31st Mar2020

‘The Oracle Code’ Review (DC Ink)

by Dean Fuller

Written by Marieke Nijkamp | Illustrated by Manuel Preitano | Published by DC Ink/DC Comics | Format: Paperback, 208pp


So now it’s Barbara Gordon’s turn. DC have been steadily working their way through their roll call of strong female characters for these Young Adults/ High School level books. So far we’ve had young Mera (Aquaman’s later wife), young Wonder Woman, young Selina Kyle (Catwoman), young Harley Quinn, young Dinah Lance (Black Canary) and Teen Titan Raven (er, Raven). Solid characters all, and what surprised me slightly was just how adaptable they all are to be reinterpreted for the Young Adult market, one with a primarily female reader demographic. I’ve read quite a few of these now, and all have been solid, entertaining reads, not only for their intended audience but just as stories. Good characters and good creative teams just make good stories, full stop. So, can Barbara Gordon live up to those?

Barbara Gordon is part of an exclusive club of characters who have had two stabs at the limelight. For much of her comics career, from her first appearance as Commissioner Gordon’s daughter in Detective Comics issue 359, in 1967. she was Batgirl. Fun fact, she was only created as the producers of the 1960’s Batman TV show wanted a female counterpart to Batman. She had a decent run in a few backups, guest spots, and even a special. Then, in the notorious 1980’s graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, The Joker shot and crippled Barbara Gordon, leaving her in a wheelchair. She then reinvented herself as Oracle, a sort of super-hacker and information broker, and was a major part of the Bat books and the Birds of Prey series. DC recently retconned stuff and she’s Batgirl again I believe. For now.

So, this Barbara Gordon is still the daughter of a youngish Commissioner Gordon, but there the similarity ends. Writer Marieke Nijkamp has decided to combine elements of both Barbara’s mainstream comic book personas, with the teenage Barbara something of an urban hacker, but with a nose for a mystery courtesy of her father’s job. A tragic accident early on sees her lose the use of her legs and confined to a wheelchair. To help her cope with the physical and mental trauma, her father gets her admitted to the prestigious Arkham Center for Independence, which is a specialist hospital for children to recover from whatever trauma they have recently endured. Run by Dr. Harland Maxwell, it seems on the surface a good place, run by caring staff for happy children. So why is Barbara uneasy?

Well, for one thing, her best friend from before the accident has been ignoring her and her father won’t let her leave, but more importantly she learns from fellow patients Yeong and Issy that not all’s perfect at all. Still, young Dr. Lachlan seems nice. Barbara also makes a new friend in young Jena, who with her brother Michael escaped a devastating house fire that killed her parents. Jena finds communicating difficult, and does it in the form of stories, which gives Barbara the feeling she is trying to tell her something important through those stories. One night Jena comes to tell Barbara that Michael has disappeared, and asks for her help. Barbara has never even seen Michael, so there is an uncertainty he even exists, and when Dr. Maxwell tells her he was never there, Barbara accepts it. Until Jena also disappears.

The second half of the book really ramps up the mystery angle, as Barbara investigates not only Jena and Michael’s disappearance, but also discovers other children have also gone missing. She goes from sad and depressed to energised and eager, and even manages to get former best friend Benjamin to finally visit and help her investigate from the outside. The investigating and clue hunting are mostly revealed slowly, so no punch ups or action free for alls here, just a smart girl being helped by a group of friends. In some ways it has a bit of an 80’s vibe. I won’t ruin the ending, but hardly anybody is who we thought they were, and the person you thought was the bad guy actually isn’t. Basements are still the go to place to go when mystery hunting though.

Apart from the last few pages, where I felt the nicely paced build up was slightly wasted, this was a solid book. We see both the psychological hardships a catastrophic injury can cause, and the healing power of friends and good intentions. I can certainly see a market for a 16 year old girl detective in a wheelchair, what’s not to like? Quirky, dramatic, fun at times, serious when necessary. Nijkamp captures Barbara’s character really well, as well as the angst of dealing with parents and adults who won’t listen. The art, by Preitano, is superb, and made to look even better by the muted colours. Lots of close up facial panels really sell the personal aspect of the story too, giving it more emotional depth. Some of the full page panels are beautiful to look at. Writer and artist definitely in synch on this one.

This comes in at nearly 200 pages, over 8 nicely paced chapters, and is well worth your time and money. Perfect for the Young Adult market, with its blend of familiar characters and typical teen themes. Plus, who doesn’t love a mystery?

**** 4/5

The Oracle Code is out now. Order yours now from Amazon.


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