I’ve liked a lot of Kevin VanHook’s comics over the years, so I was looking forward to “Battle for the Cowl: Oracle: The Cure.” John Ostrander and Kim Yale’s turning Barbara Gordon into the computer genius known as Oracle is one of the few revamps of a character over the years that has truly stuck, probably because she’s such a fun character. She’s headstrong, she’s smart, she can do more from her office than most heroes can do with multiple super-powers. So why, then, does Oracle come across as a slight idiot here?
The plot itself certainly doesn’t demand it, as Barbara Gordon (after breaking up the Birds of Prey) moves into a new run-down home and continues her own projects — most notably tracking down the anti-life equation, which Darkseid had unleashed across the internet during “Final Crisis.” VanHook brings Oracle’s nemesis Calculator as well as a Second Life virtual world knock off into the mix, and that’s where things surprisingly begin to fall apart.
It’s strange, because in strict outline form it seems perfectly reasonable with all the elements for a good comic about Oracle. But VanHook delivers exposition by making Oracle ignorant about things she should be the master of, and the reversal comes across as phony and fake. She also comes across surprisingly impotent here, unable to avert any sort of disaster and continually moping about getting paralyzed from the waist down in “Batman: The Killing Joke.” No doubt the latter has to do with the delivery of more exposition, but once again it feels clumsy and out of place. Oracle’s a tougher character and her wishing that perhaps she’d died in the attack is surprisingly bad.
Julian Lopez and Fernando Pasarin don’t help matters, either. I actually liked the opening splash page of Oracle rewiring her building’s electricity, but the book goes downhill from there, a lowest-common denominator level of “sexy” where Barbara’s got an extra button undone on her shirt while having dinner with her father. Worst of all, I don’t know who on the creative team to blame for three-quarters of a page involving Oracle stripping for the shower and then lathering up, but it comes across as crass and exploitative, something that’s impressive for a fictional character.
Some pieces do work, though. Calculator’s methodical planning and strategies come across really well, for example, and the scenes of him worrying about his daughter in the hospital are beautifully drawn. But every time we have a glimmer of hope, it’s followed up by Oracle (computer genius extraordinaire) having no idea who Charles Babbage was. Everyone on this book has produced better comics in the past, so I have no idea what made this one ultimately misfire so badly. It’s a shame, because it seemed like it would be so good.