Countdown Breakdown #39A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: John Hays
Who is Oracle? Well, to know that we actually have to start by discussing Batgirl. In 1966, Barbara Gordon debuted as the daughter of Commissioner James Gordon. She was going to a costume ball dressed as a female Batman and ended up helping stop Killer Moth from kidnapping Bruce Wayne. Of course, she wasn’t the first Batgirl (or Bat-Girl), that was Bette Kane, but Barbara was the most enduring. Barbara eventually became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She even had a blind date with Clark Kent! She was close friends with Supergirl and delivered her eulogy when she died in the Crisis. While we will eventually get to a fateful gunshot that changed her life forever, it was not the first time Barbara was shot. In the early 80’s, she was shot and nearly killed by the criminal Commorant. While she was recovering, she lost faith in herself and briefly retired before Batman convinced her to get back into action.
Then it happened. In 1989 a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland came out. I just happened to see it on a spinner rack at a Waldenbooks and liked the cover art, as well as the amazing Bolland art inside, so I picked it up. At the time I didn’t keep track of writers, so I had no appreciation of Alan Moore (even though I already happened to love the "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" and "Secret Origins: Phantom Stranger" stories he’d written), and I also had no idea how instrumental this comic would be in the life of Barbara Gordon. Who could?
In Batman: The Killing Joke, the Joker shoots Barbara, severing her spine and permanently paralyzing her from the waist down, ending her career as Batgirl. The Joker is unaware of Barbara’s superhero identity, selecting her because she is Jim Gordon’s daughter. Following a brief time of depression, Barbara has a dream in which she sees an all seeing woman, like the Oracle at Delphi of Greek myth. Barbara wakes up and adopts Oracle as her new codename, becoming an information broker to law enforcement agencies and superheroes.
After working with the Suicide Squad as well as solo, Barbara founded the Birds of Prey, a team of female heroes. Originally working with Power Girl until a mission went very bad and Power Girl quit, Black Canary joined Barbara as the nucleus of the team. The Huntress and Lady Blackhawk later joined the core. Many other heroes worked with the Birds, and the team even had a struggle for leadership when Spy Smasher tried to take over, but in the end, Oracle won out and things got back on track.
The Suicide Squad. The original squad was a backup series in The Brave and the Bold back in 1959 about a group of adventurers: Rick Flag, Karin Grace, Dr. Hugh Evans, and Jess Bright. Many years later the idea was revived in the Legends mini-series. However, in this incarnation the government used super-villains for suicide missions. The villains were fitted with exploding wrist bracelets so that they won’t stray from the missions and were promised full pardons upon completion of missions. Amanda Waller generally oversaw the team, with Rick Flag serving as field leader until his death. Core members included Bronze Tiger, Captain Boomerang and Deadshot. I never liked Amanda Waller. She was always so cocky, and she never got her comeuppance, at least not that I ever saw. She WAS involved in a pretty cool storyline in Justice League International that featured a cover that tributed The Exorcist. The JLI brought her in to de-program Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. I always enjoyed Amanda and Batman’s interactions. Surprisingly enough, Waller even became a field agent for a time when the squad went freelance. The squad was disbanded and reformed multiple times, one incarnation even included Deadshot’s fellow Secret Six member, Knockout. One of the later incarnations also included JSA’ers Stargirl, Power Girl, Hawkman, and Wildcat.
In 52, Amanda Waller approached Atom Smasher about forming a new Suicide Squad to go after Black Adam. This team featured Atom Smasher, the new Captain Boomerang, Count Vertigo, Electrocutioner, Persuader, and Plastique. One year later, Bronze Tiger rescued Rick Flag, believed to be dead, from a Quraci prison. Amanda Waller then enlisted both men in tracking down a rogue Suicide Squad led by Mirror Master. It was later revealed to be a setup by Waller, and the team ends up once again led by Rick Flag. This latest appearance in Countdown has an even newer lineup, consisting of Deadshot, Plastique, the new Captain Boomerang, and Count Vertigo. It will be interesting to find out what happened to Atom Smasher, how Checkmate really figures in to this new squad, and where they go from here.
That’s it for this week, kiddies! See ya next week!