When DC decided to make Barbara Gordon’s sudden and unplanned evolution into Oracle canonical and let her hang up the little yellow cape for a while, they stuck with the dark twist introduced to her story by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland in The Killing Joke.
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If you need a refresher, during the events of the story, The Joker shows up at Barbara’s door dressed like a tourist and shoots her through the stomach with a revolver. With the bullet hitting her in the spine, she loses the use of her legs, leading her to find a new way to fight crime.
The acclaimed story’s aftermath has even made the leap to TV, featuring prominently in such series as Titans, Young Justice, and The WB’s Birds of Prey.
Killing Joke is often considered an Elseworld’s tale, and as such, various authors play fast and loose with retconning Barbara’s paralysis – the most notable occasion being during The New 52.
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Usually, projects that reference Barbara’s shooting stick to the essence of Moore and Boland’s plotting – that was until this year when the new season of Young Justice, Phantoms, one-upped them all by going a step further.
In the series’ seventh episode, dubbed “The Lady, or the Tigress?”, it was revealed that Oracle – who is firmly established in the show’s continuity – has a wholly different origin than before.
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Young Justice habitually leaves years of events unaccounted for between seasons and fills in the gaps later via flashbacks. In this episode, they do that with Barbara to show what caused her to put Batgirl behind her.
While the moment still involves Joker, a few extra curveballs which make the whole affair far-less straightforward have been added that you won’t see coming.
During a hostage crisis at the UN perpetrated by Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime, the Bat-Family swoops in to save the day by means of their usual foiling-and subduing-the criminal-without-killing-him ways.
Lady Shiva’s daughter Cassandra, better known as Orphan, joins the party, but she has other ideas, as she’s been sent to fulfill her life’s mission of assassinating The Joker.
However, when she tries to complete that mission, Batgirl pushes him aside and her spine takes the brunt of the wrath from Orphan’s blade.
In other words, Barbara sacrifices her mobility and heroic career in the Young Justice timeline to spare Joker and becoming the victim of an errant sword in his stead.
There are Wolf Creek vibes at play here, but she soothes the situation by taking Orphan’s hand and giving her that stock explanation about why nobody offs Mr. J: It would send her down a dark path she’d never return from.
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This past season of Titans also slightly altered Oracle’s origin, turning the former-Batgirl into an amputee rather than someone with a severed spine in order to better play to the strengths of the character’s actress, Savannah Welch, who herself had her leg amputated after being hit by a vehicle in 2016.
However, Babs still lost a leg and retired because of one of Batman’s enemies.
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Unto itself, Young Justice reboots The Killing Joke premise in a way that will surely divide fns and ruffle some feathers, but for DC’s blog and entertainment writer Joshua Lapin-Berton, Barbara’s actions say a lot about her as a hero. In his view, as Barbara did know Cassandra at that point, the hero stuck her neck out for a total stranger, and one who spent her entire life being viewed as a living weapon rather than as a human being at that.
It was a bloody-yet-random act of kindness that potentially saved someone’s soul, and in Lapin-Bertone’s opinion, “this time it gives Babs the agency she’d been missing” in The Killing Joke. “She is not a prop in someone else’s story and not a victim caught in the crossfire of a war between two other men. When Barbara Gordon loses her mobility in Young Justice, it’s doing something heroic and inspiring.”
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That may be true, but what do you think? Does Barbara find some form of agency helping Cassandra to her own detriment? Could she have found another way and maybe let Joker die? Is this even the right way to retell Oracle’s origin?
Let us know your thoughts on social media or in the comments down below!