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Who knew I’d be this happy to get back to school?

Granted, Gotham Academy hasn’t been out that long, with an annual released just a few weeks ago and a… less than stellar crossover between the Detective Club and the Lumberjanes currently being published, but this feels like a return to form for the little book that could.

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Left alone without a home to return to, Olive has stayed behind at the Academy over an extended break.  To combat loneliness, she spends quite a bit of time with Professor MacPherson, but even though she’s in the company of another person she still feels alone.   That pervasive sense of isolation runs throughout the issue, and these early scenes really set the tone, as this is a very quiet, very low-key story.  Save for a relatively small conflict at the end there is very little in the way of action, with Fletcher, Cloonan and Kerschl instead focusing on Olive’s boredom and underlying sadness.  As far as character studies go it’s pretty effective, though it does rely fairly heavily on a few clichés and “coming of age” tropes.

Speaking of, meet Amy, early arrival for the new semester and Olive’s new roommate.

She’s sarcastic.

She’s condescending.

She is a monster.

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Not cool, Amy.

Amy is a pretty stereotypical “tough girl”: tough attitude, multiple piercings, lack of respect for authority and/or sandwiches.  You know the type.

Olive, bored, lonely and sad after Professor MacPherson canceled on her at the last minute, gives in to Amy’s prodding and joins her on a tour of the grounds.  They walk the snowy grounds, getting to know one another, only to end up at the campus chapel.  Amy convinces Olive to take out her frustrations by vandalizing the building, to which the understandably upset Olive begrudgingly complies.  The most telling scene, for both Olive and Amy, is when the duo run into another student in the chapel.  Eric, who is “allowed to be there” and “has a key,” uncovered a secret passageway with some clues to the Academy’s connection to Arkham Asylum, but suffers an asthma attack.  Olive is desperate to help, but Amy, annoyed at Olive not having any more fun, takes Eric’s backpack and locks the two in the room.

They get out ok, don’t worry, but it’s a pretty cold blooded move from a brand new character.  Amy is no doubt being positioned as a new antagonist for the group, though time will tell what kind of depth and sympathetic traits she has.

Plus there's a Bookworm cameo, so bonus.
Plus there’s a Bookworm cameo, so bonus.

The strength of the issue is the smaller moments, and the writers thankfully allow the script to breathe.  There are some longer stretches of dialogue, but by and large this is a quiet story that focuses on a single teenage girl who doesn’t quite know how to cope with the curveballs life throws.  There are stretches where Adam Archer’s pencils and the combined colors of Chris Sotomayor and Serge Lapointe could easily be framed drawings, like the establishing shot of the school on the first page.  There’s another great sequence where Olive extinguishes and reignites a candle with every tick of the clock, helping to (literally) illustrate how bored she is rather than having her complain about it.

In the best way, this feels like arriving early to a new semester: anxiously waiting for your friends to show up and doing what you can to kill time.  It’s a little slow and not an awful lot happens, but once your friends finally show up you feel at home.  And there are times, truthfully, where Gotham Academy feels like home.

Recommended if:

  • You’ve been waiting to return to the Academy.
  • Slower, deliberately paced stories are a welcome change when there are so many huge events in comics.

Overall: School is back in session, and for once I’m glad.  This book has always been about its characters just as much as it is about mysteries, so having a whole issue to focus on Olive is nice.  In fact, that’s an apt description for this issue: nice.  It’s slow, but never boring, lays some nice groundwork for where the series is headed, and in the end feels like reconnecting with your best friends.

SCORE: 7/10

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