Later this week, the four semi-finalist in the 2012 Kick Ass DC Woman tournament will fight for a place in the finals. I’ve asked some readers to write essays on why each entrant - Barbara Gordon, Stephanie Brown, Dinah Lance and Wonder Woman should have your vote. Yesterday I ran essays on Stephanie Brown and Wonder Woman. Today we’ve had Dinah Lance and now Barbara Gordon. The writer of this essay Day Al-Mohamed hasn’t written for the blog before but I think after you read this essay you’ll see she’s a terrific writer. Her thoughts follow.
Barbara Gordon became the “new” (and arguably most iconic) Batgirl in 1967 in “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl.” Although preceded in the 1950s by Betty Kane as Batgirl, who some viewed as little more than window dressing for the “boys,” Barbara was an independent woman with an astute mind, a Ph.D., and a crimefighting skills that didn’t require she be regularly rescued. Although before my time, if you ever talk to any woman who watched Yvonne Craig as Barbara, they’ll tell you how the character was a symbol of women’s empowerment.
Actually, in the 1970s, the Department of Labor had an Equal Pay Public Service Announcement starring Batgirl. It is ironic that it was only this last year that the Lily Ledbetter Act was signed in to law the same year we saw the return of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. How many comic book/television characters are kickass enough to actually help DRIVE positive outcomes and change the law?!
But Barbara’s story doesn’t end there. Until 1988, she was Batgirl, but from 1989 until the November 2011 reboot, she has been known as Oracle, master hacker and information broker to caped crusaders. I’ll admit this is where most of my time has been spent with Barbara. The Killing Joke’s shooting of Barbara many say is a classic example of Women in Refrigerators, and I am forever grateful to Kim Yale and John Ostrander for bringing back Barbara as a character living with a disability. Does the disability make her kickass? Not on its own.
Barbara Gordon, in this incarnation, has grown beyond of all the other bat family characters. She ran her own team; provided intel, provided support to the Justice
League of America, and rather than being a “poor pitiful wheelchair-bound woman” she is someone to be reckoned with.She has tech smarts, strategic savvy, leadership skills, and a rolodex that Batman himself would envy. Now that’s kickass. In fact, BusinessWeek listed Oracle as one of the top ten most intelligent fictional superheroes in comics and she is the only woman on th elist! So maybe a LITTLE more than a receptionist.
Barbara Gordon is kickass because she is a role model and inspiration in that she represents the type of person we want to be, disability or not. That we can reinvent ourselves for the better; that we can face our fears (As seen in the scene below from Platinum Flats – Tony Bedard, p. 127). We want to believe that we all have the capability to stand up to the world’s wrongs and make a difference. It drives her, and that in turn drivers others.
I was proud to deliver a business card from a White House staffer with a disability to Gail Simone (who was writing Birds of Prey at the time), with a humorous note scribbled on the back letting her know that the White House was accessible and if she or Oracle ever wanted a tour…
Do you need more reasons for her kickassedness? (Is that a real word?) Of all the women in the bat-verse Barbara Gordon is the one who has retained her resonance as a caring, connected human being while at the same time has become a character strong enough to take on the Batman himself. In Bird of Prey’s Perfect Pitch p.113, when Batman threatens to shut her operation down, Barbara stands by her team and defies him.
We see that same connectedness and compassion in her mentoring of Stephanie Brown, in caring for Cass Cain, even in ensuring villains like Savant a second chance. I think this panel from Batgirl: The Lesson where she gives Wendy Harris the opportunity, skills, and the tools to decide her future shows that support, and her willingness to step back and let each person decide their own fate.
And of course being a hero isn’t easy. Barbara is kickass because she is the only one who is willing to show us how tough it can be. Why does that make her even MORE kickass? Because she knows who she is and doesn’t apologize for it, nor does she wall herself off from her emotions. In the New 52 Batgirl within the first few pages we see this.
Barbara Gordon perhaps more than all the other women in the DC Universe has had the flexibility to change and grow with her audience. She’s been in animation, comics, films, television but even through all these changes, the core of Barbara Gordon has always stayed the same. In Batgirl: Year One, Batman asks her the question, “Why?” Why does she do this?
People find themselves moved by one incarnation or another. She’s beautiful, a fighter, smart, daring, without giving up that willingness to reach out to family and friends. Barbara Gordon’s heart is her greatest asset. Batman is separate from the world. All he sees is the darkness that he has to fight against. Barbara sees a better future for Gotham city; that’s what she’s fighting for.
Why is Barbara Gordon the most kickass of the women in the DC universe? Heros want to save the world, they want to change things for the better. Whether walking or in a wheelchair, whether librarian, or congresswoman, or vigilante, or just mentor, advisor and willing ear, Barbara Gordon uses her talents and skills to do just that. We all cheer and cry and wildly advocate for our chosen version of Barbara but at the end of the day, she isn’t Batgirl, she isn’t Oracle, she’s Barbara “f-ing” Gordon and nobody beats her.