Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest: Oracle: The Cure #2

Posted: Sunday, April 19, 2009
By: Thom Young

Kevin Vanhook
Julian Lopez & Fernando Pasarin (p) with Bit & Norm Rapmund (i)
DC Comics
“Big Trouble in Hong Kong”

Barbara, freaked out over what happened to Cheesehead, heads to Hong Kong to meet some hackers in person. Meanwhile, the Calculator continues to mine the Internet for fragments of the Anti-Life Equation.

Shawn Hill:
Chris Murman:
Alexandru Lupp:
Bill Frye:

Shawn Hill

The subtitle of Oracle: The Cure has everyone hoping that Barbara Gordon will soon walk again. I wonder if that will be the case. She certainly hasn’t for the first two issues.

She’s nowhere near getting out of the chair when she is jumped by muggers in Hong Kong. However, she handles herself like a true Gothamite should--taking out her three assailants with extreme sanction rather than let them steal from her.

While the pencilers, Julian Lopez and Fernando Pasarin, do a nice job this issue in depicting clear events in both the real and virtual worlds--capturing a wild-looking Hong Kong as well as a convincing artificial reality of avatars--things seem a bit goofy and outdated at times.

For one thing, Guillem March’s cover is needlessly cheesy as Oracle seems to find buttoned blouses far too confining from her chair. Additionally, the VR glasses Oracle dons lead her to bright cartoonish world of avatars and icons that looks more like something from Johnny Mnemonic than they do The Matrix (i.e., like I imagined virtual reality when I first read cyberpunk adventures in the 1980s).

It also seems weird that Barbara has to go somewhere physically to get on the Internet. However, she’s running scared since the Calculator murdered her previous mark, and maybe she should. She’s putting people in danger, without really knowing what she’s up against.

The Calculator, in the aftermath of Final Crisis is trying to save his comatose daughter, and he’s desperate enough to rely on Darkseid’s evil spam for help. This cannot be a great idea, and his goofy mechanical avatar (yet another bad computer monster) doesn’t really dispel the idea that he is caught in a series of wrong plays that have taken him way out of his ability to cope rationally.

At least the whole thing doesn’t look too manga or anime. Instead, we see a world where Barbara flies around like a trapeze artist, her familiar face (explained in clever dialogue by the hackers) on a "generic" body. Sadly, against her advice, her allies continue to wander into deadly battles because they’re the only ones who treat the whole fantasy world like a game.

If Barbara Gordon is anything, though, it’s clear-headed--and this issue gears Barbara up for an epic confrontation with the old Batman foe. Who knows what the results will be?

Chris Murman:

Isn’t that a nice cover by Guillem March? His portrayal of Barbara Gordon this month is so informative!

Not only was my wife greeted by a shot down Oracle’s shirt when she perused my weekly grab bag, but we found out Babs doesn’t wear a bra either. I wasn’t nearly as offended as my better half at the image; I just felt like it was a bit of overkill. If DC is going to insist on greenlighting the use of artists drawing D-cup-sized breasts on covers, can’t they give these women the proper support so they can avoid back problems later in life?

It’s all about the message we send to readers, people.

Speaking of pain, I’m wondering what happened to all the talk about Gordon’s legs that was established in the first issue. In my review of the first issue, I queried the possibility of a cure on the horizon for the former Batgirl, and after all the allusions it seemed like we’re back to business as usual. Sure, we’re seeing Red forced out from behind the desk and get her wheels dirty, but it’s not quite the same. At the same time, we see the pace of the story change a bit. However, the speed picking up isn’t necessarily a good thing.

What kind of story are we supposed to be reading here? The title of this series sure makes it seem like we’re going to see Babs walk again. Who knows, once the Calculator puts the Anti-Life equation back together and cures his daughter he’ll be so thankful that he’ll pass along the curing to his nemesis. More likely, I’m now thinking the cure could be for her fear of doing more than sitting at a desk and telling Black Canary where to point her mouth.

An interesting e-mail was sent to me after my review of issue # 1. It came from an Oracle fan who is confined to a wheelchair. Reading his thoughts helped show me that beyond my limited view of life, people find inspiration for whatever situation they find themselves in. I might understand this more if DC created a hero who fought crime while managing Type I diabetes. You never know, it could happen.

Speaking of not making sense, after praising Kevin Vanhook’s script last month, I found myself scratching my head at his computer logic. Granted, nobody is asking me to write a worm that can steal billions of dollars from the US government, but I understand enough about the technology industry to question what’s going on. While I enjoyed the depiction of the virtual interface in which Barbara used the Internet to locate the Calculator, I don’t know how in the world he can be killing all of the people in the way he’s supposed to be killing them.

I could understand it if everyone was jacking into the Internet Matrix-style, but that’s not how the Internet works. The more I thought about it, the more I decided it was incredibly lazy to merely have users stare themselves to death. I won’t even get started on the tired idea of hiding things in a virtual environment so nobody will notice it’s there. The last time that was a new idea, Ken Griffey, Jr. was playing for the Seattle Mariners. Wait, scratch that.

What has made sense so far is the team of Julian Lopez and Fernando Pasarin on pencils. While it’s getting easier to tell the difference between their respective pages, I don’t quite mind the team-up approach to the art chores. As I mentioned earlier, the virtual interface images were particularly inspired. Without those, there wasn’t really much to draw in this issue. Can you picture the instant message exchange between the two when dividing up this script?
“I call the VI pages.”

“No fair, the rest are just people standing around.”

“Tell you what, next issue I’ll let you draw the image looking down Barbara’s shirt . . . she doesn’t wear a bra, you know.”
With only one issue left, it seems like there is a lot of ground left to cover. I just wish I was referring to the story involving the Calculator. There wasn’t really much to that story to begin with, and readers aren’t picking this up to see the two computer nerds have a showdown to determine who has the faster word-per-minute rate.

We want to know what’s going on with Batgirl. Who knows what we’re going to get. Hopefully, it will at least leave Barbara in a useful spot in the Batverse for future writers. The worst thing that could happen is to have her in exactly the same position as she was before.

Then again, they could end up having her button her shirt all the way to the top.

That would be awful.

Alexandru Lupp:

Generally events, crossovers, and other gimmicks meant to bolster sales can either improve a story or hurt it. What started out decades ago as simple team-ups grew into the summer event and is now just a constant series of countless crossovers and shared directions for a company’s entire year. Battle for the Cowl is just such a beast.

Fortunately, so far, it has been helping the ancillary storylines rather than hurting them. It has been just the shift that the Batman universe needed. The change in direction is exciting (thus far), and could be as interesting a change in status quo as the New Krypton story is in the Superman titles.

The main Battle for the Cowl
We have gotten glimpses into all aspects of Gotham, and it looks like every stone will be turned by the end--which is great for long time fans of the characters and the universe. While not all these stories are accessible to the general public, they also don’t have to be. The core stories are accessible, while the rest is just icing on the cake.

Oracle: The Cure is one of the ancillary stories that have spun out of the event. It is about Barbara Gordon, but it also picks up on story threads from Final Crisis (and even Teen Titans). It is much more than just an Oracle story--or, for that matter, just a Battle for the Cowl
It also tells the Calculator’s story. He was equally present in Final Crisis. His daughter, Wendy, was nearly killed in Teen Titans, and he seeks to cure her. That may well be the source of the word “cure” in the mini-series title--though there is also the obvious fact that Barbara Gordon is in a wheel chair and that if anti-life can cure Wendy, it could also cure Babs.

It is neat to see all these prior story threads being dealt with, but all they do is provide a means for getting from point A to point B. There should be more in this story beyond that (and the story’s well-used Internet gaming plot device does not count). There should be a sense of why this story has to be told--of what it does for Barbara Gordon and the other characters involved.

Naturally, we can’t entirely know until the conclusion of the series next issue. However, be that as it may, this middle issue is a huge slump from the previous chapter. The first issue provided the premise and arranged all the players, which was interesting. Here all we get is just a prolonged shuffle as a final confrontation is set up. Thus, while the complete miniseries may yet provide a bold new direction for the characters involved, this single issue is a bit disappointing.

On that note, I really have to wonder about the purpose of this series. Yes, it pits the Calculator against Oracle, which is an engaging confrontation--if only because the two are such natural opponents. However, beyond that, what purpose does it really serve in the Battle for the Cowl tapestry? Perhaps this issue should have offered some hint at that greater purpose, but it didn’t.

Really, if it all boils down to Barbara’s infirmity being healed, then that would be an unfortunate circumstance. What’s made her character great in recent years has been her handicap. She has persevered despite it, and she’s become something much greater than “Batgirl.” As Oracle, Barbara Gordon has become a stronger component of the DC universe. Taking that away from her would not be wise.

In all fairness, this second issue does have good moments--such as when Barbara successfully defends herself against some thugs--but they aren’t enough. Ultimately, this series has only three issues to tell a good story, and the second issue doesn’t do much to achieve that goal. It might just be that Oracle: The Cure is another example of DC cashing in on an “event.”

Bill Frye:

Oracle: The Cure #2 reads much the same as the first issue did. The Calculator obtains portions of the Anti-Life Equation and Oracle searches for the person who is seeking to put together the pieces of the Anti-Life Equation.

While Oracle figures out in this issue that the Calculator is behind it all, there's no real confrontation between the two characters. The issue treads water a bit as we wait to get to the third installment that may or may not have any consequence in the Battle for the Cowl storyline that is restructuring the Bat-verse--which leads me to ask why this series couldn't have been a one-shot (or perhaps just a subplot in one of the other countless Battle for the Cowl tie-ins)? It could even just be a story in the post-Battle for the Cowl events.

Maybe the third issue will erase my doubts about this series, but my outlook is not great.

While issue #2 is largely a step sideways from the first, it does build up some curious suspense in the fact that someone like the Calculator is looking to use the Anti-Life Equation. The questions this plot raises do make this book more interesting to read.

Will the Calculator be able to use the Equation for his intended purpose, or will it spell doom for the DC Universe? Despite my initial complaints, this part of the story interests me a bit, and it has made this series a fairly enjoyable read.

The dual pencilers Julian Lopez and Fernando Pasarin make the artwork a bit disjointed in this issue as some pages have Barbara Gordon appearing more modest in some aspects than she does on other pages. However, neither artist does the character a complete injustice as both are able to depict a smart, tough Oracle who can take care of herself despite her handicap--as is evident in the issue’s opening scene.

If you’re looking for your Oracle fix, then you shouldn't be too disappointed by this issue (or this miniseries, so far). However, if you’re reading Battle for the Cowl and expect Oracle: The Cure to play a part in that event, then you may want to be cautious when approaching this series since it remains to be seen what, if any, ramifications this story will have on the Bat-verse.

What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!