Batgirl at 50: The 13 best Barbara Gordon stories

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Jan 31, 2017

Barbara Gordon, as anyone would tell you, is awesome. For real - scientists have proven it.

So on this, the last day of the month of her 50th anniversary, we're presenting a list of the Barbara Gordon stories we feel are the best. Did yours make the list? Comment away with your favorites or what we missed.

The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl (Detective Comics #359, 1967)

Okay, so this story is pretty thin and REALLY dated (Batman tells her she can't team up with them because they can't worry about a girl). But it's Babs' first appearance, so respect must be given. Also, her original method of getting in costume (her beret rolled out to her mask, her skirt became her cape) is fascinating/cool in the way that the original Jem doll could transform from Jerrica to Jem. 

The Last Batgirl Story (Batgirl Special #1, 1988)

A lot of people rank on this story, but I (Jesse) love it. In a quasi-retcon move (at this time retcons and DC hadn't yet become best friends), we learn Barbara had been haunted for years by an assasination attempt from an easily forgotten villain, Cormorant (seen in Detective Comics #491-492). When a murder puts her face-to-face with Cormorant - her biggest fear - Babs must prevail. Which she does. But what's more interesting - and rarely seen in comics - is what happens afterwards: Babs willingly retires. She still plans to fight the good fight, just not with a cape and cowl. Ultimately, it's self-care. THAT takes strength. Fantastic art aside, I believe this - truly that last time we saw Barbara in costume until 2011 (save for flashbacks or time displacement stories) - shows her at her best. 

Death Game (Suicide Squad, Vol. 1, 1989)

Following the devastating events of The Killing Joke, a brand new - and very mysterious - figure appeared in the pages of Suicide Squad. Oracle infiltrated the group, but no one could tell who this anonymous hacker was. Hints started to pile up until in Suicide Squad #28 it was revealed that Oracle was none other than the former Batgirl herself. 20 issues later, Amanda Waller would offer Oracle a job as an official part of Task Force X.

Zero Hour (Zero Hour: Crisis in Time, 1994)

This may seen like an odd one, but hear me (Jesse) out. In this miniseries, DC attempted to straighten out the continuity mess that had sprung up since Crisis on Infiniate Earths by resetting the timeline totally. Amidst all the time paradoxes depicted, a Batgirl from an alternate universe made her way to the main DCU and learned that, in this timeline, she was paralyzed. As the heroes worked to reset the timeline and this Batgirl was faced with her existence being wiped out, she briefly alligned with Parallax (Hal Jordan gone psycho) to stop it. But when Hal went to kill Damage, Batgirl acted the hero and threw herself in front of the energy blast. Her sacrifice was not only heroic, it gave Kyle Rayner and Green Arrow the opening they needed to reset the timeline. Batgirl died a hero - and saved all of creation. 

Oracle: Year One (From The Batman Chronicles #5, 1996)

Barbara Gordon had already been working with the Suicide Squad and other DC heroes by the time John Ostrander and Kim Yale would write the story of how she became Oracle, but it filled in some much-needed holes in the character's backstory. It depicted the emotional and physical fallout in the immediate aftermath of the events of The Killing Joke and showed the events which precipitated a broken Batgirl's transformation into a heroic hacker.

On Wings (Birds of Prey #8, 1999)

This story chronicles the first date (although they vehemently do not call it a date) between Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon. And what a lovely date it is. There's no supervillains in this story. No threats, no world-shaking crises. Just Dick and Barbara, old friends, potentially becoming something more. When Dick asks Barbara what she misses most since her paralysis, she replies that it's the sensation of flying through the air. So Dick takes her to the circus, and they fly through the air. It's wonderful.

Batgirl: Year One (2003)

This nine-issue miniseries was published back in 2003, taking the bones of Batgirl's origin story and offering new depth and nuance about Barbara's journey towards the cowl. Instead of Batman as an inspiration for her crimefighting career, it's her father and sexism that provide the inciting spark; after she's passed over for the Gotham PD and the FBI, Barbara seeks out her idol – the Golden Age Black Canary –to become her apprentice (which goes nowhere, thanks to Wildcat). Enraged, Barbara decides to dress up as a female Batman to stick it to her father during a masquerade ball, but a chance encounter with Killer Moth makes her realize that she may be able to do the super-heroics thing all on her own. Supported by vibrant art from Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez, Birds of Prey creator Chuck Dixon (along with Scott Beatty) introduce us to the spirited, independent, defiant Barbara-as-Batgirl, the core of which would be so critical to her portrayal since her 'rebirth' (pun intended) in 2011.

Between Dark and Dawn (Birds of Prey #69-73, 2004)

In one of the earlier stories from Gail Simone's famed run on Birds of Prey, Barbara Gordon's computer turns against her. After being zapped by the machine, Oracle finds herself slowly being overwritten by the Kryptonian A.I. Brainiac and forced to turn on her friends. As Barbara's mind and body are taken over, Brainiac actually manages to overcome her spinal injury, physically attacking and taking down the Black Canary (arguably the best fighter in the DCU). It was a reminder that Barbara Gordon didn't let the chair come between her and her badass Batgirl roots.

War Games (Multiple titles, 2004-2005)

There is a lot going on in the "War Games" story, which spread through nearly every Gotham-based book on DC's slate at the time. But while you might argue that this was Batman's story, or even a bigger story for the ill-fated Stephanie Brown, it also featured Barbara Gordon's life being turned on its head. Fearing that Batman will die in his pursuit of Black Mask, Barbara manipulates events so that the two face off in her clocktower. When things look dire, Barbara blows up the clocktower, knowing that Batman will save her rather than continue his foolish pursuit. Batman doesn’t take too kindly to what he sees as overreach by his former protege and essentially banishes her from Gotham City, which is when Barbara moves the entire Birds of Prey operation to Metropolis.

The Cat and the Bat (Batman Confidential #17-21, 2008)

This story is just plain fun and silly. It follows Batgirl's first meeting with Catwoman. Fighting and bickering ensue but, at the end, the two develop a (grudging) respect for each other. 

Death of Oracle (Birds of Prey, Vol. 2, 2011)

In one of the last story arcs of the original Birds of Prey team (before Babs went back to being Batgirl), Oracle makes a huge sacrifice with wide-reaching implications for the rest of the DCU. When her old nemesis, The Calculator, returns to take out the hacker once and for all, Barbara decides it's time for Oracle to die. She fakes her death in spectacular fashion, only allowing a handful of her closest allies in on the secret. As the story ends, dozens of heroes who have come to see Oracle as a lifeline find their calls unanswered.

Wanted (Batgirl, Vol. 4, #19-25, 2013)

Commissioner Gordon, blaming Batgirl for his son's death, goes after her full force - not realizing he's chasing his own daughter. It's a wonderfully simple but compelling concept that surprisingly hadn't been played out before. Compounding the issue is Barbara's own guilt at her (belief) that she caused her brother's death - something she can't even talk to her dad about. 

Homestead (Batgirl #25, 2013)

During the events of Zero Year, a teenage Barbara Gordon has to evacuate her home during a major storm that threatens to flood Gotham City. Frightened, unprepared and with absolutely no training (she hadn’t even heard of Batman yet), Barbara summons the strength of will to rescue dozens of people and guide them to safety. The story cuts to the core of who Barbara is -- not Batgirl, not Oracle, but Barbara Gordon: resourceful, brave, brilliant and kind.