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


Review: Southern Cross #7

After what feels like far too long, Southern Cross has finally come back. The last issue left us on an incredible cliffhanger, with the Southern Cross crossing into another dimension and Alex being seized by some kind of creature or creatures. It was not an upbeat ending, especially considering that people were about to go looking for her, which meant that they were going to find something they shouldn’t. We start that process, but now on Titan in a Zemi Company refinery, which has enough of its own problems without worrying about monstrosities. All in all, it makes for great reading.

southcross007After a few days with no word from the Southern Cross, an oil refinery codenamed Romulus finds an escape pod from the lost ship. In it, they find Kyril, who tells them a version of what happened: Alex Braith went crazy and sabotaged the gravity drive, dooming the ship. But the people there aren’t buying it. They’ve also got serious problems: the Southern Cross was their resupply, they’re running low on food, and the workers are on the verge of a mutiny. The fact that Amber Braith worked at this facility is an uncanny coincidence, and when two investigators start trying to put the pieces together, they realize somebody is willing to kill them to keep this quiet.

I loved the setup of this issue from start to finish. This series’ aesthetic has been strongly rooted in the Alien series, and the issue beginning with the discovery of an escape pod is a nice little homage to Aliens. It also doubles down on that space trucker aesthetic, though the security force vibe might be more accurately pinned down as “Space Hell’s Angels.” The colors for this are also so perfect; it just channels that industrial vibe with a hint of otherworldly orange. I loved the misdirection about who the protagonist of this is going to be, but on that I’m afraid I can’t say more.

There’s also a strong mystery angle to this, which is important because that sense of uncertainty is what drove so much of the first arc. We have a killer, obviously, and finding the killer is a good hook. We as the reader also know that Kyril is lying from the get-go (though it’s worth pointing out that he has a very plausible lie), but what is his endgame? A certain tattoo suggests that he was privy to events on the ship, but after everything that went down on the Southern Cross, it’s almost unbelievable that he would still be going along with their mission. And what about our detective main character, who seems to know the name Braith from a time before Titan? What about Amber, whose body is still lying in Romulus’ morgue?

It’s good to have this series back. It’s just too much fun to look at, and as we’ve just begun to scratch the surface of who these artifacts came from and what they’re doing, we have a lot of solid mystery to dive into. Cheers, Southern Cross.

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Southern Cross #7 Writer: Becky Cloonan Artist: Andy Belanger and Lee Loughridge Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital


Zeb Larson's Interview with Becky Cloonan

Becky Cloonan's SOUTHERN CROSS is about to start its second arc on Wednesday, September 14th. Zeb Larson asks Becky some questions about where the series is headed in this new arc as well as a few questions about the new PUNISHER arc she's been working on, and the music that she's been listening to lately. southcross007-letterproof-3ZL: I really enjoyed the sort of “Gothic Horror” angle in the first volume of Southern Cross: the unstable protagonist, the ghostly mystery, even the bizarrely configured ship that is more like a labyrinth. Are we going to see more of that in the second arc?

BC: Thanks! The second arc of Southern Cross takes place on Titan, in the wake of the ship’s disappearance. We’re introduced to a new cast of characters who all work on Romulus, Zemi’s massive oil rig. Romulus is in trouble- conditions are dangerous, the workers are on strike, and with the Southern Cross gone it creates a lot of problems for people who were waiting on supplies. Mystery abounds as we search for the Southern Cross, and the alien artifact that was found on Titan.
ZL: Building off of that, a lot of the tension in the first arc stemmed from the questions about Alex’s mental state, which was compromised at best. Will that take a backseat now that we know something supernatural is out there?
BC: I don’t want to give anything away, but that wasn’t the last we’ll hear from Alex Braith. We learn more about her and her sister Amber through other characters, and we piece together her past. There is a new character on Titan who used to be very close with her, and a returning character from the first arc who smears her name. We are also excited to introduce a bunch of new characters! One of my favorites is Hazel Conroy, a retired detective working on Titan as a personal assistant and chef to the Senior Operations Manager of the rig. She’s in her early 60’s, hard boiled and savvy, and so much fun to write.
ZL: Compromise was another theme in the first volume: everybody was compromised in some way by bad decisions or deals they had made. Can we expect more?
BC: Definitely. Team Southern Cross is all about bad decisions and shit deals! Characters that are not only dealt a bad hand, but pass bad cards in turn. One of the most fun things about this series is dealing with this crazy, deep space, supernatural horror aspect of the story, but then taking a magnifying glass to a few characters lives and looking at how it affects them in very real, human terms. People don’t stop making mistakes just because there’s a ghost haunting the spaceship.
southcross007ZL: The last issue ended with another ship’s crew going looking for the Southern Cross. Are they at all prepared for what they’re going to find?
BC: They are so unprepared! Things got weird in the first arc, and we’re getting even weirder this time around. The supernatural rears it’s bizarre, undulating head once again, but there are very earthly dangers (so to speak) lurking on Romulus as well. Our heroes have a lot to contend with!
ZL: One of the things I liked about the art for this book was the “space trucker” aesthetic, which has a sort of Alien feel to it. Is that going to change at all now that we’ve got a new crew coming in?
BC: Not at all! If anything this arc is even more “Space Trucker” than the first! Andy Belanger is just killing the art on this book, I could look at him drawing greasy space grunts all day. Alien was a huge influence on his visual approach to the book, him and Lee Loughridge are a great team. The visual aesthetic is a huge part of Southern Cross, and that is all Andy and Lee.
ZL: It looks as though the first issue of the new season will take us to Titan, and off of that wonderfully claustrophobic ship. How will that change things? What can we expect to see?
BC: Romulus isn’t much different than the Southern Cross. The rig and the ship were both built by the same company- Zemi. Issue one takes us on a tour through the ship and shows off Andy’s incredible draftsmanship. I’m also excited to get off the rig in a few issues and explore the beautiful Titan landscape!
ZL: Going through older interviews, it sounds as though you and Andy worked extremely closely together on the first arc. Had the production changed at all?
BC: One of the joys of working on this book is that I get to work with my best friend. We constantly talk things over, go back and forth on story ideas, new characters and dialogue. I help out visually doing covers and design work too, so I think the book is a solid mix, and a very close collaboration. We started working on this book right after we broke up (we were a couple for a few years), and this book I think helped us save and enrich our friendship, which was so important to both of us.
ZL: Your run on Punisher has been fun and interesting. The Punisher is one of those characters who is extraordinarily malleable depending on the writer. How did you approach the character?
southcross007-letterproof-4BC: Punisher is one of the most challenging books I’ve ever worked on, precisely for this reason! I didn’t want to do something that’s been done before, but I also didn’t want to reinvent the character. It was a fine line to walk, to make him different enough to stand out, but still a Punisher people recognize, still Frank Castle. In issue 1 he doesn’t say a single word- my run is just as much about the supporting characters (good and bad) as it is about Punisher.
ZL: The Punisher is never a cuddly character, and even on his best days, he’s got a tough set of shoes to step into. Is that difficult as a writer, or fun?
BC: If it’s not challenging, it’s probably not worth doing. I think with every project there is an aspect of banging your head against the wall, but when you finally break through it is so satisfying!
ZL: Apart from the upcoming Southern Cross, are there any other projects that we might see soon?
BC: I’ll be re-releasing a compilation of my mini comics in full color, so for those of you who missed out on my limited release of By Chance or Providence, I got you! I’ve been getting a lot of really cool poster gigs lately too, so it’s nice to focus on my illustration and design. And I have a few big projects on the burner, back to writing and drawing my own stories!! Things that I’ve been sitting on for a few years that I am excited to jump back into.
ZL: On a completely different note, let’s talk music. What are you listening to these days?
BC: Mindkult just released a great EP called “Witch’s Oath” that you can grab on bandcamp, it’s deceptively heavy! Also on the record player are Thou, Roly Porter, Fórn, The Body, Tau Cross, Midnight, and Cough (who I got to do a print for this summer!). All worth checking out, all will crush you under the weight of them. Music is a huge inspiration to me, I think a lot of what I do comes out of what I listen to.