when she overestimates her abilities. We’re privy to her psychological struggles as well: witnesses to the emotional gamut she runs with every physical ache of her body, all in pursuit of the life she once had. It isn’t the same, nor should it be.
She isn’t defined by the trauma the Joker put her through, but it would be very shortsighted to simply ignore what happened. It affects her daily life, her perception of herself and her struggle to stay confident about who she is and what she can achieve. She is kicking ass again on a regular basis but she is not the same Barbara Gordon we knew a few years ago. She’s tougher. Stronger. At a cost, to be sure: there is also a new fragility to her character, cracks that show particularly when she faces the Joker during the Death of the Family event. She’s overcome so much; dealing with losing the use of her legs and then being able to walk again after coming to terms with that? Surely it was a joyous moment but fraught with emotional turmoil too. She’s an imperfect character, flawed by her experiences but all the more empathetic to the audience because of it. There’s an odd stigma when it comes to female characters showing any perceived sign of weakness or emotion: that somehow women must be fierce every second or else they aren’t truly a strong woman. Barbara Gordon may be the strongest woman in the DC Universe right now, and any moments of doubt or fear she experiences in Batgirl do not diminish that for a second. She’s human, and if anything, in a world populated by superhuman heroes and villains, that makes what she does all the more remarkable. She easily could have left Gotham forever; starting a new life somewhere safe and no one would blame her for a second. She doesn’t. The moment she’s able to walk, she’s running full speed towards being Batgirl again. Trying to get back in the thick of it and make a difference even though she paid dearly for doing exactly that before.
That is Barbara Gordon, the strong woman that Gail Simone has so expertly been writing on this run of Batgirl. She’s a complex person that we come to understand and care about more and more with every issue. With the return of the Joker in the Death of the Family event, Gordon is faced with the man she’s feared and hated for years. It’s a nerve-wracking moment that comes after an incredibly tense buildup. Seriously, it’s an intricate web of deceit that features more than just the Joker as a ghost from Babs past. Though there are some minor things I disliked story and art-wise during this run, overall I think it’s been a very successful return of the original Batgirl.
That being said, I think the DC Universe’s loss of Oracle as a role model and superheroine is still felt deeply by many fans. Batgirl’s return has been great but Oracle deserves a spot in the New 52, Babs or not.