The Oracle Code Review

by Jess Roth on March 10, 2020

Writer: Marieke Nijkamp
Art: Manuel Preitano
Colours: Jordie Bellaire with Manuel Preitano
Letters: Clayton Cowles

Barbara Gordon, just like Zatanna Zatara, is one of my unsung favourites. Especially Barbara Gordon as Oracle, because listen: I totally appreciate heroes as strong, able-bodied protectors of the DC Universebut thanks to a physical disability I was born with, I'm currently wheelchair-bound, and it's awesome to see someone in a wheelchair be so involved in crimefighting. The Batfamily didn't brush Babs aside after her accident and force her to stay on the sidelines because she was different; she found a role best-suited to her strengths and remained an integral part of Batman's team and a hero in her own right, even with  the wheels. Not to get all sappy, but as somebody who grew up kind of sidelined because the outside world was (shock, horror) dangerous (you guys, my school district made me wear a helmet at recess. A helmet. And I wasn't allowed to go on the grass because the ground was uneven, and I wasn't allowed to take certain classes in case my delicate sensibilities were offended, and... you know what? It was just garbage) watching Oracle be Oracle is f*cking awesome.

When I found out about The Oracle Code, it took all my willpower not to click on the "preorder" button. I was giddy just imagining it on my shelf, happily recommending it to anyone and everyone who either wanted to get a glimpse into life with a disability or already has one and needs to see themselves reflected in fiction. I really, really thought it was gonna be amazing because just from the summary, you get the sense this is supposed to be one of the heavier offerings in the DC YA graphic novel line. After she gets shot, Babs finds herself the newest resident of the Arkham Center for Independence, a fancy-schmancy rehab center for people adjusting to life in the disabled lane. Soon, however, she realizes that not all is what it seems. Dismissed by her well-meaning father who believes she hates the ACI because it represents the loss of her mobility and told off by the staff for being too nosey, Babs must come to terms with her new reality as a disabled woman and rise up to be Gotham's newest hero.

Honestly, the art and colours are perfection. Truly. Preitano was a wonderful choice for this book. This is the first time I've seen any of his work and I was absolutely blown away by the attention to detail each page had, especially the ones featuring the puzzle motif. Jordie Bellaire really brightened this book up with her palette choice, giving the creepy panels a certain levity and the inside of the ACI itself a completely sterile wrongness. She is just... just, hire her on all your books DC, please.

But the story itself didn't resonate with me at all. I think Nijkamp had good intentions, but she bit off more than she could chew. Babs' recovery felt extremely one-dinmensional and rushed (and I've been in similar spots multiple times, so while the emotions were familiar, I couldn't connect with them) and even as a YA protagonist, you'd usually see more development, more meat. I know Nijkamp has said on her website that she identifies as disabled (I don't know what that means but it's not my place to pry. If she's uncomfortable sharing the nature of her disability, that's her right, we don't need to know everything about everyone). With that, I was expecting more of a deft understanding from the A plot (Babs's recovery). I think she really tried and did the best she could with what she has. I appreciate that, but: what happened there? Did editorial say no to a more realistic story because it would be too hard for teens to swallow? Newsflash: it's not, and people in wheelchairs the world over need more stories like this one. The B plot (the shady institution) was a hackneyed jumble of half-realized cliches. I almost feel like it didn't belong in this particular book and maybe this story should have been split into two: one book focusing on Babs, the trauma she's endured and learning to live with it. The second book would be more about the mystery. Trying to work with both plots at once shortchanged the entire story.

Now, disabled people are not a monolith and I acknowledge my expectations for this book were astronomical. If you think you or someone you know might be able to glean something from The Oracle Code, please pick it up because it could make all the difference in the world to someone who wants to be seen and heard. It's really hard for me to rate this, let's be honest, but the art and colours give it at least two extra points, so make of that what you will.

Our Score:


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