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The Oracle of Suicide Squad #1: ‘The Killing Joke’

Where did the path from Batgirl to Oracle begin? After Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC Comics was interested in paring down its vast library of characters. If you have Superman, why do you need Superboy? If you have Nightwing, why do you need Robin? Wonder Girl started her journey to just being Donna Troy/Troia. So on and so forth. But, what about the Bat Family of characters? Bruce Wayne had always ran with an established gathering of characters. Jason Todd wasn’t long for this world and Nightwing was the leader of the Titans. But, where did that leave Batgirl?

Barbara Gordon was considered a passe relic of the old Batman Family era and the Yvonne Craig theatrics of the 1960s show. If the new Batman was written by guys like Frank Miller, Jim Starlin and Max Allan Collins, then where was the room for Batgirl? Batman Group Editor Len Wein was looking for a way to get rid of the campiness of Old DC when he was approached by Alan Moore. Moore was a comic superstar at the time having just came off his Swamp Thing run and his legendary Watchmen.

Moore wanted to do a Batman one-shot and that’s when Wein saw gold. DC Editorial wanted the tangential Bat characters gone and Moore wanted to do a one-shot that would have story impact. Wein and Moore pondered involving Batgirl and then a decision was made. Given the loose nature of comic industry talk, a certain phrase was uttered that has become a sour point of late 80s editorial decisions. Feel free to Google that phrase at your own discretion.

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Barbara Kesel nee Randall was tasked with giving the Post Crisis DC its last Batgirl story. This Batgirl one-shot special was meant to be nothing more than setup for Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke. But, Kesel took the opportunity to delve into what means to be a female vigilante in Gotham City. Barbara Gordon has slipped back into her civilian life as a librarian since the Crisis changes. She still has fondness for being Batgirl, but rarely gets to act upon it. That’s because she’s suffering from PTSD after nearly being killed by a psychopath named Cormorant. Things are going great until a dead body shows up in her library.

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That’s when Barbara becomes Batgirl again to solve the case. Tracing the dead body back to one of Cormorant’s former employers, Barbara starts to disappear down the rabbit hole of her secret life. All the while, a new serial killer named Slash is picking off former associates of Cormorant. As the story progresses, we realize that Cormorant has a taste for attacking and killing women. Slash is a former victim, but we never get a true sense of her identity. After getting outed by her roommate near the end of the case, Barbara manages to solve the Cormorant problem and agree to end her caped crusading.

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The Killing Joke happens shortly thereafter. Batman finds out the Joker has escaped from Arkham Asylum and begins his pursuit. Barbara is hanging out with her father and answers the door to find the Joker in full tourist gear. Her life changes and audiences are introduced to one of the most controversial stories in modern comic history. Unlike the recent DC animated film, The Killing Joke didn’t give audiences a code for Barbara Gordon. She was used as cannon fodder for Batman’s never-ending battle with the Joker, while her barely clothed father got taken to an abandoned amusement park.

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Alan Moore has frequently mentioned that he considers The Killing Joke to be one of his lesser works. Moore is never not proud of the story, but he seems to get the quagmire he possibly created with destroying a character’s life. But, it matched up with where DC wanted to be at that point in time. Tim Burton’s Batman was on the horizon, there were no depictions of Batgirl in outside media and even Robin was circling the drain. The editorial changes happened, but at what costs? Where does a lovely young heroine like Barbara Gordon go from here?

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John Ostrander and Kim Yale had been killing it for over two years with Suicide Squad. Giving the DC Universe its own Dirty Dozen had created mature storylines that rang true to the DC Universe, but allowed for many narrative changes that the bigger DC books weren’t allowed to undertake. By the end of Year Two, Amanda Waller had taken more power since Rick Flag had died. Waller’s niece was working as the team’s tech expert, but she was in over her head. That’s when Flo started to get messages via her computer.

Messages from a hacker named Oracle.

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