Today, Taylor and Spencer are discussing Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy 3, originally released August 10th, 2016.
Taylor: It’s the time of year where kids start heading back to school, which means it’s time for me to rise from my summertime hibernation and teach the future leaders of tomorrow. This is always an exciting couple of weeks. It’s when I get to see who has grown over the summer, who’s changed, and basically witness the miracle of organic life. I’m always shocked when a 7th grader shows up and he’s four inches taller from the last time I saw him two months ago. While this is a fun time, it also makes me horribly cognizant of my age. These kids are still growing, while my body has effectively begun its long descent into dust. Born in a different millennium than me, these kids have vastly little worldly experience and I see it as part of my job to pass on what little I know about the world. As Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy 3 agrees, this is an important thing for all elders to do.
Things are beginning to get weird for the ‘Janes and the Gothamites in this third issue of the crossover. Attempting a rescue of their friends, the ‘Janes and the Gothamites now find their majority captured by the strange electrified skull creatures who are enforcing the 16th birthday party of a 46 year old. By the time the issue ends, there are only a few of our heroes left who haven’t been captured. Indeed, the plan set in motion by the ‘Janes and the Gothamites seems to have failed in all ways in this issue, perhaps the byproduct of their being too young to think their plan through all the way through. This makes the issue light on narrative but heavy on commentary that touts the benefits of wisdom gained through age.
The first lesson about the benefits of knowledge gained though experience comes at the hands of Professor McPherson. Even though she’s been magically transformed back into her teenage self, she retains the wisdom of her old age. When Olive balks at McPherson’s old age, she gets a lesson in what it means when an elder says “I was young once.”
Her point is that even though adults seem like they’ve been old forever, they haven’t. They know what it’s like to be scared and confused. They weren’t born with all the answers. Sure, McPherson may be scared as hell of the skull creatures, but she’s keeping her cool. It’s a learned behavior, and one that she works at. In the broader context of the issue we see that the ‘Janes and the Gothamites fail to do just this. They freak out when they’re caught or confront weird spider things and that ultimately leads to their being trapped in a weird 1980s log cabin. Had they kept their cool the way McPherson does here, perhaps their plan would have gone better.
Later McPherson has Olive talk to Kim, Louise’s best friend from high school. Olive learns that Louise use to be a nice person until she reached high school. There, the culture of youth corrupted her, a development which eventually leads to the events in this issue. Here again, Olive is warned of the follies of youth by Kim.
The lesson here is twofold. First, things are always sunnier when you’re young, cute, and rich, and even just being around someone like that can garner you benefits not enjoyed by others. But when those are the only attributes driving your star, you’re bound to be deficient in other areas. As Kim goes on to detail, Louise began to exert control of her friends in uncomfortable ways. The warning is clear that the beauty of youth can’t be trusted. Because of this, Kim later orchestrates a “prank” so no one comes to Louise’s party and that’s how this whole haunted mansion-16th birthday thing got started. It is implied that Kim, both in her adulation and betrayal of Louise, showed her young age and lack of understanding.
These lessons on the dangers of youth make for a coherent issue that reads like a funner version of one of Aesop’s Fables. True, it is odd that this theme is being made in a crossover issue that stars almost exclusively young people, but perhaps that’s as it should be. Often we see the ‘Janes and Gothamites solve their mysteries without the aid of elders. That’s fine, but all heroes need a guide/mentor at some point and also have to learn lessons the hard way. This issue does just this in a way that’s natural, which is impressive given the juggling of two casts at once.
Spencer, your thoughts? Are you on board with the moralistic storytelling in this issue or are you looking for more straightforward entertainment?
Spencer: I always appreciate when stories can find a way to be entertaining while also featuring some kind of deeper message, moral, or theme; so yeah, Taylor, I’m on board with Flores’ storytelling in this issue. Actually, the themes and morals running throughout this issue — and especially the ways they manifest through the “villain,” Louise Nithercott-Greenwood — are easily my favorite part of the entire crossover so far.
