As the Yearbook story arc unfolds, each consecutive issue gets better than the last. While I wasn’t a fan of the first two parts, the last one definitely had us back on track, and with this issue delivering us firmly back into Gotham Academy territory, I’m content once again.
A well written tale about one of the most criminally underused and unexplored characters from Gotham Academy: Pomeline Fritch. The resurgence of Heathcliff had me thinking back to the first couple issue of this series. Back then, I totally thought Pomeline was going to become one of Olive’s main antagonists. Color me shocked when the story deviated from generic standards and instead we got an angsty sidekick with a helpful yet fully apathetic outlook on everything.
This is a welcome story in my opinion. Providing us with much needed empathy for a character who has, up till now, gotten by on nothing more than her snarky brand of humor. If you thought of Pomeline as nothing more than a one-dimensional caricature, this will probably be the story that changes that.
I also liked how this story tied into the larger universe outside of Gotham Academy. Granted, it’s a property that Brenden Fletcher is also responsible for, but I liked it nonetheless.
First, let me say that I found the title of this particular story rather clever. Our natural inclination would be to look at the word “familiar” in its most common usage: something being well know. But really, the title is referencing the demon servant to a witch that typically takes animal form.
While the first story is all about character, and the last story is about sheer awesomeness, this one is basically the action set-piece for the entire issue. It also does an excellent job at mixing horror and humor together to provide us with some downright scilarious moments. I should also point out that if you’re a big fan of references, this is where you’ll find the boatload this issue has to offer. (Check out “References Galore!” for the specifics.)
As Gotham Academy goes, it left me with one major question. In the past, there has always been an attempt to explain away any supernatural elements that the kids encounter. I might be wrong here, but I think that this is the first time they have had a run-in with a genuine supernatural entity. Will this series of events change the landscape of Gotham Academy for the better? I guess only time will tell.
The first thing I though when I turned the page and saw this new story was…WOW, that art is beyond amazing! To me, this style felt like something that should be attached to a creepy children’s book. It had an offhanded Maurice Sendak feel to it that had me completely engrossed right from the start. But it wasn’t just the art that had me so involved. While the art may have been what got my attention initially, the unfolding narrative was equally as compelling.
It was the shortest story in the book, at only 3 pages, but it didn’t waste any time in doing everything it needed to do. It established a world and characters with a past, cast them in the light of underdogs so you’d root for them, introduced a mystery, and left me wanting for more. Oh please please please tell me this is the direction that the second semester of Gotham Academy is going to go in. I simply have to know what happened to these kids SHOW SPOILER ▼, and the evolving mystery that surrounds the school is by far one of the most compelling aspects that Gotham Academy has going for it.
This story also had that Harry Potter vibe going on that some of the previous installments of Gotham Academy have embodied. You know…a student body attending a creepy school with all kinds of hidden secrets, and while living out their adventures, the students uncover stories of the student body that came before them and the crazy adventures that they went on.
After finishing the comic, I turned to the internet. Who was David Petersen, and what else had he worked on. Turns out, he created something called Mouse Guard. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but you can bet I’m about to order the first book and find out. Seems like it’s a bit of Dungeons & Dragons meets Watership Down meets Game of Thrones meets Secret of Nimh. Where do I sign up? (I think I just found the material for my first “Break from Batman” article.)
- Further searching uncovered the fact that Petersen actually has created several children’s books. So I guess my initial gut instinct on his work lending itself well to that genre was pretty spot on.
- Edit: Last minute discover, there is a Mouse Guard RPG!
I also found David’s blog, and he explains that the kids are based on himself and his childhood friends:
“I based the quartet on myself and three close friends from my younger days. These are the guys I first started making up stories with, making home movies with, and roleplaying with. Nicholas Kowalcyk became ‘Wally Adams’, David Petersen became ‘Peter Erikson’, Jesse Glenn became ‘Glen Thomas’, and Mike Davis became ‘Davey Kurtz’”.
While the shortest story in the book, it’s easily the best in my opinion, and I’d readily give it a stand-alone score of 9.5 / 10.
- In the world of Gotham Academy, Dungeons & Dragons is called Serpents & Spells. (Dodging copyright infringement is my guess.) In Dungeons & Dragons, the spell that Maps is referring to is actually called Bigby’s Hand. More specifically: Bigby’s Interposing Hand, Bigby’s Forceful Hand, Bigby’s Grasping Hand, Bigby’s Clenched Fist, and Bigby’s Crushing Hand. As you level up, the spell name changes along with the powers that it encompasses.
- Throwing a rock at Batman was a running joke that played with Killer Croc throughout Batman: The Animated Series. In an issue early on in the Gotham Academy run, they made a reference to the running gag. Now that they have done it again, it’s not just a reference to The Animated Series anymore, but also a reference to itself.
- This graffiti is seen in the sewers under Gotham Academy. That is one of the pet names that Harley Quinn had for the Joker. Not sure why she would have been down there at any point, but there you have it.
- Klarion’s dialogue is a reference to a line spoken by Jack Nicholson in the 1989 Batman Movie: “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”
- If you’re not familiar with the exhaustive pantheon of DC characters that exist out there, you’d be forgiven for not recognizing a somewhat more obscure character like Klarion The Witch Boy. I’d be more than happy to elaborate on his background, but for the sake of understanding his role in this story, I think his name tells you everything you need to know.
Just to the right of this doodle is a crayon drawing of The Demon Etrigan. How cool is that?
- “I am vengeance, I am the night”, is from the episode Nothing to Fear from Batman: The Animated Series.
- In the story, “What became of the Gilkey Warlocks…?”, there are dozens and dozens of Dungeons & Dragons references. Too many to really go into. Suffice it to say, if the characters mention something you’re not familiar with, there is a good chance it’s from Dungeons & Dragons.
- You’re a fan of David Petersen. He has a very small but highly enjoyable story tucked away within the confines of this book.
- You like Dungeons & Dragons…I mean Serpents & Spells. 3 of our 4 stories make reference to it.
- You’ve been waiting to see Pomeline receive some much needed character development.
- You like Klarion The Witch Boy.
While the opening acts of the Yearbook story arc seemed aimless to me, the last two books have really begun to pull things together. It’s starting to seem that the point behind all this was to highlight some of the real mysteries behind Gotham Academy. While it’s unfortunate that we had to sift through some of the more mundane tales in order to get to this point, it’s looking as if this arc might be shaping up to be more than just a collection of discombobulated randomness. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go buy Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 from Amazon.
SCORE: 8 / 10