Review – Batgirl #38: Oracle Rising?

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Batgirl #38
Batgirl #38 variant cover, via DC Comics.

Batgirl #38 – Cecil Castellucci, Writer; Carmine Di Giandomenico, Artist; Jordie Bellaire, Colorist


Ray – 7/10

Corrina: Uneasy With a Separate Oracle/Babs

Ray: Cecil Castellucci’s take on Batgirl is continuing pretty neatly from the Mairghread Scott run that preceded it, featuring many of the same villains and supporting cast but with a Year of the Villain twist. Still, I find it hard to get past the central plot in Batgirl #38, which takes the Oracle identity and makes it not a representative of Barbara Gordon rising above the trauma the Joker inflicted on her and proving herself as much of a hero outside the costume as inside it, but a separate being that Barbara used when she was paralyzed and then discarded as soon as she could become Batgirl again. The transformation of Oracle into a killer robot that resents its creator really doesn’t reflect well on Barbara, and it completely misses the point of Oracle. Which is too bad, because much of the issue is very enjoyable. Castellucci seems to be leaning into the idea of Barbara as a Spider-man type hero, doing good with few resources and no safety net – even at great cost to herself.

Barbara keeping her job with a Congresswoman even as her life falls apart around her is something I want to see developed more, although I’m not warming to Jason Bard. This issue tries to cast him as a chivalrous defender when he thinks Barbara is being abused, but Barbara’s narration makes clear she doesn’t trust him. I’m not sure how the issue wants us to feel about him. The villains are more hapless losers than anything, with the Terrible Trio becoming Oracle’s hostages and realizing they’re in way over their heads, and Killer Moth becoming increasingly obsessed with Batgirl until she lures him into a trap. Jason Bard referring to Batgirl as a “menace” may be a little too on the money, but this run does seem to have a very good take on Barbara Gordon – at least in the present day. Turning Oracle into a teenager’s toy that she threw away when she was done with it doesn’t work at all.

Batgirl #38 interior page
A close shave. Via DC Comics.

Corrina: One of the elements lost when Barbara Gordon left the Oracle identity behind seems to have been her ability to plan and multitask. It’s been one of the incongruities of her reboot into Batgirl that despite supposedly still having operated as Oracle, Babs has lost her ability to plan and anticipate and has instead become reactive and without resources.

Arguably, Babs was more powerful and effective in her Oracle identity. Batgirl, however, has stumbled from one job to another over the past year, seemingly without resources and I can’t help thinking “Wait, if she was Oracle, why is she going completely low-tech and not using her smarts?” Why has she devolved, even though she’s supposed to have been Oracle and, at heart, still is Oracle? 

Instead, the suggestion seems to be that Babs created an Oracle program that she then discarded. That’s disturbing on a number of levels, especially since Oracle was about Babs still being a hero, only in a different form. You cannot separate Barbara from Oracle. She’s not a separate individual or computer code. She’s Barbara. That’s why made Oracle such an inspiration.

To say I’m uneasy with this development is putting it mildly. Will the story eventually overcome my misgivings? I hope so because that will at least keep the Babs I know on the page, whatever her superhero identity, rather than transforming her into something different from her emotional core story.

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Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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