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Review: Gotham Academy #9

ga009Gotham Academy has hit a note with so many readers specifically because of its approach to its characters.  The characters have been written with depth from almost the beginning, making them approachable and likable almost from the first page.  The writing of the series has also benefited the setting, specifically to fit perfectly into Gotham, where the supernatural can be mostly explained by the real life antics of bad guys, perverting science to their own means.  Thus while there is a were-bat on campus, it is as a result of Kirk Langstrom, not because there are actually such things as were-bats.  With every bit of reality though, there was still a bit of the unexplained, and in the case of the series protagonist, there was still something elusive about her background.  For the series which seemed like a DC version of Morning Glories, the setup seemed to be somewhat familiar except for the mind bending developments that Morning Glories undergoes.  Or at least it was different until now.

With the werewolf on the loose at campus it falls to the team to track him down.  In the meantime Olive is making new discoveries of her own, specifically that there are reasons why she is at the Academy to begin with.  These discoveries have to take a backseat to other interests though as she finally goes to visit Tristan, and as the werewolf comes back into the picture.  There are some unexpected developments – there always are in this series – though not as unexpected perhaps as what we see here.

The outlook of the series might have changed a little bit with this issue, but the quality has not.  Especially as this seems to be somewhat of the end state for this first overall story arc of the series, a lot of different approaches could have been taken to get here,  but none would have created such a sizable depth of characterizations for those only ten issues into their publication histories.  As it stands, this remains one of the best series on offer from DC, even if its initial aura of mystery is replaced by something else.

Story: Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher  Art: Karl Kerschl
Story: 9.2 Art: 9.2 Overall: 9.2 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Batgirl Annual #3

batgirlannual003When reading the modern medium of comics, it is easy to forget that comic stories did not always have the same format.  As opposed to the modern day where one-shots are an absolute rarity, they used to exist more or less in this format across the entire medium.  Long story arcs were rare, and heroes usually met a villain and dealt with them in a short amount of time.  These stories which can be more easily located in the silver age, had a fairly common format of hero encounters villain, is beaten at first but then quickly recovers and wins.  This format is interesting because it is still occasionally used, but also because it is used in this most recent Batgirl Annual, and used quite cleverly.

Facing off against a mysterious villain and organization tied to the name Gladius, Barbara is forced to make some unlikely alliances which take her around the bat-family.  The cover alludes to the one that fans would be the most excited about, with an encounter with Dick Grayson, but there are also some clever other interactions as Barbara follows the trail of Gladius.  She encounters two other former Batgirls from previous years (Stephanie Brown and Helena Bertinelli) as well as Batwoman, a decent collection of Bat-ladies that is only missing Cassandra Cain.  The story diverges in an unexpected direction as well, crossing over what might be DC’s two best titles at the moment, as Batgirl and the residents of Gotham Academy get to meet for the first time.

What is most interesting about this story, is that while it is told in a series of separate vignettes, each with their own style, it also still manages to be a fluid story that makes sense, without the cameos seeming too forced.  Barbara is still the star but she cedes that status easily to those that she teams up with, making this issue more than the sum of its parts.  While the main series occasionally gets tied down in its own plots, this annual seems to represent a desire by the main creative team to cut loose a bit and have some fun with the character, and they succeeded.

Story: Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher Art: Bengal, David LaFuente, Ming Doyle, Mingjue Helen Chen, Gabe Eltaeb, Ivan Plascensia
Story: 9.4 Art: 9.4 Overall: 9.4 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Gotham Academy #8

ga008Since her introduction to the pages of Gotham Academy, Olive Silverlock has been an engaging yet mysterious main character.  While her supporting cast has been fun and quirky, it is her around whom the series focuses.  Despite that, there has been a definite lack of Olive recently after her introduction.  Since the break for Convergence there was an Endgame tie-in, although this was mostly a ghost-story issue more in line with the horror titles of the 1970s than what we expect from the series.  The return of the series last month was without the series main character, and so it has been the case that this is the first appearance of the character after four months.

