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March 2020

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle)

Fiction’s Fearless Females is back! That’s right folks, your favorite bloggers are back with this series for Women’s History Month: Nancy and I, Michael of My Comic Relief, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, and Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room. Michael kicked off the series earlier this week with his wonderful post on the 13th iteration of Doctor Who (which you can read on his blog or on ours). Not to worry, for more posts featuring your favorite fictional females from all these other fabulous bloggers will be served up all month long 😉

This year for #FictionsFearlessFemales, I’ve chosen Barbara Gordon! Barbara was the original Batgirl, and became the hero Oracle after the events of The Killing Joke. Though Barbara Gordon is not the first superheroine (that mantle goes to Wonder Woman, as chronicled in last year’s FFF post), she is one of the first examples of a heroine derivative of a male hero: in this case, Batman. That doesn’t mean she is exactly like Batman, however, as we will see! Barbara was also the first superheroine to have a disability, making her debut as Oracle hugely important for representation in the comic industry.

Batgirl was written into Batman and Robin’s comics series at the request of the producers of the 1960’s Batman TV show. The creators of the show wanted to create a character who would appeal to a female audience, but they wanted her to premiere in the comics first. Therefore, William Dozier (executive producer and uncredited narrator of Batman), Julius Schwartz (DC comics editor), and Carmine Infantino (DC comics artist) collaborated to create Batgirl! She first appeared in Detective Comics #359 in January of 1967, the title of which was “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!” In September of that same year, her first appearance on the TV show was aired, in the episode called “Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin.” She was played by the late Yvonne Craig. (Wikipedia)

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Yvonne Craig as Batgirl from the 1960’s Batman TV show. (Source)

What I found particularly charming about Batgirl’s early comics (seen in her Bronze Age omnibus) was how easily and cheerfully she forcefully integrated herself into the Dynamic Duo to make it a Batfamily. Batman and Robin are puzzled and even alarmed at Batgirl’s sudden appearance, and they don’t believe she can be a good crime-fighter. They mince no words making their doubts known to her. Do those doubts bother Batgirl? Heck no! She razzes them right back, giving as good as she gets. Mostly, she lets her actions do the talking: using her brains and physical prowess to prove herself rather than her words. Barbara doesn’t let their misguided, misogynistic views of her get in the way of doing what’s right: joining their crusade to keep Gotham safe. Her persistence leaves Batman and Robin little choice but to accept her once they realize she’s not going anywhere!

Once they do accept Batgirl, she proves to be an invaluable member of the team. Though Batgirl is of course derivative of Batman, the two characters are very different. Barbara Gordon in her very first incarnation was the head librarian of the Gotham City Library by day (which, as a librarian myself, I cannot tell you how inspiring I find that and how much that means to me!!!). Her specialty from the start lay in information: finding it, distilling it, and following it to solve crimes. Later, after she became Oracle, the methods of her information gathering changed as she became a tech/computer wizard, and she delivered information to the right people rather than using it herself. But therein is her main difference from Batman: while he may be the World’s Greatest Detective, the best at deducing information, Batgirl is the expert of information gathering.

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An excerpt from “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl,” showing librarian Barbara Gordon first putting on the Batgirl costume for a Policeman’s Masquerade Ball. (Source)

Over her long and varied career, Barbara Gordon as Batgirl has fought crime, kept her identity a secret from her father (Gotham City Police Commissioner Jim Gordon), and even ran for the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. in the early 1970’s. Some of this story appears in the Bronze Age omnibus linked above. This was the start of the retirement of the character, with both Barbara and Batgirl appearing on and off in various DC titles until 1988. Her official retirement title, “Batgirl Special #1″ was published in July of that year.

Remember, however, that The Killing Joke (linked above) was published in March of 1988. Though Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s story was initially meant to be a one-shot about the Joker, it proved immensely popular both with long-time fans and newcomers. In the story, as the Joker tries to tell us his story, his origin is interspersed with the present-day, where he shoots Barbara Gordon through the spine (paralyzing her from the waist down), kidnaps Commissioner Jim Gordon, and attempts to torture him into losing his sanity. He tries to prove that anyone can go insane by having “one bad day,” like the day he had that ultimately drove him over the edge. That one-shot was so popular and influential to DC’s overall storyline that Barbara’s paralysis became canon. It was written into her last title, the “Batgirl Special #1″ mentioned above.

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The cover of the infamous Killing Joke graphic novel.

