“Why do we fall?” has been an important question to the heroes of Gotham well before we heard it uttered outright in Batman Begins fifteen years ago. The Oracle Code, Marieke Nijkamp’s recent addition to DC’s Young Adult graphic novel collection, asks that question of our favorite young hacker. But this isn’t the Barbara Gordon story you remember.
The Oracle Code explores something deeper than the surface-level trauma of suddenly finding yourself with a disability. A young Babs—just prior to her Oracle days—finds herself lost in a mystery she doesn’t want to be a part of, all while trying to find out who she is without the use of her legs.
They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s okay if you want to with The Oracle Code. Manuel Preitano’s stunning artwork tells you everything you need before turning to the first page. We only see part of Babs, which is relevant in the sense that the young hacker finds that she’s lost a piece of herself. Meanwhile, her fist is clenched, and her lips are downturned, showing us that we’re going to be dealing with a very angry iteration of the hero we all love.
Finally, there’s the chair. The object’s become synonymous with Oracle over the years, and this story does a great job illustrating the why in a way that we’ve never really explored before. Babs starts off the narrative with the belief that it is her prison—a feeling that this cover very clearly conveys.
Tell Me a Story:
Hackers love puzzles. But what happens when the phrase “curiosity killed the cat” starts to hit a little too close to home? Something we should get out of the way from the jump is that this isn’t Barbara Gordon’s classic origin story. No other member of the Bat-Family appears at any point in this graphic novel, and there’s nothing wrong with that! A big focus of The Oracle Code is Babs finding her autonomy again. This retelling does that in spades.
Despite her best efforts, Barbara doesn’t find herself on her journey alone. Though her loved ones are unsure how to deal with her new state of being, and she pushes anyone else she can away to the best of her abilities, Babs eventually finds a puzzle she can’t quite solve on her own. A group of kids—all at varying stages of mental and physical recovery—must band together to solve the mystery of the Arkham Center of Independence, and they’ll have to use every tool in their arsenals to do so.
Let’s Talk Art:
Simply put, it’s stunning. As mentioned, a big part of this narrative is Babs’ wrath. She’s hurt, she’s angry, and she’s frightened. It takes skill to ensure those three expressions don’t all look the same and Preitano pulls it off in spades. I also want to call out the hair. Our young hacker has a tendency to toss hers up when things get serious. Preitano doesn’t just do a great job with her, either. There’s great intersectionality in The Oracle Code, and each hair texture is wonderfully illustrated.
The dialogue of the book is perfectly suited for what the story is trying to accomplish. There’s a lot of inner monologue from Barbara, but not in a way that’s distracting. Her rage, fear and joy are all conveyed with equal degrees of success, and her engagements with her cohorts flow nicely. Better yet, there’s a clear voice between each character whether they be friend or foe.
Perfect Food Pairing:
Though The Oracle Code almost exclusively takes place in the Arkham Center of Independence, all I could think about was hacker food. It’s pretty much the same as gamer food. Just, you know… for hackers. Your chips, or popcorn. Maybe a bagel bite for some protein. Anything that you can munch on without paying a whole lot of attention to it. I might have made myself a Totino’s pizza in the middle of reading.
What Would You Most Like to Ask?
This is a truly interesting question, given the fact that this Oracle isn’t the one that I grew up with. There are a myriad of things I’d like to learn knowing that all of her previously known motivations for becoming the super-hacker have now changed. I think most of all, I’d like to know what, in this particular story, drew her to her codename.
The Final Word:
The Oracle Code may not be the traditional Barbara Gordon story we’re used to, but it’s still very much a heroic tale. Her difficult journey will speak to countless young women whether they’re experiencing the same disabilities or are trying to find their voice in a world that wants them to simply “be little girls.” Fear is not weakness. And puzzles? Well, puzzles need to be solved.
She may exist in reality, but Amelia Emberwing much prefers traveling to the worlds created by the likes of Brandon Mull and Garth Nix. Whether in a cowl or behind the keyboard, Batgirl has been her favorite superhero since she was six. You can usually find her squealing about such things at @BrowncoatAuror on Twitter.
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