Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Longbox Junk - Oracle: The Cure

Welcome to another Longbox Junk Rescue Review!

These are older reviews I wrote under contract to a very popular (and still existing) comic site that shall not be named.  These days, they can be kindly described as a comic "related" site.  Most of these "Rescue Reviews" I've pulled from their hard to access and navigate archives.  THIS review is a little different in that it was a REJECTED review (for being too long and too negative), so it's basically pulled from my own archives.

This review has always sort of stuck with me because it was the beginning of the end of my writing comic reviews for pay.  To make a long story short, this review garnered me a rare phone call from one of the editors, who informed me that it was okay to write negative reviews about lower-tier publishers and fringe projects (such as First Wave), but in order for the site to keep getting exclusive previews and so on, going forward I needed to keep any reviews of "The Big Two" comics starring major characters positive. . .even with older material.

Needless to say, I didn't like being told to basically lie in order for the site to stay on the good side of comic publishers.  On the other hand, I WAS getting paid to read and write about comic books for a major comic site!  So I tossed this one in a hole and reluctantly toed the line for about another year until something else happened that  made me quit entirely.  But THAT'S another story!  

Enough about ME. Let's get into a bit of intro and background for the review at hand. . .

I really liked Oracle as a character. She was one of the more unusual mainstream comic characters out there. . .being a former superhero (Batgirl) that was paralyzed in a horrific attack by the Joker (in the classic Batman: The Killing Joke), but came to terms with her disability and became a behind-the-scenes information source, an incredible support for other heroes, and the leader of her own team (The Birds of Prey).

Oracle was a great representation of how being a hero doesn't necessarily mean wearing a costume and swinging from the rooftops, and was a great example to readers like my daughter of a powerful female character who didn't have to throw a single punch to be a complete bad@$$.

I won't get into it, for the sake of blowing this intro into something much longer than the review itself (and honestly, just thinking about it sort of makes me a little angry), but I feel that DC made a BIG mistake in taking such a great character as Oracle off their roster just to have Barbara Gordon being Batgirl again in the New 52.

BUT. . .

That doesn't have anything to do with this mini, which is pre-New 52.

It's a tie in to the "Battle For The Cowl" event, where the world thought Batman was dead after the events of the ironically-named "Final Crisis" and everyone was trying to figure out who was going to replace Batman, or if he even COULD be replaced or SHOULD be replaced.

THAT SAID. . .

Oddly enough, this mini has absolutely NOTHING to do with "Battle for The Cowl", and barely references it at all. It is ACTUALLY more of a follow up from Final Crisis itself, as the story picks up from events directly involving Final Crisis. . .namely, the Calculator's daughter being in the hospital on death's door and the Calculator trying to assemble a version of the "Anti-Life Equation" that was used by Darkseid in Final Crisis to save her.  

I'm not sure what the reasoning was behind having a Battle for The Cowl tie-in that's actually an epilogue to Final Crisis. . .an entirely different event. . .was, but I'm sure it's an interesting story.

ANYWAY. . .

What I'm trying to say is:  If you aren't familiar with the events of Final Crisis, then you will have a hard time understanding what is going on in this mini. The story directly references Final Crisis and it assumes you have knowledge of all the characters on deck. There is no real introduction to any of them and you are basically dumped right into the story. . .and it's not a very simple story.

In other words: Fair Warning. . .This mini is NOT for the casual comic reader. 

Let's do it!

ORIGINAL INTRO:

Welcome to a "Battle For The Cowl" tie in that's ACTUALLY a "Final Crisis" epilogue.

Wait. . .What?

On a re-read for this review, I have the same opinion as I originally did, so except for some pictures, the new intro, and a bit of spit shine, I've left the review pretty much as first written.

ORACLE: THE CURE
DC (2009)

SCRIPTS: Kevin Vanhook
PENCILS: Julian Lopez & Fernando Pasarin
COVERS: Guillem March

ISSUE 1
Home Again, Home Again


Holy Rack-oly! How about that cover?
It's nicely done and eye-catching to say the least, but I'm not sure it's entirely safe for work. . .

But that's the cover.  Let's look inside and see what we've got here. . .

Honestly, it's a bit of a mess. Not only because it's basically an epilogue to Final Crisis when it's advertised as being part of Battle for The Cowl, but because it's just sort of a mess. 

It tries to mix the virtual world and the real world so that a character who spends most of her heroic moments behind a keyboard can be seen in her element. Unfortunately, scenes of people sitting around tapping keyboards aren't awesome, so they have to find ways to get Oracle out and about.

They do that by showing her undressing for a shower. . .and having angry bo stick practice in her sports bra. . .and how about that cover again?  And those are just the "highlights".  They REALLY make an effort to sexualize Oracle in this series. It's a bit distracting and frankly a bit uncomfortable to see such a strong character reduced to PG-13 shower scenes.

