Gotham Academy 10

gotham academy 10

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.

The issues starts with Olive and Pomeline escaping from a burning building. Though they are safe, the smoke creeps through the first few pages, creating an ambiance of gothic danger. The smudged coloring provided by Serge Lapointe and cover artist MSASSYK provide a fantastic backdrop for the scene. Our first impression of Katherine lets us know that she is part of the mayhem. Karl Kerschi angles the image from below her, giving her an imposing stance, despite her small stature. She emerges from the smoke and speaks in the kind of short declarative sentences that one would expect from a school girl possessed with the spirit of a villain. Kerschi also gives her large black smudges in place of eyes in that first panel. Her spookiness goes unnoticed by Mr. Trent and the rest of the student body, but by giving us this image on the second page, the creative team injects a dramatic irony to the events of the issue. Clayface Noface

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.

Overall, I enjoyed the issue’s use of Macbeth as a backdrop for a revenge story with gothic overtones, but there was one panel that had a weird tonal issue. When the gang is investigating Katherine’s clay lair, a half-melted Katherine jumps out and growls at Olive and Maps, who understandably scream. ClayKatherine then oozes out the window. In the next panel, Pomeline is pulling back the curtain where a CLAY MONSTER JUST WAS HIDING and says “um hey you might want to take a look at this.” What? Why are you playing this so cool, Pomeline? Your friends just screamed because a monster was in this room. Maybe, it was not supposed to be the same room, but the abrupt change from “Holy Moley that is a monster” to “oh look what I found” was jarring enough that I reread the pages several times trying to see if I missed something. The red curtain is in both panels, but maybe Pomeline is in another part of the attic and didn’t notice the screaming or the clay monster. It felt clunky and not worth the pay off. The page had me engaged with a monster reveal and lost it for a bad guy’s stalker wall.
The final confrontation between the blowhard director and Clayface is a Shakespeare quote-off. Since these men are driven by ego and self important theater training, it makes total sense that their battle is not with weapons but with dramatic delivery of quotes. The pretentious nature of this showdown undercut the potential horror of the moment and I’m not sure how I feel about the injection of such a silly thing in an issue that otherwise played it straight.
Taylor, how did you feel about the Bardic battle? And what about the more long term mystery- are you invested in Olive’s mother apparent resurrection?

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.

Slightly Askew

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.

The Evil 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.

Lot O' Bubbles

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?


One comment on “Gotham Academy 10

  1. This wasn’t my favorite issue of Gotham Academy — trying to make this a one-and-done means that a lot of the storytelling seams and tricks in the writing are a lot more obvious than usual — but I still loved it a lot. Clayface’s act-off gives him a lot more personality than he usually has, and Katherine is pretty much the team repurposing one of my greatest childhood tragedies, the character of “Annie” from Batman the Animated Series. She’s the little girl Robin (Tim Drake) falls in love with in the episode “Growing Pains,” only to find out that she’s an amnesiac offshoot of Clayface. He can only watch helplessly as she’s reabsorbed by Clayface and lost forever, and at the end, as Gordon’s listing Clayface’s crimes and asks “anything else?”, Robin replies with “Yeah, murder.” and the episode just closes on this kid’s misery. It broke my little middle-school heart. I hope Katherine’s fate is far kinder to her.

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