Today, Michael and Taylor are discussing Gotham Academy 16, originally released March 9th, 2016.
Michael: What is the proper way for a comic book series to say goodbye? Depending on the critical and commercial success of that book, the answer may vary. You might have the fore-sight or -knowledge to plot things towards a conclusion or just have to wrap things up as quickly as possible with a few issues. Though DC’s Rebirth will be bringing us another Gotham Academy series — Gotham Academy: Next Semester — these are the last few issues of the series as we have known it. Brenden Fletcher is joined by a handful of other creators to relish in the whimsical nature of Gotham Academy before he says his (brief?) goodbye.
Gotham Academy 16 continues the “Yearbook” storyline of the past few issues: Maps has crafted her own yearbook that serves as a history book of all of the adventures that her and her Detective Club pals have had in their first year at Gotham Academy. The whole “Yearbook” concept is basically the comic book equivalent of a TV show — fortunately it’s more of a Community clip show with stories we haven’t seen as opposed to a Golden Girls clip show, just highlights from stories past that we’ve already experienced. It’s a clever narrative device for Fletcher and co. to provide us with a Gotham Academy “greatest hits” without having to just flashback to events from the 10+ issues that most of us have already read. It also gives creators like James Tynion IV and J.M. Ken Niimura the chance to dabble in the Gotham Academy world without having to commit to a full issue or more.
“Yearbook” is a celebration of the optimistic and fun spirit of Gotham Academy, but it’s also a celebration of the character of Maps. Gotham Academy is definitely the Hogwarts of Gotham — full of mysteries, age-old legends, and its fair share of ghouls. In spite of that otherworldly nature, a lot of the magic of Gotham Academy and the Detective Club comes from Maps herself. She’s the friend whose attitude and optimism are so powerful that they’re practically infectious. She’s the little sister who still believes in Santa — her earnestness is so infectious that you have to play along. Maps is more than a little sister though, as Gotham Academy 16 underlines.
The yearbook is an invention of Maps, so its no surprise that the stories presented are focused on her. In addition to that, the two (and a half?) stories presented here just sell that idea that there is something very special about Maps. We read the first story along with Robin — who is reading Maps’ yearbook in secret. Tynion and artist Chris Wildgoose give us “Map’s Day Out” — a story about the crafty Colton Rivera helping Maps sneak her way up to the GCPD rooftop to light the bat signal and meet Batman. The second story is J.M. Ken Niimura’s “Boring Sundays,” where Olive discovers that Maps has fabricated a mystery for the Detective Club to solve.
Both Colton and Olive have moments where they wonder what the hell Maps is thinking. Olive actually gets pretty upset that Maps had been deceiving them. Eventually in each story, Maps’ friends come to the realization that she may be just in her delusion. Maps is the little sprite that makes everyone’s lives a little bit more magical. In a way it reminds me of one of the stories in Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? In it, Alfred reveals that he has been masquerading as all of Batman’s villains, enabling Bruce’s “delusions.” This isn’t as sad of a story as that necessarily, but Maps is making things up and enabling delusions that perpetuate throughout Gotham Academy.
Taylor! I talked a whole lot about Maps and her significance in this issue/series — you got anything else? Did you have a favorite between the two stories presented? Is Damian kind of a creeper for snooping around in Maps’ stuff?
Taylor: Damian’s a total creep! But when your dad is Batman, I think that type of behavior is probably normalized, so I don’t think we should hold Damian too accountable for his actions. Also, I love seeing how embarrassed he gets when he’s discovered in the room. He’s so self-serious that I can’t help but laugh when someone gets the drop on him being a creeper.
Your discussion of Maps brought up an interesting point, Michael. In many ways Maps has taken a hold of this series. She’s like the TV show sidekick who becomes so popular that there’s no choice but to acknowledge that she’s actually the star of the show (see: Urkel, Steve). If this inversion were taking place in regular issues of Gotham Academy I would be a little upset. Gotham Academy has always been kind of a dark version of the school drama comic. I still maintain that a major reason I enjoy this comic is because of its dark and brooding atmosphere. If a bubbly character like Maps were to take the lead, how could it possibly remain the comic I’ve enjoyed to this point?
The answer is that it can’t, but this issue shows that maybe that can be a good thing. Where the first story about Maps meeting Batman fell flat, I thought the second about her desire to hang out with her friends on a random Sunday was wonderfully charming. In writing a story strictly focusing on Maps, Ken Niimura captures this essence of the character so well that I don’t mind that it doesn’t resemble a Gotham Academy issue. In particular, I loved his character design for Maps and the way he animates her expressions.
Niimura uses a simpler, symbolic style of drawing on Maps story, which perfectly melds with the character somehow. Maps is a zany character and her idiosyncrasies place her at the more cartoony end of the spectrum when it comes to character building. This isn’t to say she’s a flat character by any means, but the way pings around from idea to place has a certain Bugs Bunny quality to it. Suffice it to say, Niimura’s rendering of Maps perfectly captures this aspect of her character. Specifically, the emotive lines of anger and the animation of her eyes are what really sell these panels for me. They hearken to the Japanese style of comic but they work well in Gotham Academy in this instance.
This Sunday story itself is a nice little jaunt into the life of this unique student. Again, I think this story line would be out of place in the regular run of Gotham Academy, but as a spinoff it works quite nicely. Maps has always been the glue that holds Olive and company together so it makes sense to see her working to make them all hang out here. Her motivations for wanting to hang are simple, yes, but that’s not really the purpose of this story. Rather, it’s to show what makes Maps special and why Gotham Academy wouldn’t be the same book without her.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?