Fans of Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, know the strengths of the character. Her determination, tough-mindedness and eidetic memory led her to be effervescent Batgirl in 1967, and then, after being shot by the Joker and confined to a wheelchair, the omniscient Oracle in 1989. She’s back to being Batgirl in current DC comics, but the time in the chair is still part of her history.
She’s an extraordinary character. You may have admired her, as I have. But you don’t really know Barbara Gordon until you read “The Oracle Code.” It’s written by Dutch author Marieke Nijkamp, a longtime advocate for the disabled who co-founded the We Need Diverse Books kids’ publishing organization. She’s also a New York Times bestselling author (“This Is Where It Ends,” “Before I Let Go”).
As a longtime Babs fan, I was stunned by “The Oracle Code.” Despite being a YA graphic novel, it hits home with insight and power to any age group.
Q: How did you come to write this book?
A: A few years ago, DC invited me to pitch something for their new YA line, and specifically suggested that I take on Barbara Gordon as Oracle. And as a disabled person, writing such an iconic disabled character was a dream come true!
Q: As a longtime Barbara Gordon reader, I assumed there were some hard times between the Joker’s attack (in “The Killing Joke”) and when she appeared as Oracle (in John Ostrander’s “Suicide Squad”). But the official canon doesn’t show much of them. In “The Oracle Code,” you write this unwritten story.
A: One of the reasons why I wanted to tell this particular story is exactly because main continuity doesn’t really show this side of Babs’ journey. There’s a bit of it in the wonderful “Oracle: Year One: Born of Hope” ... but even that story doesn’t necessarily engage with the disability side of things.
Q: In the early going of “Code,” Babs’ pain, anger and depression are written so vividly that sometimes, as a fan of the character, I had to put the book down to recover. How did you achieve this verisimilitude with such conviction?
A: I think it’s important to make a distinction between the emotions themselves and actual mental illnesses. So when I write these emotions, I try to allow room for them, to not shy away from potential negativity, but be honest about the experience. Of course, when it comes to mental illnesses like major depressive disorder or anxiety disorder or PTSD (which Babs deals with to some extent), there are additional facets to it. Clinical. Cultural. Societal.
Q: What were you trying to say about trauma/recovery in those scenes?
A: Trauma changes you, and the journey to recovery isn’t always easy, and that’s OK. It’s OK if you’re feeling angry, sad, afraid. It’s OK if you’re struggling to find yourself again. It’s OK if it takes time. But it’s important to keep going, and to find the people who will help you along the way.
Q: Your CV shows lots of stories spotlighting kids with disabilities. Did you see that as a need that should be filled, or was it just a natural outgrowth of your own experiences?
A: Both. Mainly the latter, but with full awareness of the former. When I grew up, there were very few books or comics (or media in general) that featured positive disabled role models. I knew I could do a small way to addressing it, based on my own experiences. Though it bears saying that I’m only one of many people doing that work, and disability representation needs to be inclusive across races, cultures, genders, before it’s realized.