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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

Review: Gotham Academy #5

ga005So far in this series, the direction and overall story of the characters has been a bit convoluted.  it has focused on Olive Silverlock, a girl that is sequestered at a boarding school set in Gotham, and among the many mysteries that she and her best friend Maps have to investigate, they all seem to be somehow associated with the school’s North Hall.  The series has kept its readers guessing as well.  In a superhero setting that is arguably more realistic than others, Gotham Academy might have been the type to mix a bit of reality into the supernatural.  It becomes evident in this issue that it is not the case.  Instead the series takes a different approach and one which has never been tried before in comics, as the regular people in Gotham are portrayed as regular people from the real world, but that the superpowered nature of some is explained by supernatural explanations.

In this issue both a vampire and a lizard man are explained in this way, and while it is not necessarily either Man-Bat or Killer Croc that are being referred to, it it still evident how people could make the mistake.  While this is the most noteworthy innovation of this issue, it is also the source of the main drawback, as minor as it is.  For the first time maps is shown talking in Dungeons and Dragons lingo, which is likely understood by most comic fans, but as this comic has the ability to reach out to mainstream interest, it also comes across as a bit heavy.  A couple or references would be fun, but it is risks becoming too niche in its references.

This series is still one of the standouts among the big two, and while others are being rolled out to compete with the success of this and Batgirl, it is evident that (while the newer series are not necessarily bad) that this is a step above.  The characters are approachable and the story is enchanting and engaging, and this series remains a success story and provides an example of how to do comics right.

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

Review: Gotham Academy #4

ga04covFor those that have been reading along with the series or at least following the buzz, they might think that this is a series with a set shelf life, that after a certain amount of time that there are going to be enough mysteries solved that Gotham’s own version of Nancy Drew is simply going to run out of interesting stories.  For any that were thinking this, who thought that issue #3 signaled the start of a downwards spiral for this series, they can instead rest assured that there is still lots of story left to tell in this series, as the compelling mysteries are not one but many.

The presence of the ghost hunt in the previous issue might have seemed like the end of the glue that held the first story together, but the writers prove that they are not afraid to diversify a bit here, not only in terms of content but also context.  While the previous issues dealt with Olive and Maps searching for answers for secrets that they nothing about, here the secrets become a lot deeper as Olive especially is forced to deal with new mysteries such as secret symbols, secret passageways and trying to figure out exactly why Bruce Wayne is so interested in her.  In so doing the characterization here is amazing, and it pays good homage to its intended demographic by not treating its main characters as stereotypes of this age bracket (what was particularly on the mark was what Maps wished for on her birthday.)  This realistic approach to the characters is what makes this series more approachable for all-ages to dive into.

The creative team proves here that they have a lot left in this series.  Far from being a drop off in quality this issue might be the best so far, especially as the shock value has worn off from the first few issues for those that thought that such a series could never be good or entertaining.    Indeed this is one of the best issues that DC has on offer from its wide selection of titles.  It is still tied to superheroes and belongs in the DC Universe, but at the same time it mostly doesn’t and stands on its own by itself as well.

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

Review: Supergirl #37

Supergirl 037There has been an interesting trend at DC Comics in the past year.  Instead of portraying its young adult and new adult heroines as hopeless children, it has started to show more characterization, dealing with problems that might actually affect them, in addition to dealing with superheroics.  With Supergirl it seems as though the same approach is being taken, though due to the nature of the character it is perhaps not as pronounced.  This goes back to the same problems that all of the Super characters have lobbied against them, namely that with so many superlatives next to their names and their powers, that there is just not as much to draw the reader in.  The characters are never really threatened who cannot be harmed, and while some readers still adore these characters, others find the lack of a real threat to be boring.

What has worked so well for instance for Batgirl is thus a little dulled down here.  Supergirl is still on the Crucible and even though its true nature is not yet revealed, it would seem as though something is not right about it.  This is still an engaging environment for her, only just not as engaging as those faced by either Batgirl or Olive Silverlock.  At the same time, for the first time since Siobhan, there are supporting characters in this series that have more going for them than being stock secondary characters, and there are even two, in Tsavo and Maxima.   Tsavo particularly plays an important part in this issue as his background comes back to haunt him and he is forced to intervene on his home planet with his new allies.

