Things have been strange in Gotham Academy lately. I don’t just mean the school, either, as things have always been strange there. No, this title has been in a bit of a tough spot recently, and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why. Aside from a few changes, the celebrated creative team stayed mostly intact, and there’s not been a Second Semester story to date that hasn’t felt tonally consistent with the rest of the series. Remember, I said that Gotham Academy was my favorite Bat-title to come out of the New-52, and a large part of that was because it just felt different. It was something new in fresh in a landscape of endless capes and tights comics, a book focusing on real people when superheroics go on around them.
Then again, that may be the very reason why Second Semester hasn’t been delivering: it feels like more of the same. There isn’t anything new here that hasn’t been done before, no big changes or threats for the characters to face. It’s a lot like school in that regard: repetitive and even a little boring. Don’t get me wrong, I still like this book for all its quirky charm, I just don’t find myself loving it anymore.
Thankfully, a one-and-done, single-issue story is here to break up the monotony and just get a little weird. It’s not masterpiece by any means, but “The Carnival Midnight” has a lot of interesting ideas that kept me hooked until the decidedly anticlimactic ending.
When the Carnival Midnight pitches tent on the Gotham Academy grounds, Olive and the other members of the Detective Club sense something is awry. This is largely due to Headmaster Hammer’s insistence that the carnival vacate the premises immediately, but come on. Just look back up at that title page. Those guys are shady.
The “haunted carnival” trope is a well-worn one, but there’s some great narrative potential for it with this group. With promises of hints at Hammer’s past, weird creatures, and the ringmaster’s sinister agenda this could have been a great little two-parter. Unfortunately, it just ends right as everything is getting interesting. Sure, we get a bit of a shocking revelation regarding Hammer’s age, but the climax comes and goes without any real tension or danger. Even though I’m constantly calling for more one-and-done/single-issue stories to break up longer arcs, the story at least needs to warrant brevity. We needn’t be reading about the Carnival Midnight well into the new year, but a little more room for the mysteries to breathe would have been nice. As it stands, the villains in the story look creepy and that’s about it. The stakes are really low, and there wasn’t really any danger to begin with after how quickly resolution comes about.
Jon Lam’s strong visuals carry the issue farther than its relatively weak story would have it go. I particularly like his use of colors, giving things a nice “brushstroke” quality. Even more straightforward images, such as the low angle shot of the title page, have a different vibe and personality of their own. His look is different for Gotham Academy, but frankly it’s a welcome change. His character models are spot-on, and even with a less than inspired script his visual pacing moves things along nicely. That’s not a knock against Adam Archer’s work, as I really like his visual aesthetic, but for a “fill-in” Lam gives a nice break from the norm. It’s different without being distracting, oftentimes even inspired.
This is an improvement over the lost luster of this title recently, but not enough to completely make it a must read. Regardless, it’s charming enough, and even small steps forward are moving in the right direction.
- You’ve been reading Gotham Academy from the beginning.
- You want to know a little more about Headmaster Hammer.
- You’re a fan of Jon Lam’s art, and if you aren’t, you probably will be.
Overall: A slight step forward for a book that’s been spinning its wheels for some time. Gotham Academy’s worst sin is that it’s really just been more of the same each month, without any huge stakes or big plot advancements. It’s strange to say that an issue that actually takes place before the current story arcs is a move in the right direction, but it succeeds by virtue of just being different. I wish this story had more time to develop, especially with the narratively-rich “spooky carnival” plot device, but what’s here is perfectly serviceable. I just really want it to be more than that.