Today, Spencer and Mark are discussing Gotham Academy Annual 1, originally released August 31st, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: The first few arcs of Gotham Academy were very clearly telling a story about Olive Silverlocke. That’s not to say that the rest of the cast (especially Maps) didn’t have personality or important roles, just that they were very much supporting characters to Olive’s story. That’s what made the transition to the “Yearbook” storyline so jarring to me; without warning, what had been one long story focused on Olive suddenly shifted to a series of short stories starring an ensemble cast. I love Gotham Academy‘s cast and enjoyed quite a few of “Yearbook’s” tales, but for my money, Gotham Academy Annual 1 is the first time the supporting characters have felt like they could support a story on their own. Brenden Fletcher and returning co-writer/creator Becky Cloonan achieve this by first highlighting how the Detective Club falls apart without Olive’s leadership, and then by bringing them together to achieve victory on their own.
This annual’s plot, when boiled down to its bare bones, is simple: Colton and Pomeline disagree over a mystery, and the team fractures until they realize that both sides were right, and must come back together to save the day. For all its simplicity, though, this story is incredibly effective in shining a spotlight on the Detective Club’s less developed members — and not just by telling a story from their perspective, but by allowing them to take charge of a more typical Gotham Academy story. With Olive sick and Maps largely sidelined (she, of course, refuses to choose a side), Pomeline and Colton are suddenly thrust into leadership roles, and it’s a refreshing change of pace. Both characters have always been depicted as strong-willed, skilled, and resourceful, but those skills are usually directed towards solving Olive’s crises — when handed a mystery of their own, they inevitably clash.
Their clash, though, doesn’t just spring from both characters thinking they’re right, but also from their preexisting relationship. Colton and Pomeline seem to have a bit of history that prexists Gotham Academy, which gives them plenty of ammo to hurt each other with (Pomeline knows a few of Colton’s secrets); ultimately, the fierceness of their conflict stems, not from wanting to prove to each other that they’re right, but from both characters being hurt that the other didn’t believe them.
Pomeline, as per usual, shouts over Colton (literally, as her speech bubble actually overlaps his) in protest; Colton usually tries to play it cool and hide his emotions, but when his façade finally breaks, he can’t help but to wear his heart on his sleeve. They may be saying different words, but both mean the same thing, and the personal stakes here add some welcome complexity to the overall plot. Pomeline and Colton never do decide on a leader because they realize that they were both right, and that they need to work together and listen to each other. It’s a pretty important lesson, especially for younger readers, and one that does wonders to flesh out these characters and their relationship.
After all of that, though, Kyle and Tristan may gain even more from their time in the spotlight. Both characters previously existed as little more than “Olive’s love interests,” so they benefit greatly from this chance to interact with different characters and serve new roles. I don’t think we’d ever seen Pomeline and Tristan interact before, for example, and their dynamic is a hoot. Kyle, meanwhile, shows that, instead of just worrying about Olive or Maps, he worries about everyone, and no matter who he’s worried about, there’s humor to be found in it as well.
Kyle’s officially the “Team Mom” now, and that finally makes me like this character when, in the past, I’d found him a bit bland.
Thankfully, the details of the plot come together rather nicely as well. While you’d need knowledge of Batman Beyond and Detective Comics 455 to fully put together the stories of Blight and Decobra (respectively) on your own, there’s enough clues for most readers to get the gist of what’s going on. In fact, the only reason I never suspected a real vampire’s involvement is because Gotham Academy‘s always avoided straight-up acknowledging the supernatural in the past. I’m a bit reticent about changing that aspect of the formula, but ultimately, I like the results it gets in this story. Blight and Decobra are a really interesting pairing in a lot of ways.
They’re the past vs. the future, supernatural vs. technology, and — especially under the pen and colors of Michael Dialynas, as in the above image — they’re quite impressive looking when they clash to boot. It makes them compelling villains for the Detective Club both as individuals, and as metaphors: science, technology, past, future, seemingly all have it out for these kids in one way or another.
Of course, there’s still a few loose ends that never quite got cleared up. How was Warren cured of his vampirism? How were the Waynes involved in Blight getting into the Academy? What’s the deal with Olive’s prophetic vision of the grandfather clock — does it have to do with the clock’s origin, or is it a newly awakened aspect of Olive’s “Calamity” alter ego? I’m curious to see if future issues will address this last point especially, but honestly, I’m just excited to have the book back at all (Gotham Academy: Second Semester launches next month!), especially since the original creative team will be returning with it.
Mark, what’s your take on this annual? Do you have any thoughts on the various artists’ work that makes up this issue, or on how all those styles fit together? And hey, Colton’s secret: he has a crush on Kyle, right? I’ll admit, “they’re gay” is my first thought whenever a character has a secret, but I’d say there’s evidence for it this time. If so: shame on Pomeline for giving him such a hard time.
Mark: I have to admit I dropped Gotham Academy from my personal pull list a handful of issues into its run, so for all intents and purposes I’m coming into this first annual essentially blind. But even if I found the particulars of the characters’ relationships difficult to fully understand because of my ignorance, my limited knowledge of the series didn’t prevent me from finding a lot in the issue to enjoy.
While the supernatural elements found in this story might not be a regular thing for Gotham Academy, they worked really well here. That’s a credit to Fletcher and Cloonan, who lay the groundwork early and often by referencing classic horror stories and tropes (the prime example being the beating of the heart underneath the floorboards of Powers’ classroom as a nod to Edgar Allen Poe’s famous The Tell-Tale Heart). Honestly, at this point I don’t even know how “supernatural” we can consider vampires to be when their ubiquity in popular culture is frequently used as a punch line.
Whenever you have more than one artist working on an issue it can lead to some pretty jarring transitions when the styles butt up against each other, but even though there are four artists splitting duties here it all flows pretty well. I credit that to the color work of Serge LaPointe, Msassyk, and Dialynas. The palette isn’t even that consistent, but it is harmonious.
As to whether Colton ends up being gay, I agree it’s telegraphed pretty hard this issue. I’m all for more representation in comics, and Gotham Academy already boasts one of the most diverse casts in DC’s stable, so why not? It seems like DC editorial has agreed it’s easier to introduce diversity into their youth-targeted comics rather than change their big name heroes and face fanboy wrath. That’s why, even though it’s not a frequent read of mine, I’m glad to see Gotham Academy is alive and firing on all creative cylinders.
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?