Review: Batgirl Vol. 7: Oracle Rising trade paperback (DC Comics)


In thinking over Batgirl Vol. 7: Oracle Rising, I was surprised how much less I enjoyed this book than the previous volume, thinking they'd been done by the same team. Instead, I realized Batgirl Vol. 6: Old Enemies was Mairghread Scott's, and that Oracle Rising is the very first by Cecil Castellucci. Though I have a lot of reservations about Oracle Rising, I would note that my confusion stems from Castellucci heavily using the new supporting cast that Scott introduced, so much so that in my faulty memory I thought they'd been created by Castellucci.

That's rare, I feel, given that Scott only introduced Congresswoman Luciana Alejandro and reintroduced Jason Bard one collection ago, not to mention bringing in the Terrible Trio of Fox, Shark, and Vulture. There's been more than enough reinventing Batgirl Barbara Gordon with every new team that Castellucci wouldn't have been without precedent for doing so. I'm particularly impressed that she did not, but rather built on Scott's stories via both the heroes and the villains.

Unfortunately, despite my esteem for the writer's choices, there's not a lot for me to recommend in Oracle Rising. I particularly dislike both of the antagonists that Batgirl faces in the two stories collected here. I acknowledge that's subjective, and your results may vary, but that puts a damper on the book for me from the start. Second, I found the first story, at six issues, way over-long (which might be the writer's fiat as much as trying to stick to the schedule of "Year of the Villain"), while the second two-issue story was maudlin to the extreme, if not also an ill-fit for the Batgirl character.

All of that combines for a tedious reading experience and a bad sign for the future. I can say that artist Carmine Di Giandomenico rocks this book, a perfect venue for the artist after Flash, and while it doesn't seem like he's sticking around here, I do hope he's sticking around the DCU.

[Review contains spoilers]

Again, it's hard to know if the idea for Oracle as an antagonist came from Castellucci or if it was editorially driven (in line with "Year of the Villain"), but I'd be just as happy if it were never mentioned again. That what was Barbara Gordon's heroic and ground-breaking persona is reduced to a tired, one-note villain seems enormously insulting, not only in tarnishing Barbara-Oracle's legacy, but also in positing Oracle as an algorithim separate from Barbara; that Barbara is not necessarily the brilliant hacker known as Oracle, but that Oracle is a program that Barbara created (albeit no small accomplishment) that subsequently did the lion's share of what we knew as Barbara-Oracle's work.

It is not the first time we've seen Oracle as villain, including way back in Brenden Fletcher's Batgirl of Burnside, but that was not in so many words, I think. And all things could undoubtedly be forgiven if the new Oracle were compelling, but instead she's a rather typical robot villain alternately convinced Barbara abandoned her and that Barbara herself is a villain, with no nuance or anything to complicate her or cause surprise over six issues. That's not to say the story doesn't have strong sequences — including where Batgirl faces both burning and drowning, though some of that credit surely goes to Di Giandomenico and colorist Jordie Bellaire — but six issues is a long time for Batgirl and Oracle to worry repetitively scene after scene until the conclusion comes along.

The second story is perhaps equally astounding in that Castellucci actually uses the swords-and-sorcery-esque "Unearth" characters late of Dan Abnett's Titans Vol. 6: Into the Bleed, which I'd have bet we'd never see again. Abnett actually made it work despite it all being rather silly — an in-story author's fantasy world with a knack for trapping DC heroes — and also despite that it's a tough fit even for the Titans, whose adventures range from sci-fi deep space to supernatural demon realms to high espionauge. Batgirl sword-fighting a dragon is exceptionally far from anything I want to see from any of the Bat-titles; the fact that Castellucci specifically saw Unearth in another title and thought it a good match for Batgirl demonstrates to me how far this writer's conception of this title is from what I'm looking for, though of course your results may vary.

Said dragon story involves Batgirl and Jason Bard, turned knight, having to slay a dragon to save the elderly Unearth author's dying love, except the dragon is powered by Jason's emotional fear of admitting his love for Barbara. What follows is an extensive amount of Batgirl and Jason meditating on what it means to love, whether they're in love, fear of being in love, and on and on. Though the characters of course have a historical connection, Castellucci's Jason here is exceptionally unlikable, continually treating Barbara like a damsel in distress, such that we don't have reason to root for the couple even as Castellucci brings them together.

Moreover, there's a long thread in the book of Barbara having to learn to act contrary to her instincts, to learn to "say yes" when she might otherwise say no, that also feels problematic. This tendency for writers to come on the Batgirl title and suggest Barbara Gordon needs emotional fixing feels long since played out, and seems like something writers do for Batgirl that they don't necessarily do for Superman.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batgirl Vol. 7: Oracle Rising



So for me, Batgirl Vol. 7: Oracle Rising is a poor start to Cecil Castellucci's Batgirl run, and the stakes are only bound to get higher since I think an encounter with some aspect of the Joker is on its way. (Not to mention I'm less than enthused with a cliffhanger suggesting Jason brought some part of Unearth back with him.) I hope it gets better — I liked Castellucci's Young Animal Shade, the Changing Girl — but this first volume left me cold.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Its so sad that Scott left Batgirl because of editorial interference and not letting her be part of the Bat-summit meetings. You would think they'd want the writer of Batgirl to be involved in decisions regarding Batgirl and its supporting cast. Sigh...

    I thought the book with her writing was the best since the Burnside era. Based on her Transformers work, I bet it was building to a great conclusion too.

    1. Scott's was definitely my favorite Batgirl run since Barbara Gordon took back the cowl. It was probably no coincidence that she left right before the "Year of the Villain" tie-ins began, and I wish they had let her in on what was going on in other books and how the character would be affected.

      I wish I could say the book gets better after Castellucci's first 8 issues, but it's still overwritten and trite as hell, and she keeps pushing Barbara and Jason Bard as a great love story despite all the crap he pulled in Batman Eternal. Issue #50 has just been solicited as this series' last, and I hope it gets relaunched next year with a more inspired writer.


To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.