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What I’ve enjoyed about this series, other than the fantastic writing and insight, is having people who have a love for certain characters write about them. One of things I love about comics is the personal connection people have with characters. Where I have been able, I’ve invited guest posters to write about characters that I know they have an affinity for. Today’s guest poster is the talented Jill Pantozzi, “the Nerdy Bird” who writes for her own blog, Has Boobs, Reads Comics as well as the column “Hey that’s my cape!” for Newsarama as well as several other comics sites. Jill and I share a love for the same character. Can you guess who she is writing about?
Jill is writing about Barbara Gordon in a moment from the story “Flawed Gems” from Secret Origins #20 written by Barbara Randall with art by Rick Leonardi where Batgirl tells off Batman. Jill’s thoughts follow.
From 1966 to 1988 Barbara Gordon was known as Batgirl. In 1989 she was reborn as Oracle. Now, I’m a redhead in a wheelchair so it’s easy to relate to Barbara Gordon, but you’d be wrong to assume that’s the only reason I love her.
Barbara is strong both physically and mentally, determined, intelligent, altruistic and loyal. And all of that was before she even became a crimefighter. In this nominated moment, from 1987’s Secret Origins #20, Barbara gets to show all of those qualities and then some.
The story, by Barbara Randal, was another retelling of Batgirl’s origin with a few tweaks here and there. Whether it was on purpose or just to sound cute, the tale begins with Barbara’s birth father Roger Gordon, calling her by a nickname – “Barbie doll.” No character was farther from the qualities Barbie was known for than Babs. At such a young age, it was almost a dare to be the antithesis of a doll known for just one thing – her beauty.
After being adopted by her Uncle Jim Gordon following her parents’ deaths, Babs found herself drawn to her new father’s crime reports. While previously idolizing Supergirl, she became obsessed with her new locales hero, Batman. As if she needed much urging on, an actual run-in with Batman while hiding in her father’s office one night cemented the deal. And Batman himself was the impetus.
Knowing she was concealing herself, he slyly (and I must say here, Gordon is a terrible detective for not noticing) writes a note and drops it on the ground for her to find. “Don’t get caught - he’ll get angry!” Again, it was almost as if Babs was being dared to take this path. “He was the most amazing man I’d ever seen,” she said, “I think he liked me.”
From that moment on Babs built up her mind and body, studying with a sensei, memorizing blueprints and maps of Gotham and becoming a star athlete at school. Then she realized hiding that genius intellect and photographic memory was probably a better idea for someone who was going to need a secret identity. So at sixteen, off to college she went to become a library professional. She threw herself into this new act so well that she almost forgot what she really wanted to be when she grew up. Then came the night of the policeman’s masquerade ball.
Dressed as Batgirl for fun, on the way to the ball she found Bruce Wayne being assaulted by Killer Moth. She shouts at Wayne to run and takes care of the villain and his thugs singlehandedly. Batman arrives seconds later and asks who she is. When she doesn’t reply the way he’d like he scolds her, “Don’t play games. You’re playing a dangerous one already…” “Fine,” says Babs, “Tell you my name if you tell me yours.” OH SNAP! Not only did she talk back to Batman, she schooled him at the same time. She was proud of what she had just done and wasn’t about to let anyone, even her idol, get away with talking to her like that. “Don’t talk down to me Batman! You have no idea what I can or can’t do! But you’ll find out!”
And with that, Batgirl was truly born. She just stopped a robbery, she could do it again. She could do anything. “I could really be Batgirl!”
I’ll admit, it’s always kind of bothered me that Barbara didn’t really have a particular reason to start fighting crime other than she thought it was cool. Obviously Batman and Robin had the death of their parents at the hands of criminals as an impetus to a life of heroics but Barbara simply saw it as a career to aspire to. But Babs having forgotten her dreams of fighting crime and simply going to a costume party, kind of makes her all that more amazing. She didn’t have to be a superhero. No one was telling her to. She merely liked doing good and was determined, no matter what anyone else said, to do the most good she could.
It makes me very happy to see that a more recent incident echoes this one. I’m talking about the #11 nominated moment where the new Batgirl, Stephanie Brown, slaps Batman. Stephanie is pissed as all hell Batman was testing her (She can doubt herself just fine thank-you-very-much!) and reacts in kind. It goes to show you that something comes along with the name Batgirl and that Babs, in losing the name and gaining her role as Oracle, exudes those qualities so much that they rub off on her apprentice. A Batgirl by any other name would still put Batman in his place.