In June, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Note: the review below contains **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Editor’s Note (AL): Earlier in the day, Kyle and I took a look at the first book to come out of Young Animal, a new imprint headed by Umbrella Academy writer Gerard Way. You can check out our take on Doom Patrol #1 right now!
In addition, special thanks to AJ Frost for providing his take on All-Star Batman #2!
Writers: Brenden Fletcher & Karl Kerschl
Penciller: Adam Archer
Inker: Sandra Hope
Background Painter: Msassyk
Colorists: Chris Sotomayor & Serge LaPointe
Alex Lu: Gotham Academy has a lot of things going for it. It fills a unique all-ages niches in the DC Universe, sitting comfortably in the small realm of books you can use to introduce a pre-teen girl to periodical comics. The storytelling is heartfelt and the premise is grounded in strong characterization yet also has a fantastic bent that only a richly mythological place like Gotham City could provide. The ensemble cast assembled by the creative team is surprisingly varied and rich. Thus, it’s surprising that In Gotham Academy: Second Semester #1, writers Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl (with Becky Cloonan on story credit) and artist Adam Archer isolate their lead Olive Silverlock from the rest of the cast, focusing on her relationship with a new student named Amy.
As a first issue, albeit the first of the “second semester, this issue of Gotham Academy has some pressure on it to introduce new readers to the world of the series. On this front, Fletcher, Kerschel, and Archer easily succeed. Archer’s art has always been a highlight of this series. His work when combined with inks from Sandra Hope, background paint by Msassyk, and colors by Chris Sotomayor and Serge LaPointe, successfully distinguish Gotham Academy from the rest of the DC line by giving the world a style that crosses hauntingly rendered gothic backgrounds with character designs that draw from anime. It’s a cross you’d think would not work, yet at no point in the issue does the stylization feel unnatural. If anything, the exaggerated facial expressions of various characters only heightened the tension I felt when our lead characters are trapped in a haunted house they broke into.
The source of conflict in this issue is twofold. First, Olive is alone at the Academy during winter holidays and her favorite teacher Isla Macpherson has had to cancel a dinner night they had planned. That same evening, a new student named Amy moves into Olive’s room. Where Olive is melancholic and level-headed, Amy is brash and chaotic. Almost immediately after meeting Olive, Amy has convinced her that Isla has ditched her to spend a night with a man. She hands Olive a rock and tells her that “people suck,” goading her to throw the rock through Isla’s office window. Olive does so, and from there the pair’s misadventures escalate until Amy has trapped Olive and wiley friend Eric in the attic of the haunted house and taken Eric’s inhaler as he has an asthma attack. While the story itself is interesting enough, the character motivations ring somewhat hollow for me. Perhaps it’s because I am not caught up on the series, but as a new reader I don’t see why Olive was so easily swayed by Amy into vandalizing her favorite professor’s office, even if she did cancel plans on her. Nor do I see why she was so quick to forgive Amy for nearly killing her friend, even if she does empathize with Amy’s feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Moreover, Amy herself is a core problem with this issue for me. We get some sense that she has had a problematic history with her family and at previous schools, but she still feels too one-dimensional to fully engage with. Her journey feels too much like a person doing bad things for the sake of doing bad things when it seems like the authors’ intent is to paint her as someone who is just lashing out for attention. This doesn’t necessarily ruin the issue, but it makes it much less compelling than it could have been.
What did you think, Kyle? Agree with my assessment? Think I’m trying too hard to avoid drinking the kool-aid?
Kyle: I’ve always enjoyed Gotham Academy and think that among the Fletcher-written output on the stands, this series is my favorite. I dropped off right around the Yearbook arc mainly because I felt like the book was slightly getting away from the thing that sort of attracted me to it in the first place– that sense of Miyazaki in Hogwarts with Batman’s environs wrapped around it like a birthday present. I tend to think that while the later issues were a nice showcase for a diverse set of creators, the boarding school hijinx just weren’t as compelling to me as the general sense of whimsy that Fletcher, Cloonan and Kerschl are all capable of creating.
This first issue of the Second Semester is a step back in the right direction. It’s great to have Olive Silverlock back in the spotlight. One of my favorite aspects of the initial two arcs of the previous volume was the constant sense of discovery that was inherent in every nook and cranny of the school. You never knew what new building or passageway and what supernatural or mysterious events it might hearken back to or foretell. Right away, with Olive being drug along by the (admittedly a bit too) bossy Amy, we’re right back into that mode of mystery, uncovering an almost Dan Brown-esque set of symbols that point toward Arkham and some kind of new heretofore unknown connection between the Academy and the Asylum.
I feel even if you have no familiarity with this book at all, there’s something to grab onto here. It’s just an enjoyable little romp with enough pathos in Olive’s solitude (what’s sadder than a kid who has no family on the holidays?) that it makes for a very charming read. I was also quite taken with the art of Adam Archer, who I know contributed to the previous arc of the title, but takes on the rather monumental task of taking over art duties for Karl Kerschl exceptionally well. Given that I hadn’t seen Kerschl’s art in a minute, and paid very little attention to the solicits beforehand, I sat there thinking as I read, “just who is this pulling off these wonderfully animated and vibrant panels? Kerschl isn’t on pencils anymore, right?” I think the book is in great hands visually at this point. Gotham Academy is at its best when it looks like an animated series on the page, and Archer continues that tradition with aplomb.
Maybe the next issue will win you over, Alex! Or maybe not. Perhaps it’s not a book for everybody, but man is it ever a book for me when its respective strengths are at the forefront. I’m glad to have this team back!
