Today, Taylor and Spencer are discussing Gotham Academy: Second Semester 1, originally released September 14th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Taylor: During the spring of my senior year of college I went nowhere for spring break. I don’t mean this as a metaphor in any way, I didn’t even head home for the week long reprieve from school. While that probably sounds boring, I remember that particular break with fondness. I’ve always been somewhat of an introvert and the time alone was welcome after the constant socializing that is college life. Still, it was weird to see my campus, so usually full of people, empty and devoid of life. Everything seemed at once the same yet different and changed. Remembering this experience, I don’t blame Olive for feeling lonely while spending the holidays alone at Gotham Academy in the first issue of Second Semester. This becomes even more true when I consider just how weird and mysterious Gotham Academy can be, unlike my own university.
Even though her classmates have left her, Olive isn’t entirely alone at the school. She spends her days eating with Professor MacPherson, who has become more friend now than teacher. These quiet days of solitude are interrupted when a new student, Amy, barges into Olive’s life. Amy is loud, ostensibly rude, and generally the very definition of a ragamuffin. When she persuades Olive to trespass with her in Wedgwood Museum, both her and Olive’s true colors are revealed.
This issue is interesting because it acts as a sort of character study, or reintroduction, of Olive. It’s quickly established that she cherishes her friends, and is beloved by the staff at Gotham Academy (as her nightly meals with Prof. MacPherson suggest). She tends to ruminate quite a lot, but when your family is all dead and you’re spending the holidays in a Gothic boarding school, that only seems natural. This is the Olive we’ve come to know from the early issues of Gotham Academy and the first third of the issue reminds me of this. However, when Amy takes up residence in Olive’s room she’s quick to judge other aspects of Olive’s character.
Here Amy is talking about Olive’s admonishing her for touching her stuff. It’s an astute read of Olive and one readers of Gotham Academy have only seen from time to time. Of course saying that Olive “has some fire” in her is more than a little loaded. It’s too early to know if Amy knows about Olive’s mother, who burnt down Gotham City once upon a time, but the double entendre simply can’t be ignored. That this fire in Olive is potentially destructive or dangerous in nature, just like her mother, makes these comments all the more mysterious. After all, Olive worries about becoming her mother while at the same time wishing to meet her.
Later we get to see just how fiery Olive can be. When her and Amy go for a walk later in the issue, Amy convinces Olive to throw a rock through Prof. MacPherson’s window because she “stood up” Olive. This random act of vandalism takes me by surprise because Olive has always been the type of person to act rationally and to consider others. But perhaps this thrown rock shows us that Olive is constantly struggling with herself to keep these more destructive urges at bay. In other words, she is trying to keep her fiery blood, that which belongs to her mother, under control. Could it be that all Olive needs to release these destructive tendencies is someone egging her on?
The way artists Adam Archer and Sandra Hope show Olive losing grip on her self control is wonderful. Throughout this issue almost all of the panels are aligned in a pretty standard horizontal and vertical axis. As Olive begins her shenanigans with Amy, though, the panels begin to tilt and break away from their previously strict format.
As can be seen here, when Olive throws the rock through MacPherson’s window the panels become off-kilter. In a visual way this shows how Olive is losing grasp of the wilder parts — the motherly aspects — of her personality. As she gives in to these urges her sense of order begins to give way, just like panels seen above. The panels continue in this fashion as Olive and Amy enter the Wedgwood Manor, an act which is highly forbidden to students of Gotham Academy. Here, Amy continues her destruction of property when she slashes a picture. No longer wanting to give in to these wild actions, Olive reasserts control of herself and reorients her personality to the calm and caring demeanor she’s mostly known for. On cue, the panels once again align to their up and down axis as Olive reasserts control over her actions.
After the mediocre crossover of with Lumberjanes, this issue is a welcome return to form for this series. Writers Karl Kerschl, Becky Cloonan, and Brendan Fletcher have a clear vision for this series, which is explicitly clear in this issue. The tone of the issue carries all of the hallmarks -mysterious, lonely, grim, sad, wacky, fun – of the previous wonderful issues of this series and if this issue is any indication, they will continue strongly in the next.
Spencer, your thoughts on the return of Gotham Academy? It’s always a treat for me to look at the colors in this series and this issue is no exception. Do you agree? What are your thoughts on Amy? Just a bad egg or perhaps someone more insidious? And do you miss Maps yet?
Spencer: I didn’t really miss Maps, because, out of all the characters, I feel like she’s been front and center throughout the “Yearbook” storyline and Lumberjanes crossover. What I really missed, though — and what I’m overjoyed to see return in this issue — is Olive’s story. It was the glue that held the first year of Gotham Academy together. I like all these characters, but all these characters together, in the dark, oppressive architecture of Gotham Academy, crawling through secret passages and working to solve mysteries, is what initially made me fall in love with this series. I’m glad the creative team are returning to their roots.
You’re right to praise the colors, Taylor. Even without Karl Kerschl’s art (although I’m happy to see him join Brenden Fletcher and Becky Cloonan on the writing team — clearly he was making vital contributions all along), Gotham Academy Second Semester 1 is able to recapture the vibe of the original series almost solely through Msassyk, Chris Sotomayor, and Serge LaPointe’s colors — especially Msassyk’s painted backgrounds.
Said backgrounds have always been a primary source of the Academy’s gloom and moodiness, but they especially stand out against Archer’s slightly more cartoony art. Some of these backgrounds look downright photorealistic, making even a more familiar, comfortable space like Olive’s room feel unsettling.
It’s downright eerie at times!
As for Amy, well, she’s a brat who’s using her rebellion as an excuse to bully and persecute people — that’s not very punk, Amy. There’s something off-putting about the way Amy is introduced (or, not really introduced as much as thrown at Olive/the reader), and to be honest, there was a while where I wondered if Amy was even real. I mean, that’s clearly not true because she interacts with Eric, but before then, you could make a solid case that Amy was Olive’s Tyler Durden — she just shows up in her room even though there’s little faculty on campus and despite the fact that Olive’s already lined up a roommate for the year and the two wander around campus alone together, raising Hell.
With that being the case, I think Taylor’s right on the money when he theorizes that Amy represents the temptation for Olive to give into her dark side; I just don’t know how strong that temptation actually is. Yeah, she throws a rock through MacPherson’s window when pressured, but when faced with a truly morally reprehensible action (Amy stealing Eric’s books and inhaler), without hesitation she chooses to spurn Amy and help Eric. Gotham Academy has always hinted that the Detective Club kids could end up becoming heroes or villains, but for Olive, that danger lies, not in her own choices, but in the possibility of Calamity taking over her life.
That’s a danger the creative team hints at this month, actually.
I cringed when Olive threw a rock through her favorite teacher’s window, but I never really worried about her morality; I knew she’d come around. This little scene, though, has me legitimately worried for her. I can’t tell whether Olive is tapping into Calamity’s powers consciously or not, but either way, it’s not a good sign. There may be a outcome where Olive can reconcile with Calamity or perhaps even excise it completely, but that’s not certainly not going to be an easy point to reach.
Despite Amy’s completely vanishing (we’re sure she’s real, right?) and her failing to corrupt Olive, I have to imagine that she’ll stick around Gotham Academy. With her obtaining Eric’s maps, it seems likely she’ll be interfering with the Detective Club’s investigations, and the way she looked at the photograph of Olive and her mother has me suspicious (but not certain) that she may know something about their lives as well. No matter how it happens, Amy is sure to be a rather big impediment for these kids in the issues to come.
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?