Review: Gotham Academy Second Semester #1

Gotham Academy Second Semester is meant to be the second volume to the Gotham Academy series but what should be the first chapter for new readers and a new story is instead stuck somewhere between an epilogue and a prologue. Gotham Academy has always been a series that knows exactly what it is. This is a comic that follows in the tradition of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys but adapted for the modern era and a comic book universe. Olive Silverlock is the teenage daughter of a Batman villain and one of the many students at Gotham’s oldest and most prestigious academy.  All that history has left it a place with secrets and supernatural imprints that Olive and her band of misfits detectives stumble over and investigate.

From that description, you should know everything you need to about this series. It’s about teenage drama, relationships, and mysteries with a supernatural edge. I’ve been a sucker for teenage detectives and supernatural mysteries since I was a kid but really what made Gotham Academy stick out for me, aside from its distinctive art, is the tone.ga_ss_cv1_ds

This is a comic firmly established within the DC universe. Gotham matters to the story. Batman matters and he and his villain even intersect into these stories. Yet despite all that the series managed to never dip into the cosmic melodrama of superhero stories and instead the scale is always kept small. These characters don’t stumble onto magic items that threaten the existence of the universe and neither are they always in life or death situations.

Gotham Academy became one of the shining examples of the multitude of tones mainstream comic books could handle—just one of many types of stories that are possible to tell.

They don’t have to just be about superheroes and they don’t have to be high stake action movies. Sometimes the biggest source of tension can be whether or not a boy likes you.

Gotham Academy Second Semester #1, despite the new series title, takes place in the quiet in-between time of winter break.  This issue strips back the formula and instead of re-introducing characters and a new storyline, opts for something more contemplative.

The only staple of the main cast here is Olive as the rest of her friends spend time with their families and away from school. The cold, empty rooms of the academy and its snowy, barren courtyards provide a good visual approximation of her loneliness, the state of her familial structure and the unfortunately ephemeral nature of childhood friends.

She feels left behind and the introduction of a new student provides a destruction outlet for releasing these frustrations. The only problem though is this new student is the exact archetype I hate more than anything in fiction.

Amy is the anarchic, rebellious teenager whose nature goes from realistic angst to downright sociopathy. This new mysterious student provides welcomed forward momentum to the issue whether through giving Olive that destructive release or pulling us into a 1900s séance room with hints towards another mystery. Yet I never wanted her to stick around. She annoyingly rebellious, almost murders another student for fun and felt like lazy archetyping for a series that has always done more engaging character writing.

When she runs off towards the end of the issue, I almost wanted her to be a figment of Olive’s lonely imagination. I wanted this whole issue to be part of my imagination. Not because I think this issue is bad, not by a longshot, but because it felt like a strange reintroduction to the series. There’s no mystery, there’s no relationships or school drama and the contextual build up for Olive’s emotional state is neither presented nor mentioned.

This issue #1 almost works more like an epilogue to the previous series while the new elements they introduce are so fleeting it never quite lands the impact of a first chapter in a story.

There’s almost a visual metaphor for the issue right at the end. The first day of the new semester is already starting. Kids are loitering around the entrance, parents pulling away in their cars and square at the bottom of the page are Olive and her friends, huddling together above the next issue’s preview text: “The Detective Club Returns”.

This end is ultimately where the story begins. The rest? A prelude.

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Gotham Academy Second Semester #1 Writers: Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan, Karl Kerschl Artist: Adam Archer Colorist: Chris Sotomayor, Serge Lapointe Publisher: DC Comics Price: $2.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital