Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing Gotham Academy 7, originally released June 10th, 2015.
Aren’t you two just the most precious, holding hands like that?!
Drew: There are few experiences in life more alien than navigating your first crush. Fairytales and Disney movies insure that we’re all familiar with the idea of romance long before we ever feel those feelings ourselves, which makes them all the more bizarre when they start happening. With so much of childhood filled with understanding our emotions, it’s almost cruel that we’re thrown a totally new one just as we enter the most awkward stage of our lives. Indeed, that we don’t know how to process those feelings is exactly we tend to be so bad about acting on them, pulling pigtails or standing sheepishly at the middle school dance. It takes a while for kids to gain the confidence to push past that awkward confusion. Unless, of course, you’re Maps Mizoguchi, in which case a magic quill will take care of that for you.
Of course, Maps may not have identified her interest in Damian Wayne as a crush, per se — she just thinks he’d be a valuable asset to the team — but the “it was you all along” ending makes it seem like her mysteries may be a cover for her just wanting to hold hands. And you can see why. Through Maps’ adventure-worshipping eyes, Damian is nothing short of a demigod, quick with a saving throw and equipped with grapple guns and batarangs. It’s enough to make any preteen swoon (I know I would have thought Damian was the coolest), even with Damian’s detached coldness.
Actually, Damian’s too-cool-for-school attitude makes him the perfect foil for Maps, who has never worried in her life about looking cool. In that way, they kind of represent different sides of the puberty rubicon — Maps is endearingly disinterested in looking cool, while Damian couldn’t be more obsessed with seeming the mature adult. No moment embodies this more than their basically opposite reactions to Damian’s grapple gun.
Damian’s attitude couldn’t be more pragmatic — the grapple gun is an everyday tool used to help him in this everyday situation. Maps, on the other hand, retreats into a full-on daydream at the sight of a real life grapple gun. Note the imagery artist Mingjue Helen Chen employs for that fantasy, all hearts and Disney wedding. Hilariously, it’s not Damian she’s fantasizing about, but his grapple gun. Maybe she can’t confront her feelings about Damian, maybe she’s only after his cool stuff, or maybe she’s just not that into him.
All of these are valid reads, but that question mark at the end of the adventure — that maybe they were choosing to hold hands — only works if we believe there might actually be a connection there. Honestly, they’re young enough that thinking each other is cool might be the most we could hope for, but then Damian goes and throws himself on a grenade to protect Maps from being expelled. It’s such an uncharacteristically selfless act for Damian, I’m honestly not sure how to interpret it. Does he care about Maps? Does it seem like the cool thing to do? Did he simply see a way out of having to attend boarding school? I hope this isn’t the last we see of him, because I’d love to explore any of these ideas.
Chen is a great fit for this issue — her style exudes Map’s youthful energy — but I found myself confused from time to time. Sequences like Damian saving Mr. Scarlett don’t quite come across clearly. We don’t fully understand that Eric Jorgensen is attacking Mr. Scarlett, so we can’t understand that Damian is saving him. Add to that the fact that both are dark-haired boys in identical uniforms, and I honestly wasn’t sure who tackled who or why until pages later. I wouldn’t call it particularly characteristic of her work — her characters are generally expressive enough to keep us locked in the moment — but it was enough to pull me out of the story.
Taylor, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this issue. As a teacher, I’m sure you’ve seen more awkward first crushes than I could even imagine — did Maps’ approach ring true to you? Does Damian actually like her? He gave her the batarang. The batarang. That’s got to mean something, right?
Taylor: I think the gift of a batarang is nothing to scoff at. It’s easy to forget given that Batman and company usually use to batarangs as blunt force objects, but they take their design from boomerangs. This is to say, when they’re not busy busting up criminals, batarangs return to the person who threw it. I feel like the giving of the batarang by Damian insinuates that Damian will return to Maps just the same way a thrown batarang returns to the person who threw it.
Looking at the panel where the batarang is given further leads me to believe that there is something more than puppy love between Damien and Maps. When the batarang is handed off, we see a close up of our protagonists hands.
Looking at each hand, you see that the index fingers of both Damien and Maps are extended slightly toward each other. This reminds me of my own forays into the brutal world of love because it perfectly captures the moment of “almost.” This is the moment where you feel like you can make you move, but for whatever reason (usually an awkward self-doubt) you fail to pull the trigger. How many of us went through the experience of almost grabbing the hand of someone we like but didn’t because we we’re shy? This panel perfectly captures that moment. One move from either of them and they could be holding hands. What makes this moment even better is that Maps and Damian have been holding hands for the entire issue. However, if they were to hold hands now it would be entirely different because there would be no excuse of magic keeping them together.
There are other aspects of the artwork in this issue that I simply adore. Throughout the first third of the issue, Chen imbues each scene with a great mix of light and shadow. It’s hard to capture just how cool this effect is without looking at a full page. In this case, it’s the second page of the issue.
There’s a lot going on with the lighting in this page. First, I love how the light plays off of the characters and the objects in the room to create depth in each panel. Each thing or character has one side of their body illuminated in a bright, afternoon light that sets the mood of the school so well. You get the idea that Gotham Academy is an old building which suffers from a lack of proper lighting due to its archaic design. Subsequently, people rely on natural light to drive away the darkness. Gotham Academy is supposed to be a title about a mysterious school and the reminder that it is set in a creepy, old building helps to create the appropriate mood for this title. Think Harry Potter crossed with Batman.
The second thing I like about the lighting is that it helps to tell us about our primary characters in the issue. Compare how well lit Maps is in the first panel to how Damian is covered in shadow in the fourth. Maps is a sunny, happy-go-lucky person and it only seems natural that she would be bathed in sunshine. Meanwhile, Damian is brooding and dark, and shadow is the natural fit for a character of such disposition. While most readers are already familiar with these characters in some manner, I appreciate how the lighting helps tell us who they are before either of them even says a word.
And yes, the relationship between are two heroes is so incredibly accurate of what I see in the middle school students I teach. For them, dating is something you do not necessarily because you like someone but because it’s a way to stand out as cool. Ask any of them what they do with their boyfriend or girlfriend and most can’t go further beyond eating lunch together. That being said, I enjoy how realistic the interaction between Damian and Maps is even though they are undergoing a zany adventure. The appeal of each to other is there, but they may not be sure exactly why. Hopefully we get to see them explore that some more in upcoming issues because it promises to be more than your average Disney romance.
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?