Today, Ryan M. and Taylor are discussing Gotham Academy 10, originally released September 9, 2015.
Ryan: As the daughter of a high school teacher, I grew up seeing a lot of teens preforming Shakespeare. My dad wanted to support his students and I wanted to see people in costumes; it was a win-win. I saw a dozen of these amateur auditorium productions before I ever saw a professional one. When I was little, I didn’t always understand the language of the scene, and I certainly wasn’t grasping the deeper themes. What I was enthralled by, other than those fun costumes, was wondering about the actors. Were they friends in class? Were there romances? Which ones were nerds or cool kids? Because, while I didn’t always get Shakespeare, I watched a lot of Saved by the Bell. In this issue of Gotham Academy, there is a lot happening behind the scenes, but it is even more spooky than the time Zack and the gang went to the murder mystery house.
It is not all smoke and dusty light. There is one brief scene that breaks from the grey and blue palette of the rest of the issue. When Olive goes to the school counselor, we are thrown into a world of beige and browns, where sunlight and artificial light create a reality in which ghosts seem like the fantasy of a grieving girl. The change of the colors and elimination of the omnipresent gothic style allows for a adjustment in tone and questioning of the supernatural origin of the events in the theater. The counselor is not willing to engage with Olive about her mother in the way she wants. He doesn’t want her to continue her quest and in his office, his advice makes sense. He also doesn’t think it is healthy for her to participate in extra-curricular activities, which is a weird stance for a guidance counselor. The most obvious choice for a girl who wants to feel like her old self is to reengage in old behaviors, but maybe his agenda is not about Olive’s healing. He may be trying to protect her from the truth. Personally, I am disappointed in him because he doesn’t even try to find out what her mother is asking her to do. Given the orders that Katherine gets from her “Papa,” those directives should be a cause of concern.
Shakespeare’s plays have been performed, interpreted, re-imagined and quoted for centuries. This inherently has diminished the power of the words in some ways but there is a reason that his work has persevered. As soon as Mr. Tucker mentioned the Scottish Play while surrounded by a haze of smoke, I knew we were going to see some witches. I was not disappointed and one of the more compelling sequences of the issue was the dramatization of what it probably Macbeth’s most famous scene. Pomeline, Olive and Maps perform the famous incantation, and the murky fog pulls the speech together and lends a power to the moment. The possessed look in Olive’s eyes as she recites the ingredients breathes supernatural life into a speech that has been performed for generations.
Taylor: I wasn’t put off by the Shakespeare Showdown one bit actually. Throughout this series much of the supposedly scary and gothic has been undercut by a ironic sense of humor. Monsters and demons abound, sure, but a lot of the time they prove to be less fearful than the buildup would have you believe. In this case, the buildup of a demon lurking in the theater turns out to be more scary than the actual reveal of Clayface, who, as always, is defeated by simple water.
But I also understand where you’re coming from Ryan. Clayface is a pretty scary guy even if he turns out to be more bluster than brawn. Kerschl helps me remember how scary a shape-shifting villain can be when he shows me Clayface finally getting down to business after his little acting battle. In a delightfully frightful page, Kerschl skews the alignment of the panels on the page.
This throws everything off balance on the page and makes it disorienting in the same way as being punched by a clay monster is disorienting. The top two panels show me the fear of realizing Clayface will resort to violence. The middle panel, with his fist practically coming out of the page shows me his power. And the second to last panel gives me a terrifying look at what could be the last moments of MacPherson’s life on Earth. It’s an older trick, skewing the panels, but it checks out. It’s effective and each panel is evocative in different way, but each also reminds us that despite his fatal flaw, Clayface is a terrifying thespian.
In fact, throughout the issue Kerschl is on fire. Ryan, earlier you talked about that scene where Olive is in the guidance counselor’s office. You’re right about the color change and the tone it sets for the scene. However, there is one part of that scene that despite the beige overtones, manages to creep the hell out of me. It happens when Olive is talking about how her mother is saying “wicked things” to her. Spliced in between this panel and the previous one is a horrible eye.
I can only assume this eye belongs to Calamity and is a representation of the wicked things she’s saying to her daughter. The color scheme remains the same as in the rest of the scene – brown – but it’s darker and I feel in some ways, bloodier. What makes these set of panels effective for me is that they hint at the wicked things which are popping into Olive’s head. Leaving these things unsaid is a far better way of terrifying me than saying them out loud. It basically lets my imagination run wild to its darkest territories and that’s scarier than whatever could be said here. All of this is due to that one little panel in the center of the page. It’s so simple yet so effective – and I love (and also maybe terrified by) it. Perhaps for this reason alone I’m intrigued by the revelation that Calamity may still be alive because who knows just what terrible things she is capable of.
Both of the pages discussed so far have really just been an examination of how to effectively use space. Earlier in the issue when the girls are investigating the theater in search of clues leading to the ghost, Kerschl and Cloonan use one page to show us whole lot of information.
You don’t have to read through the page to get a sense of how much information there is on the page. Just look at all of those speech bubbles – 21 in all! How all of those fit on the page and much more even make sense is nothing short of amazing to me. In the second panel there’s even an overlapping conversation! At no point, however, does this page break down and not make sense. I could see how other people might be miffed at such a cramped page, but I for one appreciate how much there is in such a small amount of space. Monthlies always have the issue of space working against them so I always enjoy seeing artists do their best given the circumstances. This is one of those cases and something I think even Shakespeare himself would find pleasing.
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?