Suzanne: A few years ago, I lost interest in reading literature about teenagers and coming-of-age stories. Maybe I read books like Catcher In the Rye too many times in high school. Or when I hit my mid-twenties, I could finally get up on my soap box about how youth-obsessed American culture can be without feeling (too) hypocritical.
Then Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Young Avengers shook up my perspective, proving that the right creative team can sell almost any genre. Since then, books like Batgirl and Gotham Academy are (soon to be) mainstays on my pull list. Relationship drama? Impulsive heroes? Hipster fashion? Check. Check. Check. I’m hoping that Gotham Academy can maintain its unique tone without lapsing into a paint-by-numbers romantic drama.
Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher pack this issue full of world building and character motivations. Olive stays up late at night reading the Diary of Mary Jean Cobblepot, which features some unsettling themes about death. Then she spots from her window some mysterious caped and masked figures running off into the night. These opening pages set a foreboding, slightly eerie tone for an issue filled with secrets. The next morning in class, Professor McPherson assigns Olive and Pomeline to do a class project together because they’re, like, practically besties at this point. Insert a few panels of Pomeline insulting Olive and calling her various names, making pointed references to her summer break and generally being a bitch. Pomeline accomplishes all this during gasps for air, having a steamy make out session with some dude named Heathcliff. Heathcliff, like the character from Wuthering Heights? Is that meant to be a bit on the nose?
In the lunchroom later, Olive dodges Kyle and (to a lesser extent) Maps by trying to sit at what looks like the loners’ table. When Kyle tries to confront her directly, she abandons lunch entirely and meets up with Pomeline in the library. There we meet an eccentric librarian named Mr. Scarlett who feels like he could be closely related to Mr. Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While most of us ladies would call it daydreaming, Olive freaks out when she has a vision/flashback of a cute-looking blonde guy in the library stacks. Pomeline becomes more engrossed in their class project when she discovers plans for a cemetery behind the supposedly-haunted North Hall. She steals Olive’s book and bails on her.
What would a teen drama be without some overly complicated romance? Olive crushes on Kyle as he plays tennis, only he’s unaware of her presence as she hides behind the bleachers. Professor McPherson pops by for a chat, encouraging Olive to tell Kyle directly about her summer break that readers seem to know so much about. When Olive returns to her room, she and Maps follow the masked figures back to the Cobblepot Crypt where they interrupt some cult ritual. Olive steals back the book from what turns out to be Pomeline and Heathcliff; she looks powerful and almost supernatural surrounded by flames.
This installment didn’t quite hold the same charm as the first issue for me. My favorite element so far (i.e. Olive and Maps’ relationship) took a backseat to Olive’s brooding and her summer-that-shall-not-be-named. As Spencer mentioned last month, I can’t quite connect with Olive’s struggle and feelings of alienation without knowing more about her story. I’m also cautious about Olive’s lack of assertiveness in her relationship with Kyle. Didn’t teen readers get enough of that with Bella Swan? (Sorry Twilight fans.)
Taylor, what did you think about that last panel? Any predictions about Olive’s backstory? Was I being too impatient about letting the mystery unfold?
Taylor: That last panel must have something to do with Olive’s origins what with the climatic phrase “After all…I am my mother’s daughter.” At this point it’s hard to tell if the flames are being controlled by Olive or if they’re simply there for effect. In either case the effect is that we can’t help but speculate on just who and/or what Olive is. This being the Batman universe and all, my money is on her being the daughter or relative of some well-known Batman antagonist. While the above panel does indeed make it seem as if she’s harboring some sort of power, there are other factors which make me believe this as well. There’s that whole missing and mysterious summer thing, there’s the frequent allusions to her mother, and of course there is the way she physically looks different from her classmates. All of these combined point toward an origin of dubious repute.
What makes this speculation so fun of course is that Olive is only a teenager. Teenagers are by all accounts the real-life equivalent of fictional Batman villains. They’re rude, obnoxious, and may just be destroying the country. Lest you think I’m being hyperbolic, just witness what we’ve have seen in the pages of this issue. Essentially, everyone is a jerk or at least the very least catty with everyone they come into contact with. Aside from Olive’s self-absorption (a true hallmark of the adolescent) the only genuine and heartfelt interactions we get are between Olive and Maps. All of this angst and drama makes it hard to tell who really is evil and who is not, if such a thing exists in this school. When our baseline for morality is based on people who enjoy holding seances in crypts in the middle of the night, determining if Olive is of evil origin or not becomes a little difficult.
Simply put, I love all of this drama. I think it makes for fun story that is made all the better because of the wonderful backdrop it is painted on. The art of Karl Kerschl illuminates this backdrop, Gotham Academy, quite well with a manga-inspired design. However, what really steals the show for me is the color work of Geyser. Where this title could easily be dusky and brooding, Geyser boldly chooses to make it bright. A fine example of this comes when we are introduced to the library in a horizontal panel.
Instead of Gothic inspired lighting, which would have been the obvious choice, Geyser chooses to illuminate the scene with some wonderful sunset rays. In particular, I love how the light curls around the owl in the center of panel, giving us a grand impression of a brilliant sunset. It’s a tiny detail, but it makes the academy seem like a magical, welcoming place. While some might feel this belies the mysterious nature of a place inspired by Gotham, my feeling is that it opens up the environment to more possibilities.
Of course should one prefer the gloom of the dark and the macabre, Geyser has you covered as well. When Maps and Olive sneak into the haunted graveyard they find a crypt open with chanting coming from below. As they make their way into the fire-lit tomb, the darkness of night recedes behind them.
The glow of this fire in the top of the panel is so nice and warm, and the softness of the orange has us basically feeling the warmth of the flame-generated lights. It’s a stark contrast to the frosted blue of the night. The two colors, this orange and blue, play off of each other very well and create a page that is darn aesthetically pleasing. As our protagonists move downstairs Geyser also displays some nifty shadow work on our heroes and the floors. All in all this attention to detail makes the art in this book incredibly appealing.
What this means for the comic in general is that despite any reservations one may have about teen dramas, it’s worth the read. It’s pretty to look at and the underlying mystery of our main character and the setting are enough to keep even the most skeptical DC fan interested.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?