Review: Oracle: The Cure trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

If I wrote this review a few weeks ago, before DC Comics announced Gail Simone's return to a new Birds of Prey series, this would have been a much different review. Oracle: The Cure collects the final issues of the the original Birds of Prey series, closing it out in a manner far removed from what Birds of Prey deserved; the Oracle miniseries that's also included has its high points and low points and just plain weird points, but fails in my opinion to offer anything conclusive about Oracle Barbara Gordon in the end. If that were it for Oracle and the Birds of Prey, I'd lament that a series that began with such promise ended like this; since I know there are better things to come, I can consider this just an unfortunate bump in the road.

[Contains spoilers]

It's hard to say here whether Birds of Prey writer Tony Bedard would have broken up the Birds team in the last issue -- if the series had ended at all -- if not for Batman events taking place in any of a number of other titles. The difficulty is that Oracle disbanding the team makes no sense in light of plenty of other earlier vows that she'd always keep the team together; as I discussed in my review of Birds of Prey: Platinum Flats, Bedard has seemed to ignore Oracle's earlier growth in exchange for creating drama in his run.

It's easier to accept Oracle's explanation that she's breaking up the team because she feels she's lost her edge because, frankly, it does seem that way, but again that seems due more to poor writerly choices (some botched Metropolis operations in Sean McKeever's Metropolis or Bust, the rather boring move to Platinum Flats) than a natural outgrowth of Oracle's character. So, though Manhunter quite naturally steals the show in the last issue, Birds of Prey ends overall with a whimper instead of a bang.

The Oracle miniseries that follows by Kevin VanHook's begins strongly. Barbara Gordon is back in gritty Gotham instead of sunny Platinum Flats, which makes an immediate difference; VanHook's Oracle is still technology-minded, but also angry and fallible (that genius Gordon loses track of time and is late for a dinner with her father is a gigantic understated moment), and this makes her more interesting than she's been in a while.

VanHook and the art team (not sure if it's Fernando Pasarin, Julian Lopez, or another here) go out of their way to "sex up" Oracle in the first pages; the shower scene (seriously) may be gratuitous, but perhaps counterintuitively I appreciated the team treating Oracle with the same cheesecake they might treat any other comic book character and not holding back because Oracle's a techno-geek or because she's disabled. There was a freshness to this first issue that the last Birds of Prey issues lacked, and this drew me in right away.

Unfortunately, The Cure doesn't progress much from that strong start. The Internet-based murder that Oracle's nemesis Calculator commits in the first issue is surprising; it loses its suspense when he tries it again in the second and third issue. As well, given that the reader knows that Calculator is to blame, Oracle's hunt for Calculator and the pseudo-science she employs just seems to slow down the action. And while I recognize that it's tough to write an action sequence about two characters at their computers, I just hate watching Oracle take on a virtual avatar to fight the Calculator superhero-style in cyberspace; for a character whose greatest asset is her brains, putting her in a typical action sequence seems something of a waste.

As well, it seems throughout The Cure that VanHook very strongly wants to say something about the Joker crippling Gordon in The Killing Joke, but his meaning is never quite clear. Throughout the story, Oracle talks about the phantom pain in her paralyzed legs, the night the Joker shot her, and even that the Joker took naked pictures of her after he shot her -- something many other writers gloss over. But, a story called "The Cure" never faces the question of whether Oracle wants to use the Calculator's Anti-Life Equation to restore her legs -- where, by denying this, she might be shown, in territory that other writers have mined before, her acceptance of her condition. Nor does VanHook hearken back to the Joker's recent appearance in Birds of Prey or anything else to explain why, after all this time and supposed healing, the Joker is back on Oracle's mind.

There's one nice moment where VanHook has Oracle assisted by a stranger who turns out to have been a child that Oracle introduced to computers when she was a librarian; it's a sign of Oracle's journey from past to present and an indicator that Oracle was the person Gordon was always becoming, not Batgirl. At the same time, the story ends, literally, with Calculator's daughter Wendy emerging from a coma to find herself paralyzed; on the same page, she's screaming that she can't feel her legs while Oracle berates a semi-conscious Calculator for his murders. Granted, murder equals bad, but the reader knows Calculator worked on behalf of his daughter, and the fact that Oracle shows no emotion about Wendy's plight beyond a brief "I will help you" was startling to say the least.



The final scene of Oracle: The Cure needed a moment more. As it is, its a rather horrifying end that makes Oracle's own paralysis seem torturous rather than putting any focus on the way in which Oracle subsequently empowered herself (Oracle is talking to Calculator about his murder, but still says in dialogue parallel to Wendy's screams, "I like the idea of an eye for an eye.") I'd like to believe the sudden end came because of editorial changes in the ongoing Batman Reborn storyline, but it's hard to say for sure; certainly, I couldn't have been happier than on this last page that Birds of Prey will continue in Gail Simone's hands, where it belongs.

[Contains full covers, "Origins and Omens" pages]

More "Batman Reborn" reviews coming up. See you then!
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2 comments:

  1. Couldn´t care less about Oracle.

    Here´s a review about Jonah Hex #55. Believe me when I tell you I don´t lie westerns either. But this is something else. Lol.
    http://comics.ign.com/articles/108/1088026p1.html

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  2. In the latest Brave and the Bold, JMS tells a tale of Wonder Woman, Zatanna, and Barbara (when she was Batgirl; i.e. set in the past) going out for a night of dancing, and ties it all into her later getting shot by the Joker; the story suggests that it was also WW who put the Oracle idea into Barbara's head, by talking about the ancient Greek oracles. I thought it was a great read, and I don't think there were even any fights in it!

    When B&tB started using the tagline "Stories of yesterday, today, and tomorrow" I kind of groaned a little, because I thought that basically meant it was removing itself from current continuity. But I have to say, this is the second time now that JMS has effectively "filled in" additional backstory that adds to current continuity. The first time was a few months ago, the issue actually started right after the "Gray Man" issues of JLI (circa 1987) and showed a never-before-seen meeting between Dr. Fate and Hal Jordan, where Fate sends a piece of himself with Jordan, with the suggestion that it was because Fate (Kent Nelson) had split his power, that he was years later able to be killed.

    Again, these are minor things, and if you don't read them it really doesn't matter, but I've enjoyed how JMS has been able to tell stories "in the past" but still make them relevant to current continuity.

    In short, when the trade comes out, pick it up!

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