You know when you think you have series figured out? You’ve read a few issues, think you understand the lay of the land, and confidently proclaim to yourself that you’re sure you have a pretty good idea of what’s coming next? Well, in the final couple of pages of this latest issue of Gotham Academy, the series is taken in such a drastically different direction than I was expecting that I found myself almost doing a double-take at what was happening on the page – and I absolutely loved it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s rewind for a moment.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, Gotham Academy is a sharply written, gorgeously illustrated teen drama that doesn’t allow itself to become bogged down in the typical clichés that have a tendency to plague the genre. Yes, the majority of the peripheral characters are essentially tropes – the quiet geek, the mean girl, the rebel youth – but in the hands of Cloonan and Fletcher, they never feel derivative, interacting with each other in wholly believable, and often unexpected, ways. The story centres around Olive Silverlock, a young girl trying her best to fit in following a mysteriously tumultuous summer. Olive drives the story forward, displaying intelligence, strength, compassion and – while there is a romantic aspect to her history – never letting herself be defined as merely a ‘lovesick teenager’.
Cloonan and Fletcher continue to balance their approach here perfectly, avoiding the book from ever becoming too much of any one thing. Once again we have the faint undercurrent of romance, the hint of Scooby-Doo style adventure mystery as well as ample amounts of humour, but nothing is allowed to become overbearing or overdone, keeping the book feeling fresh and fluid throughout. “Maps” continues to provide the bulk of the laughs here with her geeky insights as she constantly compares everything to her favourite RPG, ‘Serpents and Spells’, and several of the previously underutilised characters get much more of a chance to shine in this latest issue.
Gotham Academy continues to be like nothing else on the shelves – from DC, at least – in terms of its visual approach, with Karl Kerschl’s manga-esque artwork giving the book a vibrant look that really makes it stand out, particularly when you factor in the impressive depth added by Msassyk and Serge LaPointe’s colour work. This is a comic that feels ripe for an animated series, and the impressive character design – not to mention the imposing, Hogwarts-esque atmosphere of the Academy itself – fits perfectly alongside the distinctive tone the writers have created.
Okay, cards on the table, a ‘teen drama’ isn’t necessarily going to appeal to everyone, but I strongly urge anyone reading this review to check their preconceptions at the door and at least consider giving this one a try. No, there aren’t any caped crusaders swinging from rooftops and knocking out bad guys, and the ‘villains’ here are a lot less clear-cut than your typical ‘Bat-book’, but this is still a truly unique series that honestly deserves to be seen by as many eyes as possible. Cloonan, Fletcher and Kerschl have combined to make something truly impressive here – an easily accessible book with a strong, believable female lead, and all the mystery and intrigue you could possibly hope for.
Also, that ending. Brilliant. Count me in with this series for the foreseeable future.
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