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?