Taylor, you rightfully pointed out how it’s strange that the dangers of youth are being espoused in a crossover with a primarily youthful cast, but I think part of why it works is because there’s no point where Flores uses her moral to tear apart or talk down to her young cast. Yeah, we gain valuable perspective as we grow older, but children and teenagers can’t be blamed for not having that perspective yet — that’s just the way the world works. Eventually almost everyone learns that for themselves; we can only hope it happens as relatively painlessly as it does for Olive.
I know Taylor already posted the final panel here, but I wanted to focus more on the first two, especially Olive’s line in the second panel: “Grown-ups never seem to care about things as much as we do.” Teenagers are infamous for thinking that their every problem is a crisis of apocalyptical proportions. I think adults tend to look down on young people for that, forgetting that we ourselves, without the benefit of age and experience, once felt exactly the same way. So I appreciate Professor MacPherson being so patient and understanding with Olive in this regard.
More importantly, though, this line plays right into Louise’s problems. Her sabotaged Sweet Sixteen really was the end of Louise’s world; she never allowed herself to get over this seemingly monumental slight, and thus, her life came to an end. Both metaphorically and seemingly literally, she’s been frozen in time ever since, either unable or unwilling to grow up enough to move forward.
That question — whether Louise is purposely holding on to the past, or if it’s out of her control somehow — is a fascinating one. At one point, two party guests get into a fight about whether Louise’s family were cursed or whether they’re sorcerers, and it seems like a clear metaphor for the idea of nature vs. nurture; if Louise was cursed, then her personality and fate is simply a part of that (nature), whereas if she’s a sorceress casting a spell, then it’s a choice she’s been groomed to make (nurture). Interestingly enough, the creative team never really clears this point up, even after they show us things from Louise’s point of view.
Louise is clearly deluded, but is she simply blinded by the naivety of “youth,” or is she purposely lying to herself? The jury’s still out, but it seems significant that Olive feels sympathy for her. While the other adults are (rightfully) scared and angry at Louise, Olive decides that maybe she just needs a friend. There’s an optimism to Olive’s decision that’s missing from most of the adults’, and in an issue otherwise focused on the advantages of growing up, it’s a great reminder that there’s a lot of upsides to being young, as well.
Of course, in my analysis of Louise I’ve neglected to mention the supernatural aspect entirely, but that’s mainly because those supernatural creatures, as creepy and dangerous as they may be, are largely just there to support and enforce Louise’s delusions. They’re metaphors — even if we can’t be 100% sure of what, exactly, they represent to Louise yet. Both Lumberjanes and Gotham Academy have long traditions of using supernatural creatures to explore mundane teenage drama, so I appreciate their crossover following suit in that respect.
You’ll notice, though, that almost all of Taylor and mine’s analysis is focused either on the adult characters or on the villains, and indeed, as good as this issue is on many levels, the actual stars do get lost a bit in the shuffle. As much as readers may be following the ‘Janes’ and the Detective Club’s efforts to rescue their teachers, they’ve so far actually had relatively little impact on the actual plot itself. That’s a little depressing, especially when you consider how many characters there actually are.
With ten kids plus teachers, hostages, and villains, this is a packed book (I wish Flores and the editorial team would have included a Role Call of some sort, honestly). Flores and Valero-O’Connell do an admirable job of weaving brief character moments throughout the issue, and for the most part, they’re funny and true to character (just take a look at poor Pomeline attempting karaoke, or Kyle and Mal’s combined sense of caution). Some of these moments, though, just don’t have room to breathe. There’s an exchange between Colton and Jo, for example, that’s probably the sweetest moment of the entire issue, but Colton’s fears feel out of place in this story because we just haven’t had the space to explore any of the relationships he’s so worried about.
While, for the most part, I appreciate the art of Rosemary Valero-O’Connell and the colors of Whitney Cogar, there’s a few moments where they lose me too. One problem is the way Cogar colors backgrounds; in any panel without a background, she tends to fill them with a hazy mix of colors. In conversational scenes this works fine — and it actually looks great during Louise’s party — but it tends to obscure any action.
