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‘The Oracle Code’ Review: Barbara Gordon isn’t broken

‘I’m here. I’m still here. So let’s keep fighting.’

Marieke Nijkamp and Manuel Preitano reimagine Barbara Gordon/Oracle for a new generation of readers in this YA graphic novel that takes everyone’s favorite hacker back to her roots. Kids are going missing at the Arkham Center for Independence. Can Barbara Gordon — who has recently been paralyzed in a tragic accident — solve the mystery and save her friends?

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One of the more interesting aspects of this story is just how grounded in reality it feels. Sure, there are some weird pseudoscience elements hiding in the edges of the story, but even those feel uncomfortably plausible. The Oracle Code also seemingly takes place in a world where Batman and the other established DCU characters are fictional. One character has a poster on his wall of Batman: The Black Glove, another owns a plushie of Robin from Teen Titans Go!, while two other characters wear Doom Patrol and Shazam shirts.

This has the effect of not only further rooting the story in reality, but it also makes Barbara’s situation even more dire. Getting the justice she needs is going to take more than simply yelling out for a Superman to save her. She and her friends have to figure this out themselves.

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And that’s another one of the most compelling aspects of the story. Babs has to learn that it’s okay to ask for help. She doesn’t diminish herself as a person by relying on her new friends, who are incredibly well-written characters in their own right. While Babs feels talked down to by the people in charge, nothing that her new friends tell her is rooted in any sense of them being above her in any way. They have all been in a similar position to her and they just want her to know that she is going to be okay.

All of the characters in the story feel very realistic. Nobody’s perfect. Jim Gordon keeps accidentally saying the wrong things to his father. Barbara’s best friend is distancing himself because he’s afraid of having to help her cope with her new life, and possibly even due to his own feelings of guilt. Even Babs has her supremely selfish moments, acknowledging her own lack of motivation and the fact that when she does things she doesn’t want to do, it’s not usually from a sense of wanting to improve her situation. Instead, she does it out of a desire to help others, which she doesn’t realize can also be self-destructive in a way.

The people in authority are untrustworthy from the get-go, but some come off that way in a quieter sense. For instance, the head of the institute tells Barbara at one point, “Walk with me.” Whether or not he’s aware of this micro-aggression he’s just said to the young girl in a wheelchair is irrelevant. These kinds of subtleties prove to be so important to the piece, which Nijkamp should be applauded for.

Also of note are the recurring visual devices that add some variety to the tale. The storybook style sequences are like something out of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by way of Wayside School. They’re visually interesting and sinister in ways that don’t go too far. There’s also the recurring puzzle piece motif that perfectly shows how Babs views the world as a mystery to be solved. Preitano illustrates these sequences beautifully.

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There were, however, a few bits of the story that did’t come together quite as well for me. There are more than a few vagaries where the villainous plot is concerned. The details of Babs’ accident aren’t entirely clear, either, which is a shame when one considers how much of a strain it puts on her friendship with Benjamin.

Still, what is on the page is wonderfully realized. Preitano and Jordie Bellaire provide some gorgeous coloring that makes this book feel at once grounded and like it could be a part of the current Batgirl run. Meanwhile, Clayton Cowles does some spectacular lettering work, particularly when it comes to the various sound effects that permeate the Arkham halls.

The Oracle Code may be an unexpected addition to DC’s lineup, but it’s a very important story. While the current iteration of Barbara Gordon may have become Batgirl again, her time as Oracle remains an integral part of who she is. This story proves that Barbara was never someone who needed to be “fixed,” she just needed to believe in herself and make the world meet her on her terms. She’s my favorite member of the Batman Family and that remains extra true in a world where she has to be her own hero.

The Oracle Code
Is it good?
'The Oracle Code' is a brilliant and heartfelt YA reimagining of Barbara Gordon's heroic journey.
The character work is fascinating and feels honest
The artwork is lovely and features some interesting repeating motifs
Manages to tell a compelling Oracle story without being bogged down by the larger DCU
A few of the story beats feel a little unclear, particularly in regards to Babs' accident
8.5
Great
Comments

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