The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp, Manuel Preitano (Illustrator): A Young Barbara Gordon’s First Case

The Oracle Code

The Oracle Code

by Marieke Nijkamp, Manuel Preitano (Illustrator)

Paperback, 198 pg.
DC Comics, 2020

Read: April 18, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Dad once told me that even a hopeless situation doesn’t always stop him. Not because he believes there’ll be a miracle, but because giving up feels too final.

And pretending is a form of grieving, too.

This is a YA graphic novel from DC—I’m not sure that the medium needs YA-focused work, but hey, if it brings readers to the medium in a less-intimidating way, sure, why not. I’ve read a handful of DC’s YA stuff and have enjoyed it all, so what do I know? The Oracle Code is another proof that DC has made a smart move with these.

This is an alternative take on the Barbara Gordon-Oracle origin story. Now, I honestly have no idea what the current DC continuity take on Barbara is, I don’t know if she’s the ex-Batgirl, etc. This, however, is not that version. Barbara is a computer enthusiast/would-be hacker who is hanging out with a friend one fateful night and sees her father respond to a police call. She listens to the police radio and realizes it’s nearby and decides to go take a peak. Which results in her being shot and paralyzed.

Six weeks later, her father takes her to The Arkham Center for Independence for physical and emotional rehab. Slowly, she sheds some of her anger at her situation and makes a friend or two (while trying to get her best friend to communicate). At some point, she thinks she stumbles on to some disappearances at the Center, but her concerns are explained away or dismissed.

Barbara won’t take this at face value and begins to look into things on her own—and you can guess how things go from there.

It’s a fun story and I like the way Nijkamp deals with Barbara’s anger, grief, and future.

Preitano’s art fit the story well—I particularly liked the way he showed her thinking things through (depicted by puzzle pieces). There are also some “bedtime stories” being told with art appropriate art—a little creepier than the main art, honestly.

Ultimately, this could have been any driven daughter of a police officer/detective/commissioner, there’s nothing that’s inherently Barbara Gordon-esque about the character. And really, ridding her of the Batgirl past, really takes away a lot of what makes me like Oracle—but this particular Barbara struggling to discover a new way of being herself in her circumstances shares enough to not truly annoy me. But it does rob the story of something, I think.

That said, this is a pretty fun graphic novel and I gladly recommend it to you.


3 Stars

2020 Library Love Challenge

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Quick Takes on Some Quick Reads: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Dating; Ice by Neil Lancaster; Shall We Gather by Alex Bledsoe

The point of these quick takes posts is to catch up on my “To Write About” stack—emphasizing pithiness, not thoroughness. These three were all short reads, making it very difficult to write much more than this, anyway.

The Time Traveler's Guide to Dating

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Dating, Issue 1

by Todd Gilbert, Brandon McKinney, Zachary Brunner, Daniel Bruckner
Series: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Dating, #1
PDF, 22 pg.
Read: April 4, 2020

I saw an advertisement for this on Instagram last weekendsomething about a Time Travel Rom-Com in six free issues. I decided it was worth a shot.

This is the story of an assistant manager at a “big box” store, angry and resentful over being denied a promotion (a series of them, I think). He sets out to exact his revenge by (the reader can see) future versions of himself.

So far, I’ve read the first issueit’s a clever story, I like the art. I really don’t like the protagonist, but have hope he can be redeemed (or another major character emerges to get behind). But for the moment he’s an impetuous, selfish fool, and I’m sort of rooting against him.

I’m not going to check back in on this until I finish the series, but I’m looking forward to the rest of it.

Ice

Ice

by Neil Lancaster
Series: Tom Novak Thriller
Kindle Edition
Read: April 4,2020

So, it seems that a Mexican drug cartel is trying to bring a new, extra addictive variety of Meth into London. We see both a user recruited by the cartel’s representative and a less-than-ethical tax specialist who finds himself laundering money for them. Novak comes into both of their lives in his efforts to stop this incursion.

So, here’s the cool thingminor spoilerNovak takes on a criminal enterprise and doesn’t hurt/shoot/kill anyone. That’s a nice thing to see.

But, this just wasn’t a good story. It feels like an outline, there’s no real drama or suspense. There’s a lot of talking, a lot of exposition.