If you’ve never read The Killing Joke, I recommend you do on the basis of it being a milestone story in the overarching Batman lore. For my part, I could only stomach it one time, due to what I deem to be excessive violence against Barbara’s character (I wish I’m joking when I say that it gave me nightmares). Comic book author Gail Simone added Barbara (as Batgirl I) to her website “Women in Refrigerators,” in which she lists female comic book characters who have been killed, tortured, or otherwise depowered in some other way, often for the sake of a male character’s personal or story development. So, Barbara, up until this point, had been a popular character in her own right. She was connected to the ever-popular Batman, sure, but she was her own person, with her own title. In order to serve the story Moore and Bolland were trying to tell (to drive her father and Batman insane), her power was stripped away with a gunshot from the Joker.

… Or was it?

In 1996, a story called “Oracle: Year One: Born of Hope” was published in The Batman Chronicles #5 (I know I’ve read and reviewed it here, but can’t find the omnibus I read it in to link!). This story, penned by John Ostrander and Kim Yale, shows the events of The Killing Joke and the year after from Barbara’s point of view. We see her struggle to accept her paralysis and with her physical therapy. But, we also see her discover her affinity with computers and hacking on the early internet. We see her learn to defend herself though she is now bound to a wheelchair. We see her find her purpose again.

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The end panel of “Oracle: Year One: Born of Hope,” in which we see Barbara voice her complete transformation (Source).

Thus, Barbara Gordon becomes Oracle, expert computer wizard, hacker, and information broker not only to Batman, but to other superheroes and organizations as needed.

Also in 1996, Chuck Dixon’s crossover Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey was published, beginning my very favorite comic book series of all time: Birds of Prey. Oracle reaches out to the Black Canary, and the two form an unlikely partnership which later blossoms into friendship. In 2000, Gail Simone herself took over writing the BoP title, added Huntress to the main roster, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Volume 3 of the original Birds of Prey run, which was the first volume written by Gail Simone, and the first appearance of Huntress in the team!

If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a million times. Birds of Prey is unequivocally my favorite comic book series. The Birds of Prey are THE landmark girl power group in comics. You have Barbara Gordon as Oracle, of course, Dinah Lance as the Black Canary, and Helena Bertinelli as the Huntress. Separately, the three heroines are very different in crime fighting methods, race and nationality, socio-economic status, and abilities. Despite their differences, they learn to work together as a team. They eventually become much more than a team: they become a family.

This series having such a special place in my heart is in no small part due to Barbara Gordon. She may have started out as Batgirl, but she grew and evolved in ways that not many female comic book characters would have after her paralysis. If it weren’t for Ostrander and Yale’s intervention, Barbara might not have seen the light of day again in DC comic canon. She would have been shot, paralyzed, and retired permanently. Perhaps she would have made a few guest appearances here and there as Commissioner Gordon’s crippled daughter – but Ostrander and Yale knew better than that. They knew Barbara wouldn’t have resigned herself to that fate. They knew she would have fought to make something of herself again, and that is EXACTLY what she did.

Barbara might not have been able to physically kick ass as Oracle, but she served an important role in being one of the first physically disabled superheroes. She proved that even after suffering a horrific and life-changing experience, one can still pick themselves back up. One can fight through and even come out stronger on the other side – not necessarily in the same way, but that’s not a bad thing! Barbara proved that her worth was not necessarily in her body or in her physical accomplishments, but in her mind, her ability to think and to find, recall, and communicate information.

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Barbara as both Batgirl and Oracle, using information seeking skills to fight crime! (Source)

This is a very important distinction to make between Barbara Gordon and, say, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, or Green Lantern Jessica Cruz. Wonder Woman’s powers were bestowed upon her by her patron gods. Supergirl’s powers come from how our yellow sun’s rays interact with her Kryptonian (alien) DNA. Jessica Cruz, like all Green Lanterns, was chosen by a power ring, through which she can create corporeal constructs using her own willpower. Wonder Woman and Supergirl have amazing supernatural and physical capabilities that they were born with or that they were given. Though Green Lanterns need extraordinary mind- and willpower in order to create constructs through their ring – they need the supernatural device of their power ring in order to do so.

Barbara doesn’t have any of that. She has no supernatural crutches, so to speak. She only has her her human body and her sharp, analytical mind. Batgirl showed the world that girls can play in the boys’ sandbox (and damned what they think), but Oracle showed the world that the mind is what Barbara Gordon’s best asset is, and what ultimately makes her a hero.

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The cover of the first volume of New 52 Batgirl, which sees Barbara make her return as Batgirl.

For the New 52 that DC launched in 2011, we got to see Barbara (literally) stand up and become Batgirl once more. While the New 52 established a new continuity after the effects of Flashpoint, many previously canonical things were different – but not for Barbara. The events of The Killing Joke still happened, and Barbara really WAS paralyzed. She regained the use of her legs and her paralysis was reversed by way of an experimental surgery in the New 52. Gail Simone returned to pen Barbara’s second debut as Batgirl, this time as trying to relearn how to be Batgirl, and trying to work through the trauma and PTSD that the events of The Killing Joke had left her. Though she was no longer bound to a wheelchair, there were still inner demons to overcome in order to be a hero. Even a powerful mind such as Barbara’s struggles with roadblocks, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks. And that’s powerful stuff.

Barbara Gordon has been both Batgirl and Oracle since the launch of the New 52, into Rebirth. The first volume of Rebirth’s Birds of Prey sees the newly re-formed Birds trying to uncover who has stolen Barbara’s Oracle mantle. Barbara is shown as a young adult, as she has been for most of her career, but this time with all of today’s technology – and she’s still very good at it 😉

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Probably my favorite costume – the Burnside one ❤ This is the textless variant of Batgirl #31. (Source)

Barbara Gordon is my Fiction’s Fearless Female for this year, but she is also one that is very near and dear to my own heart. She started out as a librarian (like me!), and used not just physical abilities, but mental abilities in order to fight crime and make a difference. She didn’t let Batman or Robin’s vocal disapproval stand in her way. Even after being shot and paralyzed by the Joker in 1988’s The Killing Joke, Barbara continued to be a hero under the mantle of Oracle and found new strength and purpose in not only the Oracle guise but in the Birds of Prey. Though she is now back as Batgirl after the New 52, Barbara’s heroism is mostly defined by her mind, not necessarily for supernatural abilities or physical prowess.

Barbara Gordon ultimately proves that women don’t need to kick ass to be badass.

Kathleen

Next week, look for Kalie’s Fictional Fearless Female on her blog, Just Dread-full. Join us back here for Jeff of The Imperial Talker and then Nancy’s post. Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room will wrap up this year’s series! Please continue to join us in this celebration of #FictionsFearlessFemales during Women’s History Month!

A Bride’s Story (Vol. 8)

The attack mounted by Amir’s former clan on the Eihon’s village has left most of the town in disrepair. Pariya’s family home was destroyed, along with all her bridal linens. It’s a lifetime’s work to build embroidered linens for a bride’s dowry, started from the time a girl is old enough to hold a needle and thread, and it’s all gone. Pariya has to start all over again. Even with the help of Amir and her family, for which she’s very grateful, Pariya feels more anxious than ever about marriage. She finally has a suitor who’s interested in her, but now their wedding has to be delayed. What if Umar decides he doesn’t want to wait? Or he decides that Pariya’s strong personality isn’t what he’s looking for in a wife? Pariya decides to watch Kamola, another girl in the village, and try to learn from her. Kamola is everything that a girl should be (and everything Pariya is not): kind, patient, soft-spoken. Maybe if Pariya tries to be more like Kamola, she can be the perfect bride.

As promised in the last volume, we make a return to Amir and Karluk’s village, and Pariya’s story specifically, with this installment. As I’m now in the year of my own wedding, with so much more to be done before the big day (EEK!!!), I sympathized greatly with Pariya’s anxieties. Though I’m fortunate enough to not have lost all my bridal linens in a fire, there are so many tasks to be done and things to put in place that it’s at times extraordinarily overwhelming. We learn here that it’s okay to be overwhelmed, we have friends ready and willing to help us in times of need, and that starting is truly the hardest part of getting anything done.

One thing I’ve grown to appreciate over the course of this series is the variety in the personalities of the main characters. Pariya is headstrong, outspoken, and often brusque – but it doesn’t mean she’s a bad person, or wouldn’t make a suitable wife. Amir is more motherly; firm yet gentle, patient, and always willing to teach and learn from others. We meet Kamola, a foil to Pariya’s character, near the end of this volume; I’m greatly looking forward to seeing how these two interact with and learn from each other.

As ever, looking forward to the next volume! I think this is the furthest I’ve ever gotten in a manga! =P

– Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 8). 2016.

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Dr. Who

Today is International Women’s Day, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the second year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of:  Fiction’s Fearless Females! For the next few weeks, we will have six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. First up is Michael from My Comic Relief– whose blog is must reading for his brilliant views on comics, Star Wars, social justice, and of course Dr. Who! 

