Comics // Review // Gotham Academy #11

Concise //

Gotham Academy delivers another great issue packed with fun moments and intriguing mysteries. This story takes on some of the bigger continuity elements of the book so far even whilst bringing out some of the biggest guns a school based comic book has to offer – a field trip to Gotham city! This is an action packed issue that has excitement, comedy, and  one or two answers up its sleeve, even if it does go on to pose plenty more questions!

Gotham Academy #11 Cover

Spoilerful //

The mystery of Olive’s past has been a powerful story engine for this book ever since it began and even as some secrets are slowly being teased out it feels like there is a whole lot more to the Silverlock family tree still left unrevealed. That is a good thing for the book as it continues to give the central team a reason to stick together and go on puzzle-solving adventures, even as the dangers keep piling up. After the excitement of an almost done-in-one Clayface vs acting story last issue this one picks up on more of the long running threads. The team are heading in to central Gotham under the cover of a tennis tournament featuring Kyle.

Kyle’s place in this book has always been an odd one. Sure he is an important part of Olive’s romantic past and he is Maps’ big brother, but writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher have been content to keep him outside the core ensemble and relatively undefined (although yes, we know he likes tennis). It is possible that this has simply been a function of the creative teams’ wise focus on the more interesting Olive/Maps relationship over the traditional Olive/Kyle one, but this issue is the biggest evidence yet that there might be more to Kyle’s frequent absences from Detective Club. Last issue he was more keen on playing tennis than helping out with the school play/Clayface incident; this time that is turned into a benefit for the club serving as instead as a distraction for their real mission in Gotham. But by the time the issue finishes it becomes clear that Kyle wasn’t at the tennis at all, and in fact that he may be more closely intertwined in the mystery Silverlock family than previously suspected. Is the two-part key a clue to the whereabouts of a kidnapped Kyle? Or is he actually responsible for the appearances of this ‘ghost’?

The presence of Red Robin is a mixed blessing in this issue; on the one hand he doesn’t actively do much personally (I’m sure an alternative way of dematerialising Calamity could have been found), whilst on the other Cloonan and Fletcher make sure to give Maps some great superhero fan girl moments (on that topic how amazing is the cover to this issue!). Red Robin also takes the opportunity to give a little backstory on Calamity in a lovely flashback drawn by Mingle Helen Chen (I’m not the biggest fan of fill in artist, but when it is used to serve a function it can be very effective). Again, this could have been worked in without the presence of Red Robin: the only reason I mention this is that there are a good few pages devoted to Red Robin whilst Pomeline and Colton’s side quest to the law office gets short shrift (the assumption being that we’ll find out what they found at the law office via exposition next issue). The art in the rest of the book is up to the usual wonderful standard of Karl Kerschl, with some terrific moments, especially those featuring the otherworldly antics of Calamity.

The issue ends with one heck of a moment; the two clues (one dropped when the ghost of Calamity disappears in the records room, and the other left in Kyle’s locker) fit together to form a key to Arkham Asylum! What exactly it opens at the asylum is still a mystery, but the idea that the Detective Club will be infiltrating the place, probably by the tunnels in/under the school, is an exciting one. Alongside the mysteries of the Silverlock’s there has also been a persistent question of history of the Academy itself – there is clearly a close connection between the school and the Asylum that runs deeper than just a shared architectural aesthetic. Questions and moments like these are what makes this book such fun to read, they are surprising not just to the audience but to the characters too, and the fact that Maps and the others have such an enthusiasm and excitement about it all is infectious.

I’ve been impressed by Gotham Academy throughout its run so far, the characters remain as refreshing and interesting as ever (particularly Maps, of course), and Cloonan and Fletcher keep delivering smart new adventures for them to go on. The scale of the book continues to grow, encompassing more and more of the traditional Gotham we already know, and whilst the central plot could lead anywhere there is a palpable forward momentum to Olive’s quest. This is still a great comic and this issue is as strong as ever.

Gotham Academy #11 Panel

Gotham Academy #11 // Writers – Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher / Art – Karl Kerschl with Msassyk and Mingle Helen Chen / Colours – Serge Lapointe & Msassyk // DC

Notes //

– Do we really trust Hugo Strange as Olive’s creepy psychiatrist?

– You can always rely on Metropolis to offer up a convenient rival sports team; in this case the Gotham Academy tennis team are going up against the uninspiringly named Metropolis Academy!

– Katherine makes a quick appearance, one that sees Maps’ shed a little more light on the possession/artificial-construct questions regarding Clayface and Katherine last issue. There are still some unexplained things (e.g. why did Katherine go along with her father’s plan/appear evil only to turn out to be a regular girl later on), but I appreciate the writers taking a moment to clarify that she is a real girl with some Clayface-esque powers.

– I’m more intrigued by the seemingly frequent superhero cameos in Gotham Academy on a business level than on a story one (especially as they seem less essential as we go on); is a character like Red Robin turning up here to help sell Gotham Academy issues or to help promote their We Are Robin? Or is it actually to help build a stronger and more narratively coherent Gotham? If it’s that last one then maybe appearing for longer than a scene at a time would be beneficial.

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Comics // Weekly Pull List // 21/10/15

It’s a pretty quiet week, but the few books that are out come from some of the best titles of the moment.

Weekly Pull List 21.10.15

Black Canary #5 – Last issue of Black Canary delivered an interesting if unusual diversion as much of the book focused on a new villain from the band’s past. With the absence of series regular artist Annie Wu that gave the issue the feel of a solid side story, but given Wu’s most recent issue (#3) had been the point at which the book really gained momentum I was looking forward to getting back into the core story with the full creative team. Alas Wu is absent once again this month, and as good as fill in artist Pia Guerra is this book really feels like it belongs to Wu so any art change has a big impact.

Gotham Academy #11 – It’s always a joy when a new Gotham Academy hits the shelves; this is such a straight-up fun book that revels in the twin worlds of Famous Five-esque Harry Potterian supernatural boarding school hijinks and superhero mythologies. The writing is great and artist Karl Kerschl is still on hand to deliver some wonderful visuals.

Weirdworld #5 // Secret Wars – This book has been amongst my favourites from the clutch of great Secret Wars tie-ins, having benefited from strong writing, incredible art, and (given that this is a ‘Warzone’) a pretty clear distinction from the events of the SW core book. Many of the otherwise great SW minis have struggled with the final issue though, especially where ongoing’s are in their future (as is the case here), but I’m cautiously optimistic that this one will stick the landing and deliver something satisfying.

Wolf #4 – I picked this book up on a whim, mostly because the cover to this issue is a striking and intriguing piece, but also because the book sounds interesting. The idea of a paranormal detective in a contemporary city is one that appeals to me in plenty of ways, but that I’ve rarely actually enjoyed in practice (often due to an over reliance on old standards like vampires, poor integration of contemporary culture/technology, or dubious world-building). Here’s hoping this book overcomes those difficulties and delivers a unique and compelling take on a common premise.

Comics // Review // Gotham Academy #10

Concise //

Ever true to it’s inspiration (an almost Harry Potter meets Batman story) Gotham Academy continues to tell delightfully spooky mystery stories against the backdrop of a labyrinthine boarding school in DCs most dangerous city. Artfully drawing on the rich history of the Batman to establish it’s own mythology this issue drop more hints about the wider back story of both the Academy and Olive Silverlock, but it never loses focus on a terrific done-in-one story involving ghosts, impostors, and the dangers of putting on the Scottish play. This is another great issue with wonderful writing and gorgeous art on every page – this book keeps delivering spills and thrills every single month.

Gotham Academy #10 Cover

Spoilerful //

Every issue of Gotham Academy tells us more about the school itself even as it adds back layer upon layer of mystery and intrigue to proceedings. Last issue left things in the midst of high drama as Olive saw the ghost of her mother and a fire erupted; this issue delivers literal drama as the gang go undercover in a drama club performance of Macbeth in order to find out the truth about ghosts and monsters. Things take a surprising turn when a different villain takes centre stage.  Maps’ shy roommate Katherine turns out to be very different to what she seems: the man known as Clayface.

