You don’t really need tights and a cape to be a superhero. You don’t need super strength or mutant abilities. You don’t even have to have your body surgically or chemically altered. (Willingly or otherwise.) Mind, these things don’t hurt, but you don’t really have to have them — not these days.
Barbara Gordon had a lot of it — keen intelligence, masterful martial arts skills, beauty, and the dream — well, I don’t suppose I can actually call it a “job” — she was Batgirl, fighting for the right alongside the man she idolized and the man she loved. Then her body was altered, not surgically, although with a precision that was close: shot by the Joker, she was paralyzed from the waist down.
So Barbara Gordon became The Oracle, cybernetic crime-fighter extraordinaire.
The Calculator has managed to create another layer of the Internet — he calls it the “Ünternet,” a layer of code invisible to everyone, including Oracle. Well, maybe not — his first little foray, a favor to Matchmaker, who has a young protegé who’s prime serial killer material, is scotched by the Huntress, one of Oracle’s agents, who knew all the details. And Oracle’s parting message for the Calculator throws his allegiance to the Silicon Syndicate — Visionary, Kilgore, Gizmo, and Matchmaker — into question. Once he brings the syndicate under control, Calculator can get to the real quest: collecting and assembling the pieces of the anti-life equation, which, he believes, can bring his daughter out of a coma.
The story is wide-ranging — Gotham to Hong Kong and back, and inside the online game “Alta Viva” — but tightly focused, almost intimate. After the first episode, in which Oracle and the Birds of Prey do a fair amount of damage to the Silicon Syndicate, it’s really a game of cat and mouse between Oracle and Calculator, and we’re never quite sure which is which. There are other characters, to be sure, but they never step beyond being means to an end. There are a couple of wry takes on virtual reality and the Internet — one of Oracle’s agents is murdered in the game Alta Viva, which kills her in the real world, and Calculator’s avatar (which could be a version of the Transformers) exists both in virtual and mundane reality.
The writers have come up with a telling and subtle characterization, something rare in superhero comics, even these days. The Calculator is little more than cardboard, but we’re able to catch a glimpse of what little humanity remains to him in his concern for his daughter. The prize, though, is Oracle. Cool, rational, and sitting on a plume of anger like a volcano apt to erupt at the slightest shift in the seemingly placid surface, she’ll go very close to that moral edge that superheroes tend to observe, and we’re never quite sure whether she’ll cross that boundary. And we can see it and its rationale: it’s the logical result of who she is and what’s been done to her. Bedard and VanHook have done what I wish every writer would do as a matter of course: they show us what she does, they don’t tell us how she feels. We even get a sense of why she is a crime fighter and not a criminal. In a revealing exchange with Corey Wynn, the designer of Alta Viva, it seems he knows her identity: she let him use the computers at the library when he was a kid and she worked there, because his mother couldn’t afford to buy him one. Again, it’s who she is.
The art, pencilled by Claude St. Aubin, Fernando Pasarin and Julian Lopez, is pretty consistent in style, and, although the layouts do show some sense of adventure, particularly in the first section, when the Birds of Prey take out the Syndicate, they fall right back into a fairly firm, frame-follows-frame layout. (That first part’s a lot of fun — the Birds perform their task, as they say, con brio, and the visual activity and layouts are of a piece with the plot action.) The visual representations of the World Wide Web are marvelously conceived and beautifully rendered. The big contrast is between the interior art and the Oracle covers by Guillem March, which show Oracle with that kind of fine-boned, Ursula Andress/Raquel Welch look that is every fashion model’s dream.
The volume collects Birds of Prey #126 and #127 and the miniseries Oracle: The Cure. It’s a good, tight cyber-thriller with some wonderful action sequences, and a good hour’s entertainment.
(DC Comics, 2010)