Book Review: The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp & Manuel Preitano (2020)

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

A thoughtful and engaging origin story for Barbara Gordon/Oracle.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for medical abuse. Caution: this review contains vague spoilers.)

Teenager Barbara Gordon – daughter of police commissioner James Gordon and hacker extraordinaire – is running toward the scene of a crime when she’s shot and paralyzed from the waist down. Six weeks into her recovery, Commissioner Gordon sends his daughter to the Arkham Center for Independence, where she’ll undergo physical and mental rehabilitation. Ghosted by her longtime friend Benjamin, Barbara is reluctant to get too close to anyone – everyone leaves you in the end, after all. Luckily, fellow classmates Yeong, Issy, and Jena refuse to let Barbara be, and an unexpected mystery further helps draw Barbara out of her shell.

The ACI is as creepy as it is opulent; at night, the halls echo with cryptic sounds and the shadows of residents who have long since disappeared. Jena, teller of ghost stories whispered in the wee hours of the night, begs Barbara for help finding her missing twin brother. Dr. Maxwell insists that Michael died in the fire that severely injured his sister, and that Jena’s mind is too fragile to accept the truth. Though she’s reluctant to get sucked into another mystery, Jenna’s sudden disappearance tips her hand. Friends are precious, and she’s not about to let another one slip through her fingers. Before you can say “Birds of Prey,” Barbara is brain-deep in a corporate conspiracy that involves child trafficking and human experimentation.

I’m really digging this new DC YA series; if anything, it provides a handy entry point into the DC ‘verse for newbies like myself. (I love comics, but the decades-long history of so many DC and Marvel characters can prove overwhelming. Mostly I just stick to newer series, like Sex Criminals, Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet, and the like.) I was lucky enough to review Shadow of the Batgirl (in which an older Barbara Gordon plays a role as Cassandra Cain’s boss/mentor), and The Oracle Code lives up the expectations set by its predecessor.

The storyline is engaging enough, but it’s really the characters who stand out here. YA author Marieke Nijkamp – who identifies as queer, non-binary, and disabled – writes Barbara, Yeong, Issy, and Jena with compassion and care. There’s a great exchange between the eeeevil scientists and the margnalized teens in which the teens challenge their doctors’ assessment of them as “broken” people in need of “fixing.” (Is there a white savior analog that can be applied to the ableds? If so, this is a prime example of IT.) Hopefully you’ll also catch how the doctors try to gaslight Barbara when she starts sniffing around, insisting that she believe them instead of her own two eyes and ginormous brain.

Barbara’s squad – as well as the residents and staff at ACI – is diverse as heck and thus reflective of reality, which I appreciate. And the brief few panels of wheelchair basketball are great.

And now I shall go back to counting the days until Superman Smashes the Klan (Gene Luen Yang) and Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed (Laurie Halse Anderson) hit the shelves!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn & Nicole Goux (2020)

Thursday, February 6th, 2020

Find out how Cassandra Cain got her wings.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

— 3.5 stars —

Let me preface this review by saying that, although I love comic books, I mostly stick to one-offs, new series, or adaptations of stories I love in other mediums. DC and Marvel, with their long-running series, can be rather intimidating – where’s the best place to jump in? But I simply could not resist DC’s new line of YA graphic novels, penned by some of my YA favorites.

Anyway, that’s just a roundabout way of saying that I come into this with little background about the characters, save for what I’ve picked up from tv and movie and pop culture in general.

Shadow of the Batgirl focuses on Cassandra Cain, daughter of notorious crime kingpin and all-around baddie, David Cain. Raised by dad and trained to be an assassin, Cassandra goes rogue when she tries – and fails – to kill a man. With his (would be) dying breath, her mark whispers a single word that plucks a long-buried chord of empathy in Cassandra: “daughter.” Terrified of what punishment surely awaits, Cassandra seeks refuge in the stacks of the Gotham Public Library.

There, Cassandra learns to speak, read, and write – by spying on the kids’ storytime lessons held by librarian Barbara Gordon and, later, volunteering as her intern. Barbara has developed an app called Oracle to help her track the recent crime wave in Gotham, while Cassandra helps her investigate Batgirl’s exploits…and mysterious disappearance. She cultivates a found family there in the stacks: delightfully nerdy and welcoming Barbara; Jacqueline “Jackie” Fujikawa Yoneyama, she of impeccable style and delicious noodles; and Erik, a romantic at heart who wants to be seen as more than just a jock.

Cassandra wants desperately to be something other her father’s weapon, to forge her own path in life and, perhaps, fight for the people and city she loves, just as Batgirl did. But how can she keep everyone safe when her father is wreaking havoc across the city?

Shadow of the Batgirl is an enjoyable and heartwarming origin story for Cassandra Cain/ Batgirl/ Kasumi/ Black Bat/ Orphan. Written by Sarah Kuhn – who also pens the popular Heroine Complex series – the Asian rep in this story is great. In addition to Cassandra, there’s also the awesomely flamboyant Jackie, as well as Blasian jock with a heart of gold Erik, with whom Cassandra strikes up a tentative friendship – and romance (which is no less sweet for its inevitability). I really love these two together – and Cassandra with anyone, really – since she has an endearing, socially awkward Bones thing going on.

I mostly liked the artwork, too; my only complaint is that Cassandra looks awfully young in some panels – others, not – giving it a bit of an uneven feeling. Barbara is adorable, with her oversized glasses, and Jackie is a legit badass who I’d love to have as an adopted grandmother. Erik is swoon-worthy, natch, and the scenes where he and Cassandra geek out over books are the best.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)