Oracle’s Return

It feels like it’s been ages since I’ve been able to buy a brand-new graphic novel, but with the way the pandemic is affecting comics shops all over the country, it seemed like a good time to get some via mail order. The first one I got was this new young adult comic, so let’s take a closer look at The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp and Manuel Preitano.

Let’s meet Barbara Gordon, a normal teenage girl in Gotham City. She’s got a passion for computer coding and puzzles, and she loves taking on hacking challenges with her friend Benjamin. But one night, she gets a little too close to a robbery, and she gets shot and paralyzed.

A few weeks later, she’s learning how to get around in a wheelchair, and she’s been enrolled at the Arkham Center for Independence, a school and rehab facility for handicapped children. And she’s not at all happy about it. She doesn’t like the headmaster or the teachers or the therapists. She doesn’t like feeling like she’s been dumped here by her father. She doesn’t like the way her friend Benjamin won’t text her anymore.

She doesn’t like the weird noises she hears about the building either.

But she makes some new friends like Yeong and Issy, who want to help Babs adjust to the facility, and Jena, who tells her weird, creepy stories, and who has a brother at Arkham named Michael.

But the faculty say Michael doesn’t exist.

And then Jena disappears, too.

Can Barbara unravel the mysteries in Arkham? Can she learn to adjust to her new situation? Can she let go of her anger? Or is she going to end up as another mysterious disappearance?

Verdict: Thumbs up. What’s kinda amazing about this is this is a DC Comics graphic novel with minimal DC Comics content. Yeah, it’s got Babs Gordon and her dad, Commissioner Jim Gordon. It’s set in Gotham City, and in an old, creepy mansion called Arkham. But Batman doesn’t show up. Neither does Robin, Nightwing, Alfred, Batwoman, the Joker, or anyone else. And it’s really fantastic. You’ve got a detective tracking down a mystery — who says you need people in spandex, too?

And also, this definitely isn’t an all-ages book. It’s probably going to be too intense for a lot of younger readers. There’s a lot of tension and suspense and a number of downright scary moments to go along with the constant undercurrent of weirdness inside Arkham.

And Barbara’s rage at being in her wheelchair is intense, too. It’s not cartoonish anger — it’s subtle, but clear. She’s a very controlled person, but you can see her fury on almost every page. You can even see it on the cover. Look at that fist. That’s a fist that wants to punch the hell out of someone. And that tension, that quivering, teeth-gritting, white-hot, infuriated tension blazes through most of the book. It’s genuinely awe-inspiring to feel that blistering anger in the words and artwork of this comic.

Absolute kudos to Nijkamp for crafting this excellent story and the remarkable characters and to Preitano for the great art, sometimes realistic, and sometimes nightmarish and jagged and cartoony. This is a powerful and frightening and glorious book. Go pick it up.

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