Diametrically Opposed: Oracle / Calculator
Diametrically Opposed is a series exploring the best hero-villain rivalries in the DC Universe.
There are hundreds of heroes and at least as many villains populating the DC Universe, and as the world both in and out of the comic continuity grows more interconnected, so too do those characters. Associations, allegiances, and other such alliances are formed, and the growing communities of heroes and villains increasingly require support to coordinate the efforts of their massive numbers. On each side of the moral spectrum there exists a character whose access to and skill in processing, interpreting, and disseminating knowledge puts them at the centre of each group’s central nervous system.
They are the DCU’s elusive information brokers: Oracle, and her arch-nemesis the Calculator.
Originally, Barbara Gordon is the biological daughter of Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon. After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, he is retconned as her uncle, who becomes her adoptive father following the deaths of her parents. Moving to Gotham City, a young Barbara becomes fascinated by the city’s vigilante protector the Batman, eventually joining him and Robin by becoming Batgirl. In addition to her incredible athleticism, Barbara proved herself to be a capable detective, thanks in part to her training in information and library science (in which she holds a Ph.D.), as well as highly-advanced computer skills.
In The Killing Joke, the Joker attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon to madness by attacking his family. Barbara is shot in the stomach – the bullet passing through her spine, paralyzing her. No longer able to function as Batgirl, she adopts the moniker of Oracle; an elusive digital presence and information broker to the superhero community. As Oracle, her already formidable computer and informational skills are more clearly seen to be the result of a genius-level intellect as well as a photographic memory. For a time, she was infected by the Brainiac virus, which enabled her to physically interface with any technology. Despite being unable to use her legs, Oracle remains a fierce hand-to-hand combatant, proficient in many forms of weaponry including the use of various firearms. In the New 52, Oracle regains the use of her legs and becomes Batgirl again.
Oracle’s constant and pervasive online presence makes her an invaluable asset of the superhero community, frequently assisting Batman as well as other individual heroes when they require her technological prowess. She is the founder of the Birds of Prey, an all-female team of superheroes who act as field agents for Oracle. Additionally, she has been a member of the Suicide Squad, Batman Incorporated, and the Justice League.
Noah Kuttler, aka the Calculator, first appeared in 1976 in Detective Comics #463. He was depicted as an intelligent, but relatively low-level thief whose computerized costume could record and analyze the battle tactics of his opponents, calculating their every move so that he could never be defeated by the same hero twice. Though the suit did, in fact, work, there were so many different heroes active that there was always one he had not yet faced, meaning that he was constantly defeated and sent to prison.
Abandoning direct conflict with the superhero community, the Calculator positioned himself in the role of consultant to the world’s supervillains. For a fee, he would provide them with information, equipment, and tactical advice, making each villainous client far more capable than they would be on their own, though he often manipulates other villains for his own designs. He possesses a genius-level intellect, and is a master strategist and tactician, as well as an inventor and a technological savant. He is an obsessive-compulsive, and his fixation on discovering the true identity of Oracle – a feat he has come close to achieving on multiple occasions – is rooted in his need for access to any and all knowledge.
The Calculator has been a member of different incarnations of the Secret Society of Super-Villains and the Fearsome Five, and is the creator of the Unternet – a villainous sub-level of the Internet through which various criminal organizations could communicate and share information unbeknownst to arch-supervillains Libra and Darkseid.
Of any arch-enemy pairing, Oracle and the Calculator are the most similar. Both are technological geniuses who began their careers as physical agents of good and evil. When they were no longer able to compete on the physical plane, they turned their talents to the strategic, tactical side of that battle. That said, the significance of that transition could not be more different between them.
Oracle represents a rebirth of Barbara Gordon after being crippled by the Joker. She had, up until that point, been defined as Batgirl, an eminently capable component of Batman’s crime-fighting family and something she was no longer able to be. Becoming Oracle was an act of defiance; a refusal to let her physical disability define her as useless. She found a way to be as capable a member of the hero community as she ever was – perhaps even more so. The Calculator, by contrast, was born out of failure. He was incapable of taking on his adversaries himself, so he re-positioned himself as the puppet master, forcing others into the fights he could not win. Where Oracle is a definition of courage – both physically and mentally – the Calculator is a coward, shrinking away from direct combat and hiding behind his new role as the man behind the curtain.
But the most significant difference between them is their relationship to knowledge. Oracle is trained in library science, a fact whose significance cannot be overstated. It is an extensive multi-disciplinary field focused on various theories and practices pertaining to the collection, archiving, and dissemination of knowledge. That training is evident is Oracle’s approach to information brokering. She works for free, assisting any hero with any cause. She provides as much information and technical support as she can, including alerting allies and coordinating various heroic efforts. The information she provides is not hers to possess and distribute, but rather she is the one most capable of disseminating it.
Where the Calculator differs is that he is less of a conduit of information and more of a gatekeeper. Firstly, he charges for the information he provides. His fee fluctuates but at one point is is mentioned as being a thousand dollars per question. The Calculator’s power comes from the manner in which he releases the information in his possession. The transactional nature of the exchange already creates an unbalanced power dynamic, but more important is the fact that the exchange of funds does not guarantee access to all of the relevant information. He may give out information to others, but it isn’t out of a desire to help them. He controls it piece by piece, monitoring who knows what and when they know it. If knowledge is power, then the Calculator ensures that he is the only person holding all of the cards – no one else can be as powerful as he is if they are missing pieces of the puzzle. His brand of assistance is in reality a consolidation of power.
The superhero community is strengthened by Oracle’s brokerage of information; they are made cohesive through the open dissemination of knowledge and skills. By contrast, the Calculator strengthens individual villains through the assistance he grants, but with every move also serving as an act of manipulation what he is really doing is undermining the stability of the wider supervillain community.
In essence, the dichotomy between Oracle and the Calculator boils down to accessibility versus control, and though these two have rarely encountered each other face-to-face, their rivalry is instrumental in exposing the vastly different team dynamics between heroes and villains.