Final Verdict: Browse, Alex Passes, Kyle Buys
With its latest issue, Deathstroke has basically entered the upper-echelon of DC’s line-up, right there with Wonder Woman. Both titles put out exceptional efforts once again this week and they’re quickly turning into the very first things I read in their release week.
In addition, I thought Superwoman was another enjoyable outing as well, particularly with the way it brought some focus over to the relationship between Lana and John Henry Irons, one of my favorite New 52 wrinkles. Also I think it’s worth noting that the Superbooks have no titles currently that I dislike. Sure, Action was one big long fight scene until this week, but I this issue was a fun turn-around and brought some much needed focus on Clark Kent as a static figure, without any of the concerns of being a father or trying to adjust to the world, as the title version of the character has been doing. I have no idea how this story will resolve itself, but given that we’ve been basically without Superman barely bothering with being Clark Kent for quite some time, this was a breath of fresh air.
While I’m enjoying the Superbooks across the board, the Batbooks are slightly missing the mark with me. I made the mistake of trying to read Batgirl and the Birds of Prey again. This is something I shall not repeat. On the other hand, I thought All-Star Batman was a good continuation of the freight-train momentum of last month’s issue. It had some dialogue clunkiness in how it unfurled its themes that put me out some, but I can forgive it for the overall thrust of the narrative and some really nice John Romita Jr. art.
But let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the conclusion to Detective Comics #940, which saw the end result of this long standing rumor (at least since SDCC) that Tim Drake was going to the bite the big one. I know we already warn about spoilers up top, but I’ll give you all a chance to turn away now if you haven’t read this issue. Ready? Okay!
So, it turns out Drake looks like he dies, but he doesn’t really– he actually gets teleported, via the drones that he reprogrammed, over to the stronghold of the *character find of 2014*, Mr. Oz. Up until that point, I thought this was a really good issue with some really well paced heart-wrenching moments, between Kate’s anger at her father’s betrayal, to that lovely scene between Batman and Spoiler that displays Bruce at MAXIMUM BAT-DAD. I was having such a good time reading this, and then the fake-out occurred. While I’m very glad that Tim is not dead, if he’s in Mr. Oz’s chamber, he might as well be, because my guess is that this isn’t getting resolved for a while. Anyway, the reveal on this better be good and not what I expect, but I think this is a battle that I’m losing. It wasn’t enough to ruin a really good issue for me, but it left a real sour taste in my mouth.
I too, find myself somewhat baffled by the end of Detective Comics #940. In conversations I’ve had leading up to this issue I have argued that Tim Drake should not die. He’s certainly the most extraneous of the Robins currently in the DCU, but being the outlier should not doom a character. Death in fiction, particularly in comic books, should be used in a way that serves as the catalyst for or culmination of a character’s journey. In this case, while Tim’s death may end up being the former, he’s been around for too long to not deserve some sort of culmination. James Tynion IV wrote in an easy out for Tim in the last issue of Detective, showing his acceptance to Ivy College, but as we learned from this year’s Orange is the New Black, planning for the future is just asking for a death sentence. Or extradimensional imprisonment, as it were.
More egregiously, even if Tim’s death does end up being a catalyst for the further development of other characters in Detective Comics, the whole thing rings false because the readers know that Tim isn’t really dead– just trapped outside the confines of the DC Universe. Imprisoning Tim in Mr. Oz’s lair is an even worse decision than simply killing him because it so heavy-handedly plays into the worst inclinations that major comic book universes have. No one can really die, but the creative team here has found a way to advance the plot of Detective while ensuring that they don’t accidentally slay a golden goose. It makes any development that results from this plot point feel hollow. I was actually a big fan of the way they handled the fallout from Tim’s death in Detective Comics #940 until it became a “death.” The cop-out undermines the surprising amount of sympathy I felt watching Batman embrace Spoiler in tears. Sigh. C’est la vie pour les amateurs des bandes dessinées.
On a more positive note, as you and AJ Frost both say, Kyle, All-Star Batman #2 continues to impress this week. Scott Snyder and John Romita Jr. have clearly found a groove with this series, introducing ingenious villain pairings with this week’s highlight being the giant animalistic team composed of Killer Croc, King Shark, and Amygdala. There wasn’t quite as much plot movement in this issue compared to the absolutely explosive first, but there is some great legwork done to set up the new incarnation of K.G. Beast that pays off in spades by the end of the issue. I’m pretty blase when it comes to the employment of tropey moments in stories, but for some dumb reason I always lose my mind when a villain shoots down an oncoming car and nonchalantly watches it sail over their shoulder.
Finally, with New Super-Man #3, I think Gene Luen Yang and Viktor Bogdanovic have finally started to hit their stride. The first two issues of the series felt a little stunted by the devotion Yang’s script was showing to his all ages roots and to the ties shared between the Chinese Justice League and their American counterparts. In this issue, though, we finally get beyond our main characters’ superficial character traits and dig into who they are beneath the costumes. We see Kenan connect with Deilan, the Wonder Woman of China, and Baixi, the Bat-Man of China outside of their costumes for the first time. No longer simply chastising Kenan for his brashness and blatant disrespect for authority, they come off as real people rather than superpowered keepers for Kenan and the book improves dramatically for it. I’m not in love with the ending of the issue, which basically rips off The Legend of Korra for dramatic effect and seems to be going way too big way too fast, but the book is much improved from where it was and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.