Every Batman fan knows that The Killing Joke was when Barbara Gordon was paralyzed. However, not as many know when her next alter-ego, Oracle, appeared or how she became Oracle. Since the contentious animated adaptation has brought up the book again, this seems like a good time to see how John Ostrander and Kim Yale used Suicide Squad and the Batman Chronicles to redefined Barbara Gordon.
Immediately after Barbara was crippled in The Killing Joke, writer Kim Yale had a big problem with it:
Discussing her dislike of the treatment of Batgirl in the issue with her husband, John Ostrander, the two formulated a plan to address what would happen next for Barbara. As Ostrander recalls, “There were no plans for her in the continuity at that time. We decided that if that happened, we weren’t just going to make her better magically — we wanted to explore what happened when someone like her was crippled and how she would respond.”
Immediately, Ostrander and Yale wrote a new character into Suicide Squad — the hacker known only as “Oracle.” Hints piled up towards Oracle’s identity until Barbara was revealed in Suicide Squad #38. And then, in Suicide Squad #48, Amanda Waller offers her a full-time position on Task Force X.
From then on, Barbara as Oracle would be used by other writers sporadically, eventually becoming the main hub of connectivity for the Bat family and then getting her own team with the Birds of Prey.
However, Ostrander and Yale still had to tell the story of how Barbara became Oracle. So they took Batman Chronicles #5 and made “Oracle: Year One: Born of Hope.” It was written by Ostrander and Yale and illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze.
It doesn’t have a pretty beginning, recapping the events of The Killing Joke and having Barbara call out Batman in a big way:
In fact, much like when Chris Claremont had Carol Danvers call out the Avengers after her rape in Avengers #200, this page is Ostrander and Yale pretty much calling out the writers and editors who let this happen to Barbara. “Even as Batgirl, I was perceived as some weaker version of you!” is perhaps the directest dig there is.
Barbara then goes home, but struggles to find a purpose until she, well, finds the internet.
Barbara realizes that perhaps she can do some help with her hacking skills, so she starts looking into Ashley Mavis Powell, a criminal metahuman who can psychically manipulate electronics...and also is a child abuser.
However, Mavis Powell gets word that Barbara is looking into her and pushes her wheelchair into traffic. Barbara, fed up with being unable to protect herself, finds someone to train her: Richard Dragon.
After months of training, Barbara has a dream where she finds herself as Batgirl in classical Greece talking to an oracle:
Barbara as Oracle manages to goad Mavis Powell into psychically linking herself with her computer and then traps her in a logic loop, before forcing her to turn herself into the police.
And that was how John Ostrander and Kim Yale turned Barbara into Oracle. This, unfortunately, turned out to be the last comic that Kim Yale wrote before she died of breast cancer, but it remains one of the best single issues out there.
Batman Chronicles #5 can be read on Comixology here.