I love Gotham Academy. From the beginning, it’s been a refreshing look at a part of the DC Universe that’s never received much attention, telling a coming-of-age story that is largely bereft of the usual cliches and contrivances that plague similar works. With its charming cast and unique point of view, the adventures of Olive, Maps, and their “Detective Club” have proven to be an enjoyable all-ages book, one that I even named as my favorite series of the New 52. There may have been other Bat-titles that will have more of an impact in the long-run, but the fact that Gotham Academy dared to be something different and largely succeeded is worth noting and celebrating.
I also love Batman Beyond, and largely for the same reasons: it was a different look at the world of Batman, also told from the point of view of a teenager. As the years have passed I find myself enjoying it more as a possible future for Bruce rather than a definitive one, largely due to the depressing circumstances that led to that future: they’re excellent stories that were masterfully told, but knowing that Bruce’s legacy dies while the Joker’s survives (even as an obscurity for street gangs to reference) is pretty upsetting. Seeing the family and city he worked so hard to protect turn their backs on him, leaving him a broken, lonely old man? That’s rough, but really, it’s also for another time.
And vampire stories… well, I can take or leave those. Two out of three isn’t bad, though, and the first Gotham Academy Annual contains elements of all three.
Sad to say, I did not love it.
It’s difficult to put my finger on why it isn’t great, as it feels like Gotham Academy, but that may be it right there: this feels like just another issue, only stretched to the point of outstaying its welcome. The tone and characters are all fine and well-represented, and the adventure holds some promise, it’s just that it never rises above “just fine.” With an annual you should go bigger than you can in the normal twenty-two pages of the monthly title, and this story never really does.
After Olive is attacked by a mysterious figure and falls ill, a rash of similar cases start popping up across the Academy grounds. In addition to the mystery illnesses, the Academy’s chapel is set fire to, an act that cannot be coincidental. This leads to Colton and Pomeline arguing over who or what is causing these events, and the other members of Detective Club just kind of getting dragged along. Colton thinks it’s the mysterious Derek Powers, guest lecturer, and Pomeline thinks it’s a vampire, because of course she does.
Spoiler alert: They’re both right.
The branching stories is a good idea, and I especially like that different artistic teams trade off as the focus shifts from each group of characters. Adam Archer, Msassyk, Michael Dyalimas, and Chris Wildgoose all have distinct styles, yet they complement each other very well; there’s never a point in the issue where the change in artistic style comes across as jarring, which is a great strength. It’s handled like a filmed anthology, where different directors and cinematographers bring their own unique vision to their respective installments and building off the other creative teams to tell a solid, unified narrative.
My main problem is with the writing, and that’s strange to say about the usually solid Brenden Fletcher and Becky Cloonan. The characters, tone, and events are all consistent with what we’ve come to expect from this title, but something just feels… off, almost like it’s two different episodes of a Scooby-Doo cartoon mashed together. The caper is fun enough while it lasts, but the payoff is pretty disappointing. Some of the dialogue comes off a little twee at times as well, which is something that Cloonan and Fletcher have almost miraculously been able to avoid when writing about a bunch of teenagers. Nothing that really took me out of the story, but made the reading experience a little less enjoyable just the same.
There’s definitely some good material here, though: Pomeline chooses Tristan to go along with her because she insists he’s a vampire, and Colton and Kyle’s adventure is pretty heavily influenced by Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Powers’ inclusion is not at all coincidental either, as young Warren McGinnis makes an appearance, and seeds are planted for the eventual world of Batman Beyond.
For all its faults, it’s still fun and comforting, as only a beloved series can be, I just wish it was more than just… fine. But that’s what it is: fine.
- You like Gotham Academy.
- You like Batman Beyond.
- You like vampire stories and/or Poe allusions.
- You do not like Maps (for some reason), as she is barely in it.
Overall: For a first annual, this should have been better, yet it could have been worse. Seeing these characters in action one more time before they come back for their second semester is nice, and there’s plenty here to like, just not an awful lot to love. It looks great, that’s for certain, it just could have afforded to be shorter. Still, any excuse to visit the grounds of Gotham Academy is welcome, and I still love this series, warts and all.