The end result is an issue which shows that this series is moving in the right direction.  So often in this series it has felt like the character was waiting inside her own universe for some kind of purposeful meaning, and it seems as though it might finally be finding it over three years later. I thought that the cover was clever as well, as though it seems to be a representation of Kara’s search for an identity, it is actually tied into the issue in an interesting way.  This is not the best material that DC has to offer, but it is still a fun read and every issue seems to be getting better, and for those that have been waiting for a good time to finally pick up this title, this might be the start.

Story: K. Perkins and Mike Johnson Art: Ema Lupacchino
Story: 8.3 Art: 8.8 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Read

Review: Gotham Academy #3

Gotham Academy 003 - covAlready in its third issue, something has become clear with this series so far.  Although it is based in Gotham, the closer that this ties into Gotham’s superheroes, the weaker the story ends up being.  It is not that this was a weak issue, but it was the most directionless of the three so far, and due in part to the return of Batman into the fray.  Here Olive is joined by one time enemies and now allies in her quest to find out exactly what is happening in the North Hall.  She does this in a variety of ways, partially by using her contacts from detention to her benefit, but also by using her friendship with Maps to get closer to the mystery than she had been before.

Throughout this issue there are a lot of touching moments which work well towards Olive’s character development, but fitting with the series, even those seem to be a little mysterious.  A confrontation with her boyfriend leads to an admission about what happened to her the previous summer, or did it?  And the same happens when she manages to sneak into the North Hall.  There is more there than what she bargained for, but the reader is still not even sure what they are seeing, which incidentally ties them closer to Olive, who has the same problem of not fully understanding what is going on.  This duality between reader and main character can be difficult to achieve, but it works here, as once again as with the previous issue, the reader is working through the mystery surrounding Olive alongside her.

In the end the issue is still a standout, only that it does not reach the same balance as the previous issues.  For a character that has been thrown into the lead in a new series, Olive has been a great mix of interesting character development combined with a plot worthy of such a deep and compelling character.  The problem here is not so much an absence of either the character development or the novelty of the plot, rather as opposed to the previous two issues, the two elements seemed to be more separated.  This series is still one of the stand-outs for DC Comics, and it is only be comparison to the excellent first two issues that this one comes up a bit short, as it still fits in with the overall high quality of writing and artwork so far in this series.

Story: Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher Art: Karl Kerschl
Story: 8.6 Art: 8.6 Overall: 8.6 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Gotham Academy #2

GA002aAlready only on the second issue and this series seems to have a cult following, and for good reason.  The first issue of Gotham Academy introduced the main characters, including series protagonist, but it is this second issue where even more of the novelty of this series comes alive.  Olive Silverlock is still struggling to fit in both with her fellow students as she tries to remember what happened the previous summer.  She also starts to unravel an unknown mystery first as it pertains to the supposed ghost haunting the academy but then to something else altogether.

If I were forced to give a brief description of this series I would say that it is like Morning Glories crossed with Batman, but if that comparison holds then it even does so for the better of this series by taking the better of both of those elements.  Morning Glories can be confusing with its intricate plots focused on a variety of characters dancing through dreams and time and so the presence of Gotham and Batman, widely considered to be the most realistic of superhero settings, makes this story more grounded and real.  The mysteries which Olive faces seems like they could almost happen to anybody not just someone living in Gotham.  Equally, while Gotham is here, it really isn’t at the same time, at least not to bog down the story in the old instead of focusing on the new.  Perhaps DC Comics was playing it safe in the first issue with at least an appearance by Bruce Wayne, but here the Gotham related plot elements are more subtle and organic to the story, with reference to the Cobblepots and to bats, and without an out-of-place cameo.

oliveThe end result is somewhat unexpected as this second issue is even better than the first, having lost none of the novelty and even picking up some momentum.  The main characters are fleshed out as the story progresses, and the creative team is clever in leading Olive around the grounds of Gotham Academy, allowing the reader to discover its secrets alongside the heroine.  The main concern that I have with this issue is the same as with the first issue, that DC is interested in quantity over quality, in that it cancels a lot of good titles just because they aren’t selling well, and that could be the case here as well.  Regardless comic fans are at a loss if they are to let this series die an early death, it is really one of the most innovative series to come out of DC in years and deserves a chance.

Story: Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher Art: Karl Kerschl
Story: 9.2 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.2 Recommendation: Buy

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