Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing Gotham Academy: Second Semester 3, originally released September 14th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Patrick: Contained mystery stories tend to follow fairly predictable patterns. Details are introduced in the first 90% of the story that pay off in the final moments. Sure, there are some red herrings tossed in there, and the rise of noir fiction make the detective’s character as crucial to the story as the mystery itself, but generally, clues lead to pay-off. Being a serialized mystery series, Gotham Academy Second Semester doesn’t have to play by this formula as rigidly as a one-off story would, so even as we’re approaching the end of the first story arc of the semester, the pay-offs are starting to look like clues in their own right. Add to that a whole host of interesting detectives, and this is starting to look like some of the most compelling mysteries on the shelf.
The Detective Club has deduced that the newly formed “Witch Club,” led by a mysterious adult woman identifying herself as “Haxan,” is behind the recent student disappearances. Maybe that’s not that much of a mystery, however, as the title page of the issue shows the members of Witch Club marching through the courtyard, double-fisting burnable books. Even if it’s clear what is going on, the kids are bound and determined to suss out the whys and hows of it. The entire creative team, from storytellers Brendan Fletcher, Becky Cloonan and Karl Kerschl to artists Adam Archer, Sandra Hope and Msassyk take an almost schematic approach to the incident of this issue. For a more subtle example of this, we can talk about the fish-bowl full of Katherine worriedly eyeing Witch-Maps as she gathers up her books for the fire (including her copy of Serpents and Spells!).
Those are adorable panels, perfectly expressing Gotham Academy‘s specific brand of weird. But more importantly, these panels set up Katherine tagging Maps with a little bit of herself, thus allowing the DC to zero in on her location later in the issue.
Similarly, there’s a scene where Pom, Colton, Olive and Kyle are chasing after one of Haxan’s Witch Clubbers, and the perspective zooms way out, to show a cross-section of the dorm building, complete with a handy dotted line tracing the path of the perp.
It’s the kind of cold abstraction you might expect to see in David Aja’s Hawkeye, but it totally maintains the series’ signature charm, due in no small part to Msassyk’s achingly moody background paintings. Also, check out how the yellow from Amanda’s dotted-line escape borders all the insert panels – its like that yellow is our cue that the action is being clarified. Somehow this creative team is delivering on heart and procedural at the same time.
Appropriately, that ties in to the concept of mind-control-by-microchiped-hats, a la the Mad Hatter. Colton pops off one of those witch hats and from that point on, it’s clear what they need to do. While Pom and Colton head inside to research the hat technology the rest of the team goes into the woods to liberate their girl. And they’re successful, but all of their efforts only turn up more questions.
For example, both Olive and Amy sense Calamity in that book-burning bon fire. Katherine douses the thing before Olive loses herself to it, but there’s clearly unfinished business there. Haxan is revealed to be the missing English teacher, Professor Pio, but thwarting her only leads to the question of why she’d want to get revenge on Mr. Scarlet. Scarlet appears — seemingly out of nowhere — the second the kids have already fixed the problem, and sweeps Pio under the rug with eerie efficacy. And there’s also the dangling question of why Pio was trying to burn all the Hidden Symbols in the first place.
No one is more interested in that mystery than poor, stammering Eric. The kid loses his mind when Maps tosses his notebook in the fire – maybe literally. The serenity of Msassyk’s literal depiction of the snowy wood, is replaced with with an angry red abstraction as he shouts “KILL YOU!”
Geez, and then there’s Colton – expulsion? There’s got to be more to that story as well. There might be a lot of resolution in these 20 pages, but for every neat bow there are like three fresh loose ends. Taylor, how are you liking the speed of this mystery? The kids might have been lamenting their “lame” options for cases to solve in the last issue, but I trust the current milieu will be more than enough for them. At least, for the semester.
Taylor: It could be enough, but then again, teenagers are such fickle creatures. They could easily be bored with this issue’s events come the next. However, I doubt that will be the case. The reason why? Living up to its name, I believe Gotham Academy to truly be a Gothic mystery.
Gothic writing is predicated on the slow building of tension until a climatic event causes things to unravel. Often this means clues are dropped about something terrible about to happen or some dark evil lurking in the shadows. But for these clues to truly work their magic they have to be both tantalizing and given time to breath. Perhaps that sounds a little arcane, so lets look at how this gothic style of writing is used to great affect in this issue. When Olive sees the blaze caused by the witches’ book burning, she is memorized.
That Olive would be captivated by the flame comes as no surprise. She is the daughter of Calamity after all and as we’ve seen previously, this fact comes with several strings attached. The underlying in tension in Gotham Academy has always revolved around Olive and her potential to cause, well, calamity. Hints about this aren’t dropped in every issue, but every so often, as here, we are reminded about Olive’s past and what that could spell for her future. These clues remind me every time that Olive is never truly safe and that she is constantly walking a fine line between good and evil. It’s impossible to know her fate at this point, but it seems almost guaranteed that something will happen. This in turn builds tension with each issue and like true Gothic literature it promises to explode at some point. This slow building of tension makes Gotham Academy a titillating read each month.
This tension alone isn’t what makes a story Gothic – the setting is equally important. Just thinking of a Gothic story makes arch mansions and gloomy castles come to mind so Gotham Academy is a natural setting for such a story. But it’s not enough for the story to just take place here. Comic story telling is largely visible so this setting needs to be conveyed well on the page without the use of words. All of this being said and at the risk of belaboring a point I’ve made several times before – I love the mood set by Msasskyk in this issue.
What caught my eye this time around is different from before. Previously I’ve raved about colors and the use of light. This time I’m impressed by Msassyk’s use of perspective to create intimidating environments. A couple examples of this are used in different spots throughout the issue to the same effect, as can be seen below.
In both cases one point perspective is used to make a room look larger than it really is. This doesn’t communicate the size of the room so much as it does the feel of these spaces. Gotham Academy is an old, drafty, and frankly spooky place. These types of buildings often seem larger than they really are because of the way they play against our imaginations. Msassyk has captured that feeling perfectly in this issue by depicting these spaces from a point of view that emphasizes their size and spookiness.
Basically that’s all just an echo of your comments, Patrick. This title is endlessly fun because its creators know how to craft a gothic mystery expertly. What this essentially means is that they are patient. In this and others issues they take the time to stoke the slow burn of a fire that promises to smolder away in the back of my mind for weeks 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?