Today, Spencer and Ryan M. are discussing Gotham Academy 12, originally released December 2, 2015.
Spencer: I spend a lot of time talking about empathy on this site, but only because I believe that developing empathy is one of the single most important things people can do to help create a better world. Working to understand people and care about their feelings can avert catastrophes both big and small, while ignoring the viewpoints of others can turn even the most harmless endeavor dangerous. Case-in-point: Professor Strange. All ol’ Hugo wants to do is learn about Calamity, but his lack of compassion for the actual people hurt by Calamity means that even his simple quest for knowledge has the potential to ruin lives. It may have already ruined Olive’s.
Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, and Karl Kerschl’s Gotham Academy 12 finds Olive and her friends trekking to the ruins of Arkham Asylum to rescue Kyle, who was seemingly kidnapped by Calamity — a.k.a. Olive’s mother, returned from the dead. While Maps, Pomeline, and Colton save Kyle just in the knick of time, Olive discovers that the specter who’s been haunting her is not her mother, but actually her school counselor, Professor Hugo Strange!
When we discussed last month’s issue, Ryan observed that Strange’s treatments seemed to be, not helping Olive, but pushing her towards her triggers. This month we see that confirmed, and what’s scary is that this incarnation of Strange isn’t a cackling, maniacal supervillain — he’s simply a selfish man with an influential position he can exploit. There are legitimate reasons to want to learn more about Calamity — preventing future arsons/future generations of Silverlockes from falling to its curse, for example — but we see none of that in Strange’s motives. He just wants to know about Calamity for knowledge’s sake, and he doesn’t care if that prevents Sybil from reuniting with her daughter, or if it turns Olive into a supervillain herself.
He’s a pretty terrible therapist, I guess is what I’m saying.
Olive and her friends provide both a contrast and a comparison to Strange. In some ways, their quest for answers (and for Kyle) has these kids making some selfish moves. Colton steals, and later wrecks, Headmaster Hammer’s car to get the Detectives Club to Arkham (Clever touch here; Cloonan and Fletcher never state that it’s Hammer’s car. Only observant readers who notice the license plate figure it out). Maps has her shapeshifting roommate impersonate her to fool her terrified parents. Olive even ignores Kyle’s screams for help in order to chase down Calamity!
Yet, these moments of selfishness are more oblivious and childlike than malicious, and backed by some genuinely altruistic motives. Kyle’s imprisonment is a life-or-death situation (if an odd move for Strange to make, especially since his involvement is never really explored), and Cloonan, Fletcher, and Kerschl go out of their way to show how dear to Olive any trace of information about her mother is.
Seriously, Olive’s longing for her mother as she embraces her cloak is heartbreaking.
Moreover, we can see these characters growing into better people right before our eyes. Pomeline hurts Olive’s feelings by dropping a pretty big bomb about her mother on her, but for the first time, Pomeline makes it clear that she considers Olive and the rest of the Detectives Club her friends and actually cares about their feelings. Pomeline still doesn’t know how to express her affection, but that doesn’t negate how drastic this bit of character growth is for her. Colton too gets a significant moment of growth when he swoops in to rescue Kyle.
Kyle almost seems surprised that Colton, of all people, saves him. It’s significant that he loses his sunglasses in the process; this is Colton dropping his “too cool for school” persona and instead forging real connections with the people around him.
I adore what Kerschl does with layouts here, angling his panels so that they match the kids’ descent and so that Colton and Maps can actually slide down them like a physical surface. Kerschl’s work is phenomenal throughout the entire issue — the choice to leave the gutters black, and thus devote a significant portion of each page to darkness, is an ingenius way to portray the stakes of this mission and the creepy atmosphere of Arkham — but perhaps his best moment is when Olive and Strange’s confrontation finally reaches its boiling point.
Serge LaPointe and Msassyk’s colors start out subtle; the brown wall slowly starts to turn red as Olive’s rage grows until finally flames explode and Calamity “emerges,” her presence proving so horrific that it rips the bottom row of panels into frantic, jagged strips. I can’t praise it enough.
This is also a moment of great significance, not just for this issue, but for the series moving forward. Strange’s fate is left ambiguous; does he escape in the chaos, or does Calamity incinerate him? Moreover, does Olive have any control of her actions, or has “Calamity” taken complete control of her? What exactly is the true nature of Calamity? The way it affects every generation of Silverlockes recalls the way mental illness, alcoholism, and other conditions that society stigmatizes can run in — and tear apart — families, but is Calamity perhaps some sort of inherited metahuman condition, or a literal force possessing generation after generation of Silverlockes?
Either way, I’m truly impressed by how Cloonan, Fletcher, and Kerschl use this issue to wrap up this arc, answer a few lingering questions, and further develop their characters, all while broadening the scope of Olive’s conflict and creating even more mysteries to explore as the series moves forward. Ryan, are you as happy with this one as I am?
Ryan M.: Oh man, I sure am! As you said, the arc was wrapped up nicely, but with enough narrative tension to suggest more mystery. The cameo of Katherine was a treat and felt earned. The fact that she is still a student at Gotham Academy after being possessed by an evil entity may also foreshadow how things play out for Olive post-Calamity.
The action at Arkham makes up the meat of the issue, with action, horror and the revelation and dispatch of the villain. The short scenes that bookend the issue at Gotham Academy are of note. In the start of the issue, a police officer is interviewing Maps with limited success. She rejects his intentions of help. There is a parallel to be drawn with Olive’s reaction to Professor MacPherson, another well-meaning adult whose support is rebuffed. In both cases, the students are keeping secrets and intend to deal with them on their own. The biggest difference with them is the feel that they evoke. Maps is excited to save her brother with her band of friends. She has a plan and is ready to execute. It’s a fun moment to realize that her tears are staged and when she and Olive make a plan to deceive her parents, its easy to get on board with it. On the other hand, while Olive ends the issue feeling good and “whole,” the reader is left with a much more uneasy feeling. Is the thing giving Olive a feeling of completion the demon that has plagued and destroyed her family for generations? The issue doesn’t definitively say, but when a dog hates you, that is not a good sign for your soul.
The art in the two scenes also underlines the changes in Olive. The Gotham Academy established in the first few pages of the issue is a beautiful and bright place, with sunlight streaming in and filling the hallways with a glow. The sky is blue and the grounds a medley of greens.
After Olive’s confrontation with Strange, the grounds look much different. Literally overnight, all of the leaves have fallen from the trees. There is an eerie orange cast to the scene and all of the landscaping looks dead. The contrast between the bright fresh GA of the beginning and this strange shot of Olive on the bleachers further underlines the strangeness of Olive’s assertion of her wellness.
It’s remarkable how the issue is satisfying in it’s conclusion to the “Olive’s mom is maybe a ghost and haunting her” arc while still creating a new status quo which will surely have ramifications on the adventures to come. It’s a serial story without a cliffhanger that somehow leaves me all the more invested in the future.
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?