With that kind of a break, it would seem that there is some necessity to do something bigger with the character, and it is here.  Despite her return though, this issue mostly focuses on a different problem.  Despite already having Damian Wayne on the school grounds (though he is absent here) this issue reveals that Tristan is more that what he seems, as he is afflicted with some kind of lycanthropy, specifically the kind that seems to turn Dr. Kirk Langstrom into a bat as well.  It is an interesting sub-plot to the story, especially so that Langstrom shows up here as the new science teacher who is keen to help the student.  While they deal with this, there is a darker path underway for Olive which is revealed at the end of the issue.

While the tone of the series has changed a little bit with this issue, as well as the focus, it still maintains its same high standards that it has proven so far.  The sub-plot with Tristan is distracting in a way, but then the idea here was not to bring back the series’ protagonist with a flash but rather with a slow burn.  It is an effective way to pave the way for what will be Olive’s future, but as a good story should do, it is taking its time and not rushing in, and this issue is better for it.

Story: Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher  Art: Karl Kerschl
Story: 8.9 Art: 8.9 Overall: 8.9 Recommendation: Buy


Review: Gotham Academy Endgame #1

gaeg001So far in its short but excellent run, Gotham Academy has managed to capture interest due to its close connection to Gotham, but also that it skirts the connection to create its own unique narrative.  The stories have thus been focused in a particular direction and they have thus maintained similarities in tone and content.  This issue is the first break in that trend, focusing instead on activities which would be something much more closely linked to the activities of young people.  At the same time, while this is essentially a loose collection of horror stories, it does the same as always with this series as it balances some connection to Gotham with its own stories, even if it is more of an aside than anything.

There is a bit of a forced setup as the girl’s are forced to camp out in the school gym because of a virus spread by the Joker.  It is a bit of a disconnect that something so dangerous is treated in such a cavalier manner, but it does work to get the characters into tents to tell spooky stories.  What is particularly interesting in this story is the combination actual urban legends with that of the Joker.  There are only three stories told, but each connects in way, either to the Joker or to the Red Hood, and adds a bit of background to the character who has none.  Although the background is usually considered to be much more mundane (falling in a vat of acid) as the Joker represents true chaos and anarchy, there is no reason to think that in some way that he is not tied to these stories in some way.

There is perhaps a bit of a disconnect between this standalone issue and the rest of the series, but it doesn’t really matter.  While this does not advance the main plot of Gotham Academy in any way, it is also nice as it helps to develop the characters in a more complex way, even if they did not need much more development as opposed to a lot of other comic characters.  This issue also ties the characters together with Gotham once again, though also really doesn’t at the same time.  It is this balance where the series finds its success and it finds it here too, even if it is relatively unimportant to the overall narrative of the series.

Story: Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher  Art: Jeff Stokely
Story: 8.3 Art: 8.3 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Gotham Academy #6

gothamacademy6-covSo far into its run Gotham Academy has been one of the biggest surprises coming out of DC Comics in years.  It features a group of characters that are ostensibly connected to the DC universe, but who are also mostly on their own.  In the first issues, Batman (or Bruce Wayne) has shown up from time to time, but the story has focused mostly on the Academy itself with Olive as its main feature.  She has been portrayed as a complex character, one that is striving to do well at school while also dealing with a recent tragedy.  The introduction of Killer Croc brought the series back into the DC Universe, albeit only a little, though the events of the previous issue produce more connections, directly through the inclusion of Batman.

This issue deals with the fallout of those events, included a short battle between Batman and Croc, but the focus lies where it should, on Olive.  While she deals with the after effects of the revelations about her mother by Croc, she realizes that she is part of a bigger story, one which ties the Academy into a deeper story.  This was a nice moment for the series, which gave Gotham Academy a bit of a Morning Glories vibe, although it was also short lived.  In what will be a common occurrence for all of DC Comics leading into Convergence, this issue also felt a little bit like one which is the final issue of the a series.  This gave it a bit of a somber attitude as it tried to wrap up some plot details with a degree of finality, even if the series is still scheduled to return in June.

The series still stands out as one to watch at DC, only it must be noted that once again a big DC wide crossover is thrown into the mix and will have an impact on this series.  It would seem as though the series is teetering on some kind of a breaking point as the epilogue throws a bit more Batman into the Academy, which might work for the series and it might not.  Nonetheless this issue works where it needs to, and while it might not be as strong as others in the series, its quality is still above what to expect from other series.

Story: Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher Art: Karl Kerschl
Story: 8.4 Art: 8.4 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy