Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Gotham Academy: Second Semester 8, originally released April 12th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Taylor: I recently just moved away from Chicago — a city which I called home for nearly 10 years. The move is bittersweet; I had been talking about moving for quite some time and was more than excited to finally make my escape from the Windy City. However, now that I’m gone, I’m finding I miss the place even though it often frustrated me. I think this boils down to the fact that despite its flaws, Chicago was my home for so long and that bred a certain respect, if not love, for the city. Gotham Academy has explored this same relationship between the individual and the city in surprisingly deep ways, and the series finale doubles down on this theme, reminding me that the place you call home is the place where you feel loved.
Olive Silverlock has had a rough time of late. The ghost of her ancestor, who was burned at the stake for being a witch, has possessed her body in a bid to burn Gotham to the ground for revenge of crimes long past. What complicates things is that Olive can sympathize with her ancestor in a lot of ways. Because of her ancestry (and the fiery powers that come with it), others treat Olive as different and promise to help her, which is the same fate her mother endured and ultimately ruined her life. With the cards stacked against her, the question isn’t why Olive should burn down Gotham, but why she shouldn’t.
The answer, in short, is love and friendship. Despite being possessed by a spirit, Olive is strong and does her best to keep its murderous impulses under control. This leads her to try and extinguish the flames that engulf Gotham Academy and which leads to a confrontation with Maps that reminds Olive of what happened when her mother met Batman.
Olive remembers that Batman was “only trying to help” her mother and how that ended. In this moment she can’t help but feel the same thing. However, what prevents Olive from taking the same path as her mother is that Maps realizes her mistake. After saying she only wants to help Olive, Maps risks her life to tell Olive exactly what she meant — that she cares for Olive and wants only what’s best for her, not simply to throw her in a mental institution where she can’t harm anyone. This display of empathy, understanding, and love is what saves Olive, and Gotham, from the spirit of Calamity.
Writers Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan, and Karl Kerschl also do a great job of establishing why Olive tries to save the academy in the first place, which leads ultimately to her being saved by Maps. After Gotham and Olive are safe, Fletcher, Cloonan, and Kerschl reveal exactly why Olive ran in to save Gotham Academy.
In a wonderful spread we get to see everyone at Gotham Academy one last time. In her narration, Olive discusses that this place is where she feels cared for, and most importantly, loved. Her earlier decision to save this building boils down to the fact that Gotham Academy is Olives home — it’s where she feels loved. Like Chicago for me, Gotham Academy hasn’t always been great to Olive, but it’s a place where she has fond memories and a place where she knows she is cared for. Such things are important when you’re planning to burn down a city or move away from it.
Also, this full page spread is just marvelous from an artistic point of view. Artist Adam Archer does a wonderful job of composing a scene that captures not only all the important characters of this series, but the moody setting that defined this book as well. This page allows us one last glimpse at the Gothic architecture which housed shady dealings and secrets in the shadows. However, colorist Msassyk is careful to bathe building in a golden, sunset light to reflect the feelings Olive has for her home. More, I simply love the the way Archer has depicted all of the main characters one last time with Family Circus style sight lines indicating where each inset panel is taking place. Not only does this gracefully allow for one last cameo by each character, but it does much to suggest that Gotham Academy is a living place which is defined by the people moving through it and not just the shadows and ghosts that visit its hallways.
Drew, I’m finding I’m unexpectedly sad about this series ending even though I knew it was coming for a while now. How do you feel about this finale? For my money it’s one the better sendoffs I’ve read of late so I’m curious to get your take. Any last thoughts on Olive, Maps, or the history of Gotham? As an aside, I loved the cover to this issue. What a perfect encapsulation of the heart of this series. Do you have anything to say about it?
Drew: That cover is gorgeous, isn’t it? I have to agree that it represents the series beautifully, placing the relationship between Maps and Olive at the center of it all. I think the argument can be made that this series is more about the two of them together, which is a feat, given Olive’s importance as the regular narrator. That is, Maps’ role as the quirky friend should relegate her to supporting status, but Fletcher, Cloonan and Kerschl did a beautiful job of making Maps every bit as important to this series. Indeed, as the last few issues found Olive possessed (on and off) by Amity, Maps very much stepped into the leading role.
For me, the climax of this issue is all about Maps reconciling her feelings about Calamity’s actions and her friendship with Olive. Sure, the rest of the detective club is able to help exorcise Olive, but it’s the friendship between these two that had me tearing up:
And I guess the resolution ultimately being about their friendship kind of makes this more of Maps’ story than Olive’s. That is, while they’re equal partners in friendship, Olive’s arc was about possession (and more broadly about history repeating); Maps’ arc was always about their relationship. Moreover, I can relate more to a character grappling with their feelings (and how they express them to their friends) than I can to a character grappling with an ancestral vendetta and ghostly possession.
Which I guess makes me feel a little blasé about that ending spread about Olive reintegrating into life at Gotham Academy. I mean, that’s certainly an important beat to hit in the wake of, well, the entire series, but I’m not sure it quite captures the heart of this narrative as accurately as that cover. Olive spares 13 words for Maps in that closing spread (and many of those are describing her as “My ex-boyfriend’s little sister”), devoting more time to Kyle and even the buildings of Gotham Academy than to the relationship that grounds this issue. I understand that it’s important to give the whole cast their due in this kind of send-off, I just wish we could have gotten one more quiet moment between Maps and Olive as they said goodbye for the summer. Olive asks where she would be if not for Maps — I would have loved to see her express that in action, rather than voiceover.
But that’s a nit to pick in the grand scheme of things. This series has brought me so much joy over the past…geez, almost three years, and the climax really does get their relationship right. Just look at how Fletcher, Cloonan, and Kerschl escalate the conflict:
Maps’ words just don’t quite come across the way she means them. It puts Maps’ awkwardness and emotional immaturity at the center of the escalating conflict, and feels familiar to anyone who was ever her age. More to the point, it forces genuine character growth, as Maps has to try again, clarifying that she loves and trusts Olive, and that they’re on the same team. It’s brilliant YA writing, bringing this big supernatural conflict down to a more human scale.
Man, maybe I’m just salty about that ending because I don’t want this series to end. We’re teased with a “for now” after “the end,” which definitely has my hopes up — there’s just so much depth to this world that I think could survive the supernatural mystery this series was building from the start. I’ll keep banging the Gotham Academy drum, but I’m happy enough with this as an ending. I may have been left wanting more, but I suppose that’s better than the alternative.
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