By Michael Miller of My Comic Relief

In celebration of International Women’s Day today and Women’s History Month to follow, I’ve teamed up with a group of other bloggers to write a series saluting some of our favorite female characters. Going first was a bit intimidating. Who could I write about? Who has the gravitas worthy of beginning our month-long celebration of these incredible characters? Then it hit me – it’s the Doctor! It seemed so obvious once I thought of her. So, in honor of International Women’s Day, Women’s History Month, and to kick-off our month-long series I’m exploring the Doctor, as portrayed by Jodie Whittaker in Series Eleven and Twelve (with more to come!) of Doctor Who. Continue reading “Fiction’s Fearless Females: Dr. Who”

Saga: Volumes Seven-Nine

Here concludes my Saga saga (for now!) as volume nine came out in 2018 and author Brian K Vaughn and illustrator Fiona Staples took a hiatus from putting out new volumes until an undetermined future time. A quote from the series to set the stage: “Anyone can kill you, but it takes someone you know to really HURT you. It takes someone you love to break your heart” -Hazel

*Some Spoilers Ahead*

Volume Seven

Hazel has been reunited with her parents and they couldn’t be happier, especially as they are also expecting another child. A former prisoner, transgender Petrichor, has joined the family, as she slipped through the portal when Klara chooses to remain in the detention center with her new loved ones. Along with Izabel and the Prince Robot, the group needs to refuel their spaceship and their brief sojourn to the planet Phang ends up lasting for six months. The Will tracks down Gwendolyn and Sophie, but Sophie and Lying Cat remain with Gwen, despite The Will’s plea to join him. War comes to Phang and the family needs to leave quickly, leaving behind some friends they had made, and Alana gets hurt during their sudden departure.

Volume Eight

This volume was HARD to read. Known as a controversial series, I have to admit the opening page was a gut punch and it shocked and disturbed me. While I am 100% pro-choice, the picture seemed flippant, but of course, as you read on the narrative was nuanced and I hope it pushed readers to think critically about their beliefs.

This story had a lot of character development as it took a brief break from action (although of course there is some) for Alana, Marko, Petrichor, Prince Robot and The Will. Even little Hazel gets some poignant scenes with her ghostly brother. The volume ends a sweet note, but I know what that means- we are being lulled into complacency so we can be devastated in the next volume.

Volume Nine

Groups are converging for a show-down, as the lull in the action in the last volume was just setting the stage for this narrative. While some families have been reunited, and some couples are deepening their connections, other characters are so caught up in their hate that they can’t see the humanity in others. I felt like I was watching a horror movie, and wanted to yell at some of the characters to not do that, go there, or trust that person. And I was right- as there were additional deaths and betrayals. Then there was that ending- NO!!!!!!!

Now, I join all other Saga fans who are waiting and waiting and waiting for volume ten. With such a cliff-hanger it is almost cruel for Vaughan and Staples to make us wait so long. I read that they consider the series halfway done, so we are to expect another nine volumes in the future- but when will it start up again????

To wrap up, I noticed on these three volumes that artist Fiona Staples was given first credit, and I applaud that because in graphic novels it is often the ART that makes the story. Staples’ visuals are top-notch and while Vaughn’s storytelling is superb, it would not be the same story if not for the illustrations (I feel the same way about Locke & Key). I now impatiently wait for Saga to continue, as I wipe away my tears from the heartbreaking last page.

-Nancy

Catch up on previous volumes: Volume One, Volumes Two-Three, Volumes Four-Six

Teen Titans: Raven

The day before Raven’s foster mom was to sign her adoption papers, they are hit by a drunk driver. Vivaine is killed, and Raven is sent to Vivaine’s sister Natalia and her daughter Max in New Orleans. Raven remembers the accident, and her foster mom vaguely, but nothing further than that. The doctors have assured her that her memory loss is only temporary With the help of Natalia, Max, and a mysterious boy named Tommy, Raven slowly feels like she’s getting back to normal. However, Raven can’t help feeling like she doesn’t want to remember something that happened before the accident. She’s also somehow able to hear what others are thinking… making high school more of a drag than it already is. Are these thoughts and feelings – maybe powers – a side effect of the accident, or are they something more?

This DC Ink’s reimagining of Raven’s origin story is compelling. Raven feels real. She’s scared, confused, and vulnerable: emotions that no teenager wants to admit that they feel. We see Raven struggle to accept help dealing with these big emotions, and cheer for her when she does. We learn along with Raven that the bonds of chosen family and sisterhood can be just as strong as the bonds of blood family – maybe even stronger. Kami Garcia sure knows how to play to her audience.

Gabriel Picolo’s art is lovely. The colors are for the most part black, white, and purple, with other colors as an accent or to draw your attention to an important detail. Raven is mostly rendered in full-color, as she’s the narrator and main character. Sometimes other characters are rendered in full-color instead of or along with Raven, if that character is talking or to illustrate their importance to the scene.

Above all, I adored the atmosphere of this book and the African-American women power that came along with it. The New Orleans magical mystique was palpable on every page. The magical elements are glittering with not a little dash of malice, as if to allure but also to scare. Natalia and Max are both African-American, and are both powerful witches in their own right. And that’s awesome!!! Max is a new character introduced in this book from what I understand. I do hope we see more of all of these characters in a future installment.

Kathleen

Garcia, Kami, and Gabriel Picolo. Teen Titans: Raven. 2019.

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