Writer: Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher
Art: Karl Kerschl
Publisher: DC Comics
Jason Sacks: There are so many things to love about Gotham Academy. There’s the meta of the fact that this is a comic with two young female protagonists who are smart and adventurous and interesting in their own Bechdel-approved right. And there’s the meta that this is a comic with the word Gotham in its title that only shows standard Bat characters for a second or two.
Katy Rex: Actually, Olive has some sort of weird hate for the Bat stuff. It’s pretty weird, relating to a character who has some fundamental hatred for one of our oldest good guys!
JS: But what really makes me love this book is that it’s a fun, light, interesting mystery that respects the audience and is wonderfully written, drawn and colored.
There’s an energy and vitality to this comic that reminds me of some of the best romance manga, a confidence in its lead characters and in the machinations of its plot, that makes Cloonan and Fletcher’s story stand out versus many American comics. These characters feel alive and specific in very intriguing ways, and that’s really what I love about this book the most. That, and Karl Kerschl’s wonderfully painterly art, with a digital sheen that fits the story wonderfully.
What about the rest of you? Am I alone in my passion for this comic, or are going to ride together on a metaphorical love boat?
Mark Stack: I may not be as in love with this book as you, Jason, but I’m certainly liking what I’m getting. I’m a sucker for a teen-centric romance story as my Netflix history of Vampire Diaries and my complete run of Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane can attest to. But there’s something slightly off about this book that keeps me hung up. The scenes in this book just begin and end with no apparent transition and, with nothing feeling like it directly leads into another, it can verge on feeling like a random events plot. It’s lucky that these “random events,” the pieces that make up the book, are so well crafted. I get such a kick out of this book’s comedy as it comes from the younger Maps making a bit of a fool of herself without realizing as she continually commits a series of artistic “no-no’s” with a side character that wants nothing more than to be rid of her. The soap opera elements of who’s dating who (and, ooh, is that Bruce Wayne on campus?!) and Olive’s secret summer are certainly intriguing enough to keep me hooked even as I struggle with the book’s jumping around. Does anyone else have my problem or am I taking crazy person pills again?
Alex Lu: I totally get what you mean, Mark. Reading Gotham Academy is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, but I think that effect is intentional. This book is revealing itself to be as much of a mystery title in the vein of the Nancy Drew graphic novels as it a shoujo romance, and I’m enjoying it more and more for that reason. Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher do a great job juggling the moving parts of the academy’s world, and I’m starting to feel like this series is finally coming together.
KR: I feel like the stuff that’s tumultuous on the page, like Maps annoying Olive, whether or not Olive should finally tell Kyle she wants to break up, etc., is actually the primary book. To me, this is totally a classic high school romcom, but with a super crazy dark supernatural THING in the middle of it all making it anything but typical.
AL: My fear, however, is that even though this fourth issue was stellar, it might be too little too late. I thought that this title definitely languished in the second and third issues, where it felt like basically nothing happened. Granted, I do understand that with a story like this, everything hinges on creating a solid backbone of interpersonal relationships at the start of the story, but the pacing definitely hurts this title because it’s a monthly comic book rather than a graphic novel– a month is a really long time to wait between issues in a story where the plot is more internal than external. I think comic books like this, which primarily function as character studies, need to achieve a balance between external and internal plot developments. The Wicked + The Divine is a good example of what I’m referring to. There isn’t a lot of action in that title, but the reader is constantly aware that there are huge stakes at hand for all the major players. If I had to fault Gotham Academy for one thing, it’s that I just don’t feel like the stakes are high enough for me to be very invested in what happens to its characters.
Perhaps this title just isn’t for me, though. Anyone want to offer a dissenting opinion?
KR: You guys, Maps is like, the greatest character. This isn’t necessarily dissent, but I just need to say. For instance, she just straight up talks about her D&D campaigns like everyone else in the room should already know what “Tiamat’s fire breath on the cover of The Throne of Seven Dooms campaign book.” And in art she paints bizarre Lovecraft creations. Maps is just straight one of my favorite characters I’ve read this month.
As I’m thinking about it, actually, while I’ve never had trouble following the storyline (except maybe for the surprise at the end, which I think might come from me not knowing enough about the Batverse), there’s a pretty good chance that while I like the book well enough, I’m basically primarily here for Maps.
JS: Maps is a perfect grounding character for this book because we readers can empathize with her. She can a a little bit of our Mary Sue without being cloying about it. She also seems wonderfully grounded and real, as a person who is very happy to true to herself, with the D&D books and other stuff. If I was her age, I would be so interested in hanging out with her.
Alex, paradoxically, it’s the fact that the stakes are low that makes this book more compelling to me. Like some of those manga about cooking, where all the intense drama is about relative small things, the energy devoted to the rather small mystery is intriguing to me, a great hook, because not everything needs to be life and death in order to deeply affect a character’s life. I know when I was the age of these girls, small things were incredibly important to me — heck, they still are — and the wonderful way that Cloonan, Fletcher and Kerschl explore this lower key world is compelling for me.
MS: Maps is totally the kind of character that I would have tried to hang out with in high school, Jason. But Olive is the one that gets my interest because she has this easy to relate to dilemma of being alienated from her peer group without being sure why. I’ve had weird summers destroy friendships and relationships like Olive has experienced and the piecing together of those elements is, as Alex said, a primary source of fun with the book. The mystery that’s been quietly building in the background about her mother is the element that actually elevates this from being a typical teen romance comic to one with larger universe connections. That last mystery starts to pay off in a major way with the ending of this issue. I only hope that the next issue doesn’t cut away from it so jarringly.
AL: I totally agree with you, Jason. Not every book needs to or should be a life and death struggle. I think the reason why I’m not in love with this title as much as everyone else seems to be is because I don’t think it’s suited for a monthly comic book format. Manga can pull off dramas with relatively low stakes because, in general, they come out with a new issue every week. There’s no need to hype the reader up for the next issue because picking up the next issue becomes a routine for them. It’s like watching a daytime soap opera. On the other hand, monthly comics need to make sure they stick in the readers’ mind and keep them excited for an entire month, which is basically an eternity in the age where Netflix drops entire seasons of shows at once and at most you’re waiting week to week for your Game of Thrones or Mad Men fix.
I’m not saying that we should push the creators on Gotham Academy and similar series to start putting out their stories weekly. Honestly, I dislike the way that Japan treats its manga creators by overworking and underpaying them. However, I do think that there just isn’t enough in Gotham Academy to keep me on pins and needles for an entire month. I would’ve loved to see this series drop all at once as a giant graphic novel, because while I legitimately enjoy reading Gotham Academy, I can’t really say that I’m ever excited to read it. This is the kind of story I would love to consume in one sitting.
tl;dr: Maps is great. I love her.