I don’t like not saying good things about Novak or Lancaster, but aside from the novelty of Novak not leaving a trail of death and destruction, there’s not a lot of positive things to say. I like the idea of this, I just didn’t dig the execution.

Shall We Gather

Shall We Gather

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa
Kindle Edition, 18 pg.
Tor Books, 2013
Read: March 24, 2020

There’s not much of a plot here, eitherbut there is one. This is primarily a way to look at two charactersthe outsider desperately trying to make a home in Cloud County, Rev. Craig Chess, and Mandalay Harris. Someone (no one we’ve met before) is dying and he asked for Chess to come. Outside, Chess meets Mandalay for the first time and the two have a couple of interesting conversations. There’s a bit more to it than that, but that’s enough for this.

I really liked watching these two interact, sizing each other up. Mandalay is at her creepifying best and Chess is his earnest, loving self. As much as he and I would debate essentials of the Faith, Chess has always been one of those fictional characters that’s easy to respect as well as like. I always appreciate the way that Bledsoe writes him.

Short (very short), but absolutely worth the time. It’s the one thing that I’ve taken off the TBR list since I started those Down the TBR Hole posts because I’ve read it. Will hopefully not be the last.

Joker by Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo (Illustrator): One night in Gotham and the tough guys tumble

Joker

Joker

by Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo (Illustrator)

Paperback, 144 pg.
DC Comics, 2019 (DC Black Label Edition)

Read: March 18, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

That’s what he is, I guess: a disease that infected Gotham City…

…of which there is no cure.

The Joker is inexplicably released from Arkham and he quickly discovers that he’s broke. And well, he might be insane, but he’s not crazy enough to let people get away with that. The Penguin, The Riddler, Two Face, etc. are to blame. As far as he’s concerned anyway.

With the help (at least presence) of his new henchman, Johnny Frost, Joker sets off to get his property back, to get a little revenge, and generally wreak havoc. You know, as you would if you were the Clown Prince of Crime.

That’s really all I’m going to say—it’s bloody, it’s depraved, it’s dark, it’s twisted. It’s not revolutionary, it’s not a reinvention of the Joker. It’s a good story about the character that’s been a favorite of readers for decades.

Oh, sure, the Dark Knight puts in an appearance—but it’s at the end, and he’s not even brought up for most of the book. Then he’s there and things go the way they usually do when he shows up.

The art? Hoo-boy. It’s something else. It’s…visceral is the best word I can come up with it. Even if you don’t like it, I don’t see where you can’t have a strong opinion of it—I find it striking, memorable…and visceral.

I really enjoyed this one and highly recommend it to any comic reader, or anyone who wants to see what the world of Batman can look like in the original medium instead of film.


4 Stars

2020 Library Love Challenge

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn, Nicole Goux: A Fun & Compelling Refreshed Origin Story

Shadow of the Batgirl

Shadow of the Batgirl

by Sarah Kuhn, Nicole Goux

Paperback, 193 pg.
DC Comics, 2020

Read: February 18, 2019

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Cassandra Cain has intrigued me for quite a while now, but as I’ve limited my comic reading (for financial and time considerations), I haven’t read nearly enough about her to satisfy my curiosity.

Enter Sarah Kuhn and her YA graphic novel to take care of that. It was a brilliant idea to have Kuhn write this—as she explains herself in the introduction, Cain is exactly the kind of super-hero that Kuhn writes.

This retelling of Cain’s origin story from the moment she decides to leave the life of crime she’d been born into and trained for (not that she knew that’s what she’d been doing), through her meeting Barbara Gordon and (a new character for this telling) Jackie, and into her first steps as Batgirl.

Jackie is an elderly Asian Aunt figure who provides emotional security for Cassandra while Barbara is helping with intellectual stimulation (there’s also a boy she meets at the library, but Jackie and Barbara are the foci).

I really enjoyed watching Cain make connections with people, learning how to redefine herself—it’s an atypical origin story and exactly the kind of thing we need to see more of.

Goux’s art wasn’t the style I expected—I expected something darker, more angular, with a lot of shadows. Instead, we get something almost playful and joyful, while not detracting from the serious story. Goux’s art fits Kuhn’s voice (both here and in other works) perfectly and won me over right away.

This was a fun read, establishing Cain as a person and as a hero while telling a compelling story. I recommend this and would eagerly read any follow-ups that might come along (like the upcoming The Oracle Code.)


