A lot has happened to Babs in the last year or so. She's somehow healed from a spinal injury delivered by the Joker in the 1980's; she's back leaping over rooftops; she's fending off her weirdo serial killer brother. You name it, Barbara's probably dealing with it. So why not take the time to celebrate her very continued existence, especially in a year that's been rough and tough on female superheroes?
I have loved Barbara since childhood; I first encountered our heroine as given voice by Melissa Gilbert and physical presence by Yvonne Craig. Everything about Babs was awesome, from her red hair to her spunky attitude. As I grew into adulthood, I only came to love her more, and here are the three reasons she'll always lay claim to a cozy little corner of my heart:
1) She's a librarian! Librarians have always been awesome. They're smart; they can find things for you; and when they take off their glasses, all bets are off. I double-appreciate her librarian status nowadays, since I just finished a three-year stint as a student librarian while in grad school. Let me tell ya, a good librarian's key component is bulldoggedness, a phrase I invented just now (though it's not far off something my boss said to me during my initial interview). You can't give up on research. When someone needs help, you keep digging through the stacks until you find an answer. And that's what Barabara does; she helps people through a combination of dedicated detective work, creativity, and brains.
Once Babs lost the use of her legs, she became a mythical hacker as skilled at tracking down perps as Batman, and she no longer had to solve her problems by punching them. She worked for solutions using only her wits, a laptop, and a photographic recall of all the books she'd reshelved over the years. The main draw for her adventures became not her brawn or her beauty, but her intellect. How often do you see that in comics?! I can only think of one instance, and surprise, it's Barbara.
2) She's a leader! Not only did she tell Batman to take a flying leap after he scolded her for fighting crime, she headed up her own special ops team in Birds of Prey (before The New 52, that is). As a team leader, Barbara/Oracle affected events on a global scale, whether she was taking down Internet pirates or stopping Ra's al Ghul's environmental terrorism. She acted as a fact-checker for every hero, from Superman to Booster Gold, and treated it like no big thang. Cool as a cucumber, and classy at that. Exactly the kind of woman I routinely emulate.
Perhaps more importantly, Oracle offered refuge to a bevy of super women seeking greater impact and co-worker camaraderie. Whatever book Barbara wandered into, she developed deep and storied friendships with the female cast housed in its pages. She helped Black Canary build self-confidence and mend a broken heart. She was a guiding force in giving the Huntress friendship and purpose. She eagerly took on the Batgirl successors -- Cass Cain (mute girl with a death wish), and Stephanie Brown (screw-up looking for a second chance) -- without chaffing at the use of her legacy. Barbara is not just a leader; she's a friend and a mentor, to anyone who needs it. And that charity rates her among the all-time best superheroes.
3) She was in a wheelchair for twenty-three years. Not anymore, of course. But when Alan Moore brought her out of semi-retirement in the late eighties, he did so with a singular purpose: to destroy her life for the sake of testing Batman's will and [her father] Commissioner Gordon's sanity. He had the Joker shoot Barbara, and this lone action generated a wide range of responses. Some praised Moore's The Killing Joke as the greatest Batman story ever written; others found Barbara's victimization to be abhorrent and meaningless. (I've heard that her editors said it would be all right "to kill the bitch," since they had no clue what to with Babs by that point in her lifespan.) Either way, Barbara's supporting role in that book troubled writer John Ostrander and wife Kim Yale. They wanted to know what happened to Barbara after the tragedy that crippled her. "What happens to a woman after she's forced to live with a disability?" they wondered.
This question gave birth to Oracle. As I've said, Oracle is Barbara's Internet persona, and it is for this role that most people my age know her best. Because the indomitable strength of Babs' character only truly comes through in her wheelchair-bound years. As she led missions and adjusted to her less-mobile life, Oracle proved that you don't have to be perfect to be a hero. Over the years, various writers embraced the loss of her innocence, and her occasional anger at her physical difficulties. They celebrated her joy at the tiny miracles that popped up along the way. Most importantly, they showed that a person without superpowers could come out the other side of a major life change, stronger than before, and with a hell of a lot of grace. Barbara was, and is, stubborn, controlling, and calculating when she has to be; she's flinty -- and that's part of why she survived her trauma and became Oracle. On the flip side, that same enduring spirit made Oracle the hero she was; having experienced the worst that life could throw at her, she was better able to sympathize with others who struggled. Because of this, she developed the determination and compassion to help others heal, and in this way, she made a greater impact on the world while in a wheelchair than flying high above the rooftops as Batgirl.
And that may be the best reason to love Barbara Gordon. I can't think of one better.
POST-SCRIPT: For some lovely remembrances of pre-New 52 Barbara, check out the formidable Greg Rucka's thoughts. And the meticulous Devin Grayson's thoughts. And the amazing Bryan Q. Miller's thoughts. And Gorf's thoughts, 'cause why not?