Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Comic Critique: Gotham Academy

Gotham Academy is DC Comic’s most risky book. Its main characters are two teenage high school girls with no powers. Its setting is in an aging private school.  However, this turns out to be its greatest strength.  Gotham Academy feels different from any other comic DC Comics, or any other major publisher, is putting out.  Where Gotham Central years ago gave us a view of how the average police officer sees life in a Gotham City in the shadow of Batman, Gotham Academy shows us how various children live in Gotham.  There is the fangirl who is amazed at the chance to see Batman, there is the prankster who wants to get away from a dangerous situation as quickly as possible, and there is the angsty teen who hates living under the constant light of the Bat Signal.  

Hope you survive the experience.

The popular Harry Potter series had magical school of Hogwarts which trained young witches and wizards so that they could have the skills necessary to survive in the world of magic.  Gotham Academy is the Hogwarts of Gotham City, but instead of learning spells, you learn how to survive the scary streets of Gotham.  Classes are held on the history of Gotham and the mysteries of the Cobblepot family.   The professors at the academy all appear to be much more than your average instructor.  Almost all of them carry a name that is an homage to a classic minor hero.   The librarian Mr. Scarlett could be a wink towards Golden Age Fawcett Comics (the company that published the original Captain Marvel, now known as Shazam, books) hero Mr. Scarlet who was a human crimefighter who used gadgets like Batman.  The drama teacher Mr. Trent is almost certainly a reference to Simon Trent, the Batman: TAS Gray Ghost (voiced terrifically by Adam West), and even makes a reference that he has experience playing a “ghost.”  Who better to teach the youths of Gotham than those who have fought to protect it?

Gotham Academy does an amazing job of presenting that the wild imagination creates instances that can be horrifying.  Each issue, Olive and Maps come into a Scooby-Doo situation where some monster is on the loose, but they discover the truth of the misdirection and breathe a sigh of relief. Except when they don’t, and they really DO run into creatures of darkness and magic.  The amazing thing is that with her mysterious past and parentage, Olive feels more fear from the potential horrors than the actual monsters before her.  Maps seems unable to feel fear and rushes wide-eyed with reckless abandon spouting references to tabletop gaming and RPGs.

Ruh-roh, Shaggy! A mystery is afoot!

The primary character we follow is Olive Silverlock.  She is in her second year at Gotham Academy and experienced some sort of traumatic event over the summer break.  All she remembers is a fire and Batman being there, a fact that causes her to resent Batman and anything that represents him.  Olive has shut out her friends and become much colder, but her best friend, Maps, won’t leave her alone and slowly brings out her playful, curious side that cannot resist a mystery.  Olive shows more bravery than any other character in the series. She stares intently into the eyes of a mutated murderer. She runs directly in front of a cult of summoners. She grabs a ghost by the throat for flying outside her dorm window and scaring her roommate.  However, while Olive does care about people, as seen by her remorse that her roommate doesn’t feel comfortable with her anymore or her complicated relationship with Pomeline Fritch, she struggles to relate and build a friendship with them. 

Olive takes the cautious approach,
Maps thinks about stats and crits.

Her best friend and sidekick, Mia “Maps” Mizoguchi is an excitable and hyperactive freshman at Gotham Academy.  Maps runs into crazy situations and looks for adventure. She loves gaming and treats life as a spelunking journey.  She is naïve, especially concerning Olive, but is a trusting and loving friend who will not leave people in need. She also has the coolest shirt ever, reading "Crit Plz" and designed with a large die.  Maps even has a run-in with a new student at the academy, one Damian Wayne, and matches him in wild activities during the crossover.  The door is left open for further interactions between the two, which would be more than welcome, as their chemistry was positively perfect. 

Maps is mesmerized by the adventure

The mystery behind what happened to Olive over the summer drives the narrative, but ultimately, you just want to see how this group of students reacts.  The writing makes you feel that you are watching a typical high school drama with monster mysteries, like a melding of 90210 and iZombie.  Or basically Buffy the Vampire Slayer, without the super strength and fight sequences.  The series is a slow burn fan’s dream, with it methodically piling new material towards each of the plot threads while having a satisfying single issue mystery in most of its initial 8 issues, except in the Endgame one-shot, where it forgoes the standard narrative to instead show us the girls together in the auditorium while the Joker’s crazed plot rages against Gotham. The girls are not scared about the Joker-ized civilians breaking in and harming them, they instead tell their own ideas of the Joker’s origin as scary stories.

Maps is wild and crazy, Olive is cold and calculating.
The perfect duo.

 The art is a consistent treat, with Karl Kerschl doing wonderful work making the characters have a human feel while having cartoonishly exaggerated features and the colorists bringing the art to vibrant life.  The writing is tightly held together by Becky Cloonan, who was formerly known primarily for her artistic abilities and was the first woman ever to do the art for an entire issue of the Batman series, and Brendan Fletcher, who also writes the fantastically and unabashedly fun current run of Batgirl. 

You can't have a book in Gotham without
at least ONE appearance from billionaire Bruce Wayne.

An excellent sense of fun, friendship and adventure coats the theme of wonder in this book.  Gotham Academy is a solid and unique type of comic in today’s market with a mystery that should not be passed over. 

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Look into previous Comic CritiquesAngela: Asgard's Assassin, American Born Chinese, Thor: Goddess of Thunder, and Marvel's The Black Vortex

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