Why, DC?

That aside, the lack of needed background to the convoluted story of the Calculator trying to save his daughter by assembling a version of the Anti-Life Equation online and testing it on computer hackers until he gets it right makes this comic EXTREMELY new reader unfriendly. 

It all just makes one wonder why this mini exists in the first place. The art isn't bad, the writing isn't bad, but it just seems like there's no real justification for the existence of this story.

Was there a demand for a Final Crisis epilogue for The Calculator?  And why do it in a Battle for The Cowl tie in?  For that matter. . .if this is a Battle for The Cowl tie in, then why is it barely referenced at all beyond a couple of throwaway lines while Barbara has dinner with her father, Commissioner Gordon?

All in all, this mini confuses me. I like it because I like Oracle, but is this the Oracle I like?

ISSUE 2
Big Trouble In Hong Kong

If you thought the cover to issue one was a "bit exploitative", the cover to issue two definitely borders on NSFW.

And once again, the overt sexualization of Oracle continues inside. Okay. . .I like to look at pictures of sexy women just like any other normal guy. That said, they seem to be going out of their way here. Within the first few pages, Oracle is assaulted and threatened with rape. Shortly after, her new hacker buddies are commenting on her nice wet shirt look. Then there's that cover. . .and so on and so forth.

 Barbara Gordon being sexy is okay.  It's okay to say that just because someone is in a wheelchair, that doesn't mean they can't still be attractive. But do we really need to be constantly hit on the head with it?

Oracle is supposed to be saving people from a virtual threat reaching out into the real world. . .Is how sexy she is really important to the story at all? It's really starting to look like fan service of the wrong kind.

ANYWAY. . .

The glaringly overt sexualization of the main character aside, this issue suffers from the same problems as the first. The main problem being that it's an epilogue to a different "event" than the one advertised on the cover and it isn't really explained what exactly the Calculator is trying to do, how he's trying to do it, or why he thinks it will work.

Short Version: He's making a virtual recreation of the Anti-Life Equation and testing it online on hackers he is luring before cutting crystals to the specification he discovers in order to re-create the Equation in the real world.

It doesn't help that the story is very convoluted and it's never really explained how the Calculator can reach out from the internet to kill people in the real world.

Just. . .reasons?

The writing and art are still good. . .an interesting paradox. . .how can the separate parts be good, but the combination be bad? Of note is a fantastic double page spread of Oracle's avatar moving through the virtual lattice framework of the internet. It's just an awesome piece of art! 



Now THAT'S the Oracle I want to see more of. Not Barbara Gordon laying in a Hong Kong Alley being threatened by leering would-be rapists.  I'm glad that Oracle finally got a solo series, but the character deserves better than this.

AND FINALLY. . .

ISSUE 3
A Matter of Anti-Life or Death



The good news is they toned down the cover a bit from "borderline NSFW". 
The bad news is that they toned it down to "Busty pulp damsel in distress".

Thank God this mini was only 3 issues. The ending is basically a "to be continued" setup for further events in the DCU, and the journey through the rest of the issue to get to that weak ending is a hot mess.

Oracle confronts the Calculator in cyberspace and defeats him. . .then confronts him in the real world and it's shown that the effects of their avatars battling on the internet has affected the Calculator in real life. How? Nobody knows! Anti-Life Equation. . .reasons!

The ending was a real downer. No happy ending here. Calculator was just trying to help his daughter. He ends up in prison. His daughter ends up paralyzed. Oracle has this mini hanging around her neck like a sexy albatross. Calculator doesn't win.  Oracle doesn't win. The reader doesn't win.

Nobody wins.

Okay, okay. . .it wasn't ALL bad. 

They toned down the sexualization in this issue and showed Oracle as a hero fighting in her own element. The characterization was better this time around.  Oracle is depicted as a hero on her own terms. No Birds of Prey. . .no Bat-Family. I also liked that it touched in several places on the events of "Killing Joke", where she was shot and paralyzed years before, giving some nice continuity.

CONCLUSION

A convoluted story, awkward sexualization of Oracle, a downer ending based on unexplained powers suddenly showing up, and a basic lack of justification for the existence of this mini at all overshadow the few good points present.

I wouldn't really suggest this mini to anybody new to comics or new to the character of Oracle as any sort of introduction. It's definitely "in-crowd" only on this one.  For that matter, I won't even recommend it for the "in-crowd".

At the end of it all, it's just a confusing mess that really shouldn't exist.  For a fan of Oracle such as myself, it's a wasted opportunity for a great character and a damn shame.

Next up. . .

Travel with me back to 1994 and remember the wonderful world of anger, crossbows, and clenched teeth that USED to be The Huntress when she was DC's answer to The Punisher! DC's The Huntress 4 issue mini.

 Be there or be square!