We never discover Katherine’s full name as Olive cuts her off before she can finish saying it; this is an early subtle clue to her identity – “Kar…” is presumably Karlo, Basil Karlo being Clayface’s original identity. This isn’t the only example we have of the gang ignoring Katherine’s existence though as they go on to lament that Olive has to perform two roles in the play due to there being “no one else to do it“. I genuinely felt sorry for Katherine at this point, especially given how important acting seemed to be to her. Of course this desire to act is really Clayface’s and it’s not surprising he get mad later in the issue given that he craves attention and isn’t getting noticed at all. Katherine has been getting up to some shady business for a while now, including rifling through Olive’s room last issue, and her introduction here offers a moment of eldritch horror. Kerschl draws Katherine’s first appearance from a low angle and with blackened eye sockets as she emerges from the smoke; it’s a startling and scary appearance that immediately unsettles. And yet this book has regularly introduced us to awkward and unusual denizens of the Academy (such as Eric who makes a cameo as the drama club lighting technician) with Kerschl’s art varying in style to help characterize some of the social outsiders at the school. This could have been the case with Katherine; maybe she’s just a wallflower who’s jealous of her roommate Maps’ best friend Olive, and who is trying desperately to use the school play as a creative outlet and a way to get notice. The great surprise though is that as likely as this is there is an even more organic resolution to her story.

The dramatic revelation the Katherine is actually a construct of Clayface is a tremendous one, played by Kerschl like the climax of a horror movie – Katherine cracking a dark smile as clay enshrouds her reminds of The Ring or even The Exorcist. Once revealed Clayface is a towering and imposing presence and it is great to see the amazing character design from the Batman: The Animated Series making so faithfully rendered. Typically we’d see a big fight after this reveal, but this book has to be smarter than that; it quickly becomes clear that Clayface has come to the school to get revenge on an old acting rival (he’s always been precious about his acting) leading to a showdown on the stage. It’s a fun moment as Simon Trent and Clayface trade Shakespearean quotes until the latter decides a punch will do instead. It’s great to see Olive and Maps work together smartly to use a fire hose to bring Clayface down (how much must he hate fire hoses by now) even after they have had a few friendship troubles this issue. Even when emotions run high the Detective Club can be counted on to get the job done.

There has been a larger mythology developing in the background of this book since it began; first there was the question of Oliver’s parentage, then her personal history with the Batman, and more recently the potential that she has a calamitous fire-starting power of her own. Olive confesses to her therapist, Hugo Strange, that she saw the ghostly figure of her mother just before the fire started last issue, a confession that is accompanied by a genuinely unsettling flash of a ghostly eyeball, again invoking classic horror movie imagery such as the climax of Ringu (see also Katherine’s melting face during her escape). The context of the recent fires and hauntings offer two possibilities and it is testament to the brilliant writing on the book that either could satisfyingly be true; either Olive’s mother Calamity has returned to Gotham (as ghost or resurrected villain) or Olive is unknowingly starting the fires herself and imagining her mother’s presence. There have been plenty of moments in Olive’s history that have shed light on her possible mental state and even in this issue Clayface takes a moment to tell Olive “Your mom was crazy! Hope it doesn’t run in the family“. What is really going on with Olive and her mother only time will tell, but this story is sure doing great work keeping me guessing!

This book has really become the spiritual descendant of those incredible Batman cartoons from surprisingly long ago. Like Batman: The Animated Series this book features gorgeous art and character designs, as well as sharp writing that belays it’s youthful demographic and delivers smarter plots and dialogue than one might expect from a book/show ‘for kids’. Although there are no answers to the questions that brought our heroes to the stage there is still time for some very fun scenes, a dramatic twist, and plenty of clues to the greater mysteries at the academy. This might be the best issue of this book yet, not only because it features my favourite Batman villain, but also because it is brings together everything that the book does so well – this book is all mystery and fun and damn fine art.

Gotham Academy #10 Panel 2

Gotham Academy #10 // Writers – Becky Cloonan & Brendan Fletcher / Art – Karl Kerschl with Msassyk / Colours – Serge Lapointe & Msassyk // DC

Notes //

– It would appear that the character of Katherine, Clayface’s daughter, is a new one; however, there is a precedence in the form of Annie from the cartoon The New Batman Adventures. Similar to the events of this issue Clayface formed ‘Annie’ to allow him to act undercover, but the key difference is that at the end of the episode Annie sacrifes herself and is reabsorbed into Clayface prime. It’s not entirely clear to me how Katherine remained independent of Clayface here, but it is a far happier ending seeing her survive this ordeal.

– Karl Kerschl’s cover is another artistic triumph, but it does risk cluing the reader into Clayface’s surprise involvement.

– Anyone taking bets on whether Pomeline’s mother was the defence or prosecuting attorney at Olive’s mother’s trial?

–  Maps yelling “Detective Club…ASSEMBLE” was a great moment; I’m hoping for a “To me my Detectives” moment in our future.

–  Kyle is still a reluctant member of the Detective Club; when will he fully embrace his team?