Most of this info is also available in the Batgirl issue of Secret Origins, with a wonderful pencilling job by Rick Leonardi
Barbara's first dabblings in the hero business were the
stuff of childhood fantasy. While her best friend Marcy
came up with the roles, Barbara became them, dreaming
of becoming a superhero -- Rocketgirl! Marvelousgirl!
Supergirl! or maybe... Batgirl.
Now retconned to be the neice
of James Gordon, Barbara lost
her mother in an automobile
accident when she was only a
preschooler, then slowly lost her
father to grief and alcoholism.
He died when she was a
preteen, and she was forced to
leave Marcy & her Ohio
childhood behind to go and live
in Gotham City with her Uncle
James and Aunt Barbara.
And there she discovered that
her uncle (who became, soon
after, her adoptive father) was no ordinary policeman. He
knew -- was maybe even friends with -- the Batman! Inspired by equal parts
hero-worship and ambition, she set out the very next day to train herself to become
his partner and did not waver from her goal for the next several years until college and
more "grown-up" dreams sidetracked her.
But fate -- in the guise of Killer Moth -- intervened. To surprise
her father and to relive the childhood excitement of
pretending to be a superhero, Barbara had designed and
made a fully-functional "Batgirl" costume to wear to the
policeman's masquerade ball, but on the way there, she
happened upon Killer Moth's attack on Bruce Wayne and
instinctively leapt into action. She provided enough of a
distraction for Wayne to slip away and become Batman and
the two heroes met for the first time.
For the next few years, wherever Barbara's "real life" took
her, Batgirl went, too. As Barbara, she was the head librarian
of Gotham Library and eventually became a congresswoman
as well. As Batgirl, she had wild adventures, captured all sorts
of villains, teamed up with the original Robin on a number of
occasions, and eventually won the Batman's respect and
became one of the few to know his true identity -- both
equally impressive achievements.
Batgirl appeared in very few post-"Crisis on Infinite Earths" stories, and as a result, most of her pre-Crisis adventures are still considered "canon" until retconned otherwise. Examples of the exceptions to this would be her friendship and adventures with the pre-Crisis Supergirl -- though it has been speculated that the self-doubts she had about her effectiveness as a superhero which led to her retirement as Batgirl a few months before her crippling encounter with the Joker were a direct result of her feelings of failure at being unable to save Supergirl. She didn't remember the cause of those feelings, post-Crisis, but the feelings remained to undermine her self-confidence, just as her near-fatal (and pre-Crisis) encounter with Cormorant also played a role in her decision to retire.
Her old friend Marcy turned up in her life just at the time she
was seriously questioning her effectiveness as Batgirl and
during Marcy's visit, "The Last Batgirl Story" took place. She
conquered the foe she feared most -- Cormorant - and was
able to put Batgirl behind her with no regrets.
But, of course, the final nail in Batgirl's coffin (so to speak)
was driven in by the Joker ("The Killing Joke"), and the
awful irony of it was that the Joker was, in effect, gunning
for Commissioner Gordon and for Batman and did not even
know that he had crippled his past opponent Batgirl. She
only mattered to him
in this scheme
because he could
use her -- Barbara Gordon -- against her
father. This did not help her battered sense of
her own effectiveness at all and she spent the
next several months physically recuperating as
much as she could while also hiding from the
world, feeling defeated and useless. It wasn't
until she discovered how powerful a tool the
computer could be in her expert hands that she found her new purpose in life and her
new identity: Oracle.
Oracle is, without question, one of the most fascinating characters in the DCU.
Physically confined to a wheelchair, she is intellectually unrestricted by any barriers.
The superheroes of the world come to her time and again to handle the tasks too big
for their superpowers. She is a presence throughout the world, watching, tracking,
and getting involved, via her operatives and allies, where she believes her and their
combined skills could help out.
As personal computers and the Internet became more prevalent in everyday life,
Oracle became more and more interesting and useful. She was a largely-unseen
quasi-member of the Suicide Squad for sometime early in her career -- a gig which
gave her even more connections in interesting places than she'd already had as Batgirl
(for those of you keeping track, Oracle's first appearance was in Suicide Squad #23).
She is one of the few heroes -- along with Robin & Nightwing -- who operate within
the confines of Gotham City with the Batman's blessing and encouragement. She was
his first draft pick for membership on the latest JLA team, and "sits" at the round table,
taking her place as the team's resident Athena -- the goddess of wisdom,
appropriately enough. Oracle is also one-half of the Birds of Prey, working as a team
with the Black Canary, handling more covert operations than the more traditional
heroes ventured to take on.
"Birds of Prey" is a unique book in the DC stable. First,
while Black Canary has had the occasional mini-series,
"BoP" marks the first time Barbara Gordon is given a
lead feature in a monthly publication. It is also one of
the few books in which the women get a chance to
shine with nary a male hero in sight - "Wonder
Woman" being the only other DC book like this. Unlike
Wonder Woman, however, the two leading characters
rely on their intelligence and other natural abilites -
there are no super powers in "Birds of Prey". Lastly,
the book has (so far) tackled more "human" issues
(slavery, industrial corruption, political prisoners) than
one generally sees in a super-hero book, proving that
there's more to being a "hero" than being "super". For
Babs fans, "Birds of
Prey" also finally gives actual on-going plotlines
concerning Oracle. Rather than being content with her
occasional cameo in just about every DC book every
published (sadly, even her appearances in JLA, a
group of which she is a member, are few and far
between), fans can now read about the person behind
the Oracle visage - a person who flirts during an online
cyber-romance, a person in love with another hero
(Nightwing, of course!), a person who has been dealt
a crushing blow and must carry on with her life no
matter how hard or how fearful it may be. Barbara
Gordon's Batgirl may have been initially created as a "female Batman", but Barbara
Gordon's Oracle is now one of the most exciting DC characters to read.