Gotham Academy: Second Semester 8

Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Gotham Academy: Second Semester 8, originally released April 12th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Taylor: The history of a place has a weird way of informing its present. Take the city of Chicago, for example: well known for gangsters and crime in the roaring ’20s, Chicago is well-known these days for an epidemic of gang related violence. On the flip side, New York was a bastion for immigrants early in its history and that holds true today in the modern era of xenophobia. While not all locations are tied to their past in such apparent ways, history has a curious way of making itself known in the present. Such is true in Second Semester 8, when the ghosts of Gotham’s past, both figurative and literal, collude to threaten the city once more.

Olive has learned that she was placed in Gotham Academy by Batman so he could keep an eye on her development. Feeling betrayed by both him and Professor MacPhearson, Olive channels the spirit of Amity Arkham and unleashes her inner, destructive fire force. Meanwhile, Pomeline and Colton are trapped at the hands of “Bookworm,” the school librarian who desires the secrets held in the Book of Old Gotham.

The information in this book makes for some of the most enjoyable aspects of this issue. Bookworm recounts to Pomeline and Colton what it has to say, specifically regarding the very early days of Gotham before it was a proper city. According to the book, Olive’s ancestor was killed for possibly practicing witchcraft. With her dying words, she curses all of those responsible sending her to a fire death, along with their progeny.

The list of these names is a veritable who’s who of the Gotham elite. Telling, this list also includes the Waynes. That even Bruce’s ancestors got in on the witch hunt in early Gotham suggests that this city was never a nice place. From its very beginning as a settlement, Gotham was full of darkness, death, and distrust. This certainly casts an interesting light on the city Batman is fighting for since he always claims the city is worthy of his services. However, this history calls into question all of that. If Gotham has always been bad, does is really deserved to be saved?

This is a head-scratching moral conundrum but the authors of Gotham Academy at least suggest an answer to it. Later in the issue when Bookworm summons the spirit of Amity to kill Colson and Pomeline he is unsuccessful. The reason is that Amity saw Pomeline’s necklace, which is symbol Amity was shown means friend, long ago before she was killed.

Indeed, it turns out that Pomeline’s ancestors were always friendly to Olive’s. Not only did they abstain from the witchcraft burning, but they took in Amity’s daughter when her mother was burned to death. This memory of friendship is what saves Pomeline and Colson from being burned and it very well may be the thing that makes Gotham worth saving, too. No city is evil just because of the acts of a few evil men, especially when that city also contains people who are friendly to the disenfranchised. Perhaps Batman is right in saying that Gotham is worth saving, despite its sordid history, because despite its short comings, it’s still is place that creates good.

Because of the way Amity dies in this issue there is, unsurprisingly, a lot of fire imagery in this issue. That in itself isn’t noteworthy, but what is, is just how wonderfully that imagery jumps off the page. As stated earlier, Bookworm makes the mistakes of summoning Amity to do his bidding using the Book of Old Gotham. When she appears, she is a pure fire entity.

I’ve previously written about how much I like Msassyk’s moody coloring in this series, but it’s wonderful to see her flex her muscles with a bright color palette. Amity pops from page with a flourich of oranges and yellows that illuminates her surroundings, as can be seen in the detail around Pomeline. Cleverly, Msassyk has chosen to blackout Mr. Scarlet. This effectively places our perspective behind him and gives the panel an extra dimension of depth. As always, Msassyk pays attention to the details and is careful to shade his outline so it’s easy to understand that he is being back-lit by Amity’s fire. This coloring, as always, makes this a pleasant issue not just to read, but to simply behold.

Drew, how did you like the revelations of Gotham’s dark past? Do you think it will affect later elements of the story, aside from Amity trying to kill all of the people who killed her? What did you think Batman’s cameo? Also, what deep, dark past does Milwaukee have that you know of?

Drew: I thought I wouldn’t have an answer to that question, Taylor — I know basically nothing about the founding or early days of the city — but then the obvious answer jumped out to me: Jeffrey Dahmer. The legacy of his murder-spree certainly doesn’t have the same obvious manifestations in the present day that, say, the German ancestry of Milwaukee’s early residents can be (they don’t call it Brew City for nothing), but it’s there if you look for it. Or, more precisely, the fact that it could be so quickly forgotten speaks to the very same evil that manifested in Dahmer: we ultimately didn’t really care about his victims. The specifics of why that is are maybe more than we want to get into in a discussion of a kid-friendly adventure book, but we can actually feel some of that in the story of Amity Arkham.

That is: the story of Amity Arkham has been all but erased from history because the people who write the history books (at least, the books not locked away in elaborate dungeons) were embarrassed by it. Taylor called the perpetrators a “who’s who of the Gotham elite,” and he wasn’t kidding: the Cobblepots, Hills, Dents, Beaumonts, Kanes, Lestranges, Kyles, Grissoms, and Waynes are all name-checked here. I’m not quite up enough on my Gotham lore to recognize all of those names, but just about every other one rings out as a key shaper of Gotham as we know it (and the rest, I fear, may be cannon fodder — or is it canon fodder? — in Amity’s revenge tour). The evil of killing Amity may have only been perpetrated by that one generation, but the evil of erasing it from history has been perpetuated by every generation since. Gotham has always been a place of deep dark secrets, which fits perfectly with the Gotham we know today.

Taylor, you’re absolutely right to praise Msassyk’s exceptional color work, but I wan’t to point out effectively everyone on the art team is working together. Take, for example, what is probably my favorite page of the issue:

It's Beautiful!

The contrast and lighting effects Msassyk evokes with the colors are stunning, to be sure, but I’m even more impressed at the flow of this page. I’ll diagram it here:

It's (still) Beautiful!

That flow isn’t just remarkably intuitive; it lends Amity’s fire monster a real sense of motion, forcing our eye in the direction of her travel. I mentioned that this feat warrants praise for the whole artistic team, and I meant it — this clever layout started with Rob Haynes’ breakdown, was lent clear direction in the pencils (I’m not sure if this page was handled by Msassyk or Adam Archer), and was driven home by Steve Wand’s lettering. Everything is working together here to make for a dramatic little reading experience.

Of course, the writing team deserves a heaping of praise, too. This issue turns their straightforward adventure story into something else entirely, and they pull it off perfectly. Many of the mysteries that dominated the first two semesters are answered here, changing the character of the series instantaneously. I’m sure the detective club will still need to do some detecting (and maybe some historical research) to track down Olive, but this now has an urgency that their earlier cases lacked. This is no longer a frivolous adventure — their friend’s life is on the line. That’s exactly the kind of intensification that will accelerate this series into its third act, and again, the writers totally nail it.

This series has slipped to my back burner for a while, but this issue has put it back on the top of my pull. I have no idea what’s going to happen with poor Olive, but with this creative team at the helm, I’m confident it’s going to be a thrill. As Taylor said: the past informs the present.

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?

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