3 Stars

2020 Library Love Challenge
This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Nightfall by Matt Cowper: The Stunning Conclusion to the Elites Trilogy

NightfallNightfall

by Matt Cowper
Series: The Elites, #3

Kindle Edition, 412 pg.
2019
Read: July 24 – 26, 2019

With The World Savers, I pictured an ongoing series about The Elites, after Rogue Superheroes, I wondered how he could keep it going after raising the stakes so much. Nightfall answers that question (while ruining my hopes for an ongoing series). Cowper brings this trilogy to a close with a conclusion wraps up the storylines well, provides some closure and moves the characters on to the next step in their lives, all while telling an exciting super-hero story.

As we join the book, things are still influx after Rogue Superheroes, Nightstriker doesn’t trust Blaze the way he should (and the rest of his team do), Gillespie is serving as Interim President (and not liking it), and the possible romantic relationship between Gillespie and Nightstriker hasn’t gone anywhere since that initial conversation, and Blaze is still grieving and dealing with everything he did. But after the first chapter or so, progress is made along these lines and it looks like things might be cooling off for the Elites for a while. There’s still a lot of road to go, but positive and realistic steps are being taken.

Which means, of course, it’s time for their newest nemesis to show up. His name is Black Knight and he comes from the future (or so he says). His purpose in coming back in time is to stop one of the Elites before they become too powerful to be stopped, supposedly the damage he’s wrought on civilization in the future is so great that it can’t be allowed to get to the point where they aren’t bound by any kind of ethical cord. But he’s just one man, what can he do against this super team?

Quite a lot, it seems. Between power, reflexes, strategy and a kind of determination usually reserved for Batman and Nightstriker, Black Knight almost accomplishes his goal in the first battle against the team. Coming up with a way to stop him—for everyone’s sake—the team is going to have to lean on a new friend and ally and follow her to a planet light-years away. The Elites in space and on a planet no one has heard of, battling one of the greatest foes they can imagine. A great way to conclude this trilogy! There were several times when I “knew” how it all was going, and the hard choices that Cowper would have to make about some of his characters—and I was wrong every single time. There were a lot of zigs where I expected zags, and I loved every one of them.

As compelling as all that is, the core of this novel has to do with the reaction of the team to hearing that someone in their midst will become a mass murderer. It puts a strain on all relationships (platonic or otherwise) the team is involved with. There’s some horror, some rebellion, but mostly it’s a resolve to back their teammate and help them avoid the solution. There’s some great fodder for thought about choice, determinism, and morality there—Cowper deftly deals with these ideas while not losing the pace of his story.

It’s pretty exciting, and a great way to approach the book, taking these heroes on an interplanetary adventure. After things die down, The Elites return home to start again and some of the heroes are recognized for the forces of good they’d been. Then we get glimpses of where everyone is going forward to start over—some are taking a path far less traveled others are continuing along similar paths, but with renewed focus.. The emotional arcs are great and just what the fans want to read. I was really impressed with the way that Cowper resolved things and yet planted things to harvest later.

This is the third in a series, and I strongly recommend it be read after books 1 and 2, or you won’t get a lot of it. My appreciation for the series has built with each successive novel and it’s hard to find a lot to fault with this one. Some great emotional beats, great characters and a whole lot of fun and excitement as the Elites try to weed the criminals out of society. I’ve enjoyed this trilogy as a whole, but Cowper pulled out all the stops with this conclusion and really blew me away.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion about it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia, Gabriel Picolo (Illustrator): An Updated Look into the Empath’s Past

Teen Titans: RavenTeen Titans: Raven

by Kami Garcia, Gabriel Picolo (Illustrator)
Series: Teen Titans, #1
Paperback, 168 pg.
DC Ink, 2019

Read: August 2, 2019

I’ve talked here before about my love of The New Teen Titans, the 1980-96 series created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. They were my real first (and probably deepest) comic love. It informed and shaped my tastes in ways I probably can’t realize and definitely can’t articulate. It’s practically sacrosanct to me. So the idea of DC Comics hiring Kami Garcia (as much as I might like Garcia) to write modern takes on the origins of Raven (and, apparently, others)—whether or not Wolfman signed off on the idea—both repelled and attracted me. At least it had to be better than that Teen Titans Go! monstrosity.

