Title: The Oracle Code
Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Illustrator: Manuel Preitano
Pub Date: March 10th, 2020
*An eARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange of an honest review*
Barbara Gordon is the smart daughter of Detective Gordon by day, a crime fighter by night. There’s no puzzle Babs can’t solve, there’s no code she can’t break. When she’s paralyzed after a gunshot, her father sends her to Arkham Center to heal. But there’s something in the place that isn’t quite… right.
Let me start this review saying, I really liked this book in a way I wasn’t expecting. I used to enjoy reading DC Comics, until the ableism drained me. The way comics characterize disabled and mentally ill people is not… great. This story is written by a disabled author, and it shows. Yes, I liked the plot and Babs’s friends, but what I love was the way The Oracle Code talked about disability, with understanding and love, with all the complexities and conflicted feelings. I was touched and in tears, this story would have meant the world to young me.
As a note, I’m diabetic, so this is not an #ownvoices review. So I’m talking the way the disability rep felt to me, and to me alone.
As Barbara, I have also found myself with my life changed suddenly and having to learn how to live in an able-bodied world as I learned about my disabled body. And it is freaking hard. I felt so connected to Babs’s sense of loss and fear, of not knowing who she is now. She feels overwhelmed and exhausted from fighting with all these people who don’t get it.
I’m sure some people will read Babs as an unlikable character, but I don’t think she is. She is angry, yes, she can be mean to people who want to help her, yes. But all of these feelings are coming from a place of trauma, hurt, disappointment and fear, of having to relearn your body, of accepting this is your new reality. It is quite frustrating, I know from experience. And it takes time to be in a good place. Also, the good intentions of able-bodied people mean nothing.
But she’s not alone, in this center she finds a supportive system who encourages her, calls her out of her bullshit and stands by her side. It was delightful and beautiful, having a group of friends that truly understands you means the world.
The Oracle Code is a very character-driven story. I have read before about Babs’s accident and her time as a hacker, eventually becoming Batgirl. But Batgirl comics don’t really discuss the trauma she experienced in the accident, or her emotions. So I’m very glad that we get to see this side of the story with a disabled author. There are honest and vulnerable conversations about disability, but also hopeful and joyful moments of just hanging out with your friends.
Ableism is the evil in the story and it was very satisfying to see a group of disabled girls punching it in the face, quite literally. The idea of curing disabled people is a constant plot in media that doesn’t go away. Apparently, it’s very hard for able-bodied folks to understand how disgusting it is. So I’m VERY glad with the way the villain was portrayed here.
The mystery is solid, although the plot-twists are nothing out of the world. But it works because the conclusion is very tied to Babs’s growth and as I was rooting for her successes, I was glad that the story ends in a sort of bittersweet/positive note.
Barbara is not exactly one of my favorite DC characters, she’s the daughter of a detective and some of her storylines are quite… messy and terrible. Oh but right here, with Marieke and Manuel’s Barbara, I understand the love.