For example, it took me ages to realize that that streak in the second panel was a bat flying into Pomeline. When every other panel features a pattern and mixture of colors almost identical to the one here, it’s hard to tell that it’s meant to denote action in this panel, and isn’t just an effect like every other time.
I guess it’s a small nit to pick, but the few small issues I have are what’s keeping this series from reaching its full potential, at least in my eyes. Don’t get me wrong; Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy 3 is a huge improvement over the first two issues, laying out its themes and conflicts in a complex and interesting way. I guess I’m just still waiting for those themes, the characters, and the art to all click together in a way that will make this mini-series truly stand-out. Thankfully, I think the book’s moving in the right direction, and hopefully it will continue to improve at this rate across its second half as well.
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?
Wow, was surprised to see this on the front page. Totally forgot about it. Has it actually got better? Because honestly, once I remembered this issue was released, I didn’t care at all.
The previous issues were so… flat. Everything felt two dimensional. The most basic iterations of the plots, the characters, the aesthetic… Lacking any of the depth I expected from Gotham Academy, despite my mixed reaction to the book. Even the one Lumberjanes issue I read (the first issue, before dropping it because it felt so empty) was more vibrant.
Even reading Emma Houxbois discuss issue 2 wasn’t inspiring. I have previously mentioned how much I love her work. Often very generous, but because of how she manages to dig into a book until it is a complex tapestry of themes. And yet, I haven’t been so uninterested in a book she reviewed since Batman Rebirth.
Has this actually got significantly better?
It’s definitely gotten better, but I don’t know if it’s gotten SIGNIFICANTLY better. As I said, the most interesting part of this issue is all the thematic stuff surrounding the villain. The rest of the book still feels a little flat, as you mentioned, but the villain stuff gave me enough to dig into for this piece that it significantly raised my opinion of the issue. So yeah, still not a super high quality book or anything, but definitely an improvement over the previous issues.
…and yeah, I hadn’t been able to put my finger quite on it, but the word “flat” describes my issues with this title perfectly. It doesn’t really capture the joy and energy of Lumberjanes nor the moody drama of Gotham Academy. I think these two properties could cross over quite successfully, but this attempts robs both books of their defining characteristics. Which, again, is probably why I found the original characters to be the best part of the story, haha.
You are really making me feel like all of these interesting ideas are going to be treated just as flatly as the rest of the book. That even as interesting ideas around the villains, it will feel just as off as the rest of the series so far.
As much as I bag on DC’s choices recently, this was a great idea, and something I supported wholeheartedly. I can’t think of any book being done by the Big 2 like Gotham Academy (even Moon Girl relies heavily of superhero tropes. Maybe Weirdworld, but that got cancelled?), and feel it has an important place in building a more diverse, vibrant Big Two. DC and Marvel being able to support comics like a spooky kids detective series or any series that can take place in these universes that aren’t superheroes. As are DC and Marvel being able to support diverse characters that aren’t simply the inheritors of white guy’s titles. Especially after Rebirth imploded the line and killed off every book like Gotham Academy, the book is more important than ever. So trying to attract Lumberjanes fans through a crossover is a great idea. As is giving Lumberjanes more readers, because Lumberjanes is also important. And most importantly, turning readers from Lumberjanes fans or Gotham Academy fans to comic fans by making clear that there is a range of books aimed at them is truly important. In so many different ways.
Yet I can’t see this series inspiring many people to seek out the other half. This certainly isn’t giving me the wish to give Lumberjanes another try after being disappointed in the first issue.
I could make a point about how the Lumberjanes should have gone to GOtham (because joy and energy going to Gotham would likely be easier than trying to bring the gothic nature of Gotham Academy to Lumberjanes), but that isn’t the problem. Because as you said, there is no joy and energy from the Lumberjanes side, despite the home field advantage. The book is just… flat.
It should have been so good, and so important. Everything said it could be. It just didn’t materialise. It went from my most anticipated DC release to something I honestly forgot