You know what? I liked it.

Here’s the official blurb, in the interest of time (saving my time that is):


When a tragic accident takes the life of 17-year-old Raven Roth’s foster mom–and Raven’s memory–she moves to New Orleans to recover and finish her senior year of high school.
Starting over isn’t easy. Raven remembers everyday stuff like how to solve math equations and make pasta, but she can’t remember her favorite song or who she was before the accident. And when impossible things start happening, Raven begins to think it might even be better not to know who she was before.

But as she grows closer to her new friends, her foster sister, Max, and Tommy Torres, a guy who accepts her for who she is now, Raven has to decide if she’s ready to face what’s buried in the past…and the darkness building inside her.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Kami Garcia and first-time graphic novel artist Gabriel Picolo comes this riveting tale of finding the strength to face who you are and learning to trust others–and yourself.

This retains enough of Raven’s original origin story (I have no idea what her post-New 52 origin is) to satisfy me, but tailored for a contemporary (and YA) audience. It feels fresh, as if Garcia had created Raven herself. Of course, Daddy (un)Dearest is waiting in the wings for a reunion with his daughter, providing the lingering threat that leads to the assembling of the Titans (or, bringing the Titans Together! as one might say). This is, of course, assuming that Garcia is heading in a Wolfman-esque trajectory, it seems that way.

Slade Wilson’s also around in a vaguely menacing way, but we’re going to have to read further installments in this series to get a strong handle on why. It’s gotta be nefarious, because it’s Wilson.

Picolo’s art is nice and dynamic. It pretty much screams motion and youth. Don’t ask me to elucidate that, when it comes to visuals, all I can do is give vague impressions. But I dug it. Picolo’s not Pérez, but who is? I’m glad he didn’t try.

The fact that I didn’t throw this across the room in disgust says a lot for me, that I enjoyed it and am looking forward to Beast Boy says much more. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool fan or even just someone who likes non-Avengers/Justice League superheroes, you should give it a shot.

—–

3 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge

Stumptown, vol 1: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini) by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth: A solid noir in Rose City.

Stumptown, vol 1Stumptown, vol 1: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini)

by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth (Artist)
Series: Stumptown, #1

Hardcover, 159 pg.
Oni Press, 2011

Read: May 31, 2019

Small confession: while I’d heard of this comic, I wasn’t in any rush to read it. But then I saw the trailer for the ABC adaptation and pretty much had to. Glad I did, I have to say.

Dex Parios is a P.I. in Portland, OR; apparently is the guardian for her developmentally delayed (I’m not sure, just guessing) brother; and a very poor gambler. The latter lands her in a great deal of debt to the Confederated Tribes of the Wind Coast. Thankfully(?) the woman who runs her favorite casino is willing to exchange her debt for some P.I. work — her granddaughter is missing. Dex is a sloppy gambler, but isn’t stupid.

But this is no ordinary missing teen/young adult. As soon as Dex starts looking for her, she’s threatened away from the case, had the biggest gangster in the state (and probably then some) try to hire her as well (not instead of Grandma, just call him first), locked in her own trunk, shot (thankfully hitting the vest she had on under her clothes), and harassed (and lied to) by said gangster’s young adult kids. The danger and the second job offer convince Dex that she need to find the girl– and fast.

It’s a great story, a pretty murky beginning gets worse due to complications and narrative time jumps. The more you learn , the more you want to understand. The solution is quickly arrived at, but it takes a long time to get things in order. Things are tricky and Dex’s trying to keep everyone involved alive and maybe even (relatively speaking) honest.

I really liked it, but it felt…slim? As this collection is primarily about introducing the characters and world as well as telling the story, I’m not that annoyed by it. But I hope the next collection is more substantial (not much, but some).

Southworth’s art was fitting. It’s not the most gorgeous book ever, but it shouldn’t be. The word “noir” is the best one I can come up with — dark colors, lots of shadows, hard lines — it fits. It’s noir. It’s also very dynamic, there’s a good sense of motion to it. I can’t imagine better art for Rucka’s story.

Great characters, a good story, art that’s a perfect complement to both. This collection nails it. I’m coming back for more Dex and Stumptown.

—–

3.5 Stars

2019 Library Love ChallengeLetsReadIndie Reading Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge