In late 1966 Barbara Gordon took the superhero universe by storm when she first appeared in Detective Comics #359 as the “new” Batgirl. More than a mere replacement for Betty Kane—the heroine who originally used the name Bat-Girl—Barbara became so popular among readers that she was quickly added to Adam West’s Batman television series, and in turn became a household name. This Batgirl was unlike most heroines of the day, holding her own in a fight, solving mysteries on her own, and even rescuing the Dynamic Duo multiple times.
Batgirl’s adventures continued long after the show’s cancellation. Then in the 1988 graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, the Joker shot Barbara, leaving her paralyzed. But Barbara would not be kept down, instead reinventing herself as Oracle, the wheelchair-bound tech genius and information broker to all the superheroes of the DC Universe. Now more popular than ever, Barbara/Oracle became the leader of the Birds of Prey, a team of female superheroes, and their self-titled comic became a fan-favorite when writer Gail Simone took over.
Then in 2011 publisher DC Comics decided to re-launch their universe and characters, and this meant Barbara’s return to her roof-swinging roots with a new Batgirl solo series. The new series would start a few years after Joker shot Barbara, with her just healing from the injury, and since Simone had crafted the character’s years as Oracle she was the obvious choice for returning Barbara to the cape and cowl. Now with Batgirl riding a new wave of popularity, the Advocate sat down with Simone to talk about Barbara’s future, her loyal gay fans, and the similar struggles both women and the LGBTQ community face in comics.
The Advocate: DC’s initial announcement that Barbara Gordon would return as Batgirl caused a bit of controversy among fans. Has that reaction changed?
Gail Simone: I would say so, the book is the top selling female solo book in the entire industry right now, and reviews have been great. It's a book about a brilliant, explosive young woman, full of life, who suffered a terrible trauma that changed her entire future. And she gets a chance to regain her mobility, and takes it. That's very, very intriguing to me.
Did you originally agree with DC’s decision to make Barbara Gordon Batgirl once again?
This being comics, where people leap out of the grave with some regularity, the idea had come up every now and then, and I was always against taking her out of the chair. As Oracle, she had become this sort of internet goddess, who ruled countries and destroyed villains from a lofty tower. I couldn't see putting her back in the suit and calling her Batgirl again after all that. It just didn't make much sense.
Then DC did this huge relaunch, where nearly every character has been pushed back, de-aged, set back closer to their original starting point. If there was ever a time to make Barbara Batgirl again, this was it. I still had to be convinced — Barbara was a very inspiring character as Oracle, and there was no immediate character filling that role out there. But it hit me, that she could still be inspiring. There wasn't really any book dealing with surviving trauma as an adult, not in any serious way. Barbara was never portrayed as a complainer when she was in the chair, but in some ways, this is harder for her. She's got some trauma and a bit of survivor's guilt. She asks herself, why was she [healed and] not others? That question haunts her. Almost everyone knows someone who has struggled with the effects of trauma, from crime, or abuse, or even self-harm. There should be heroes who show that you can survive those things.