Gotham Academy: Second Semester #8
Written by Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan, and Karl Kerschl
Art by Rob Haynes, Adam Archer, Sandra Hope, and Msassyk
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Gotham Academy has been one of the most enjoyable outliers from DC's line-up pretty much since its inception during the "New 52", often feeling like an indie-darling with tangential references to the more famous residents of the titular city. As it wraps up its penultimate arc and pivots towards a series-concluding story, it does so with aplomb. Everything that makes this series refreshing and exciting is here, as is the strong narrative backbone and incredibly dynamic art that has always been the title's foundation.
This issue picks up exactly where the previous issue ended, as our two primary plots of the series barrel towards one another with a sense of inevitability. The primary plot of the issue is what has ostensibly been the main plot of the series, Olive's search for identity. Gotham Academy #8 wastes no time in establishing the severity of the situation as the first panel is of newly scorched terrain at the hand of Olive's budding pyromancy and possession. The blending of her thought process and the spirit controlling her thoughts is handled well and gives Olive's every action and line of dialogue an air of gravitas. That, combined with the stray panel of horses running from the fire, gives this scene the gothic sensibility that no current comic handles as well as Gotham Academy. In fact, that sensibility makes the following scenes with Batman a little jarring.
Batman ultimately does very little to influence the course of the plot. That is a blessing and a curse for this book. It gives Olive's actions a scope and a context. Readers see Olive torching the land around Gotham Academy which looks imposing enough given the art team's incredible work in this issue in particular, but when we see that Bruce Wayne not only fails to stop Olive but is ineffectual throughout the entire encounter, it makes this less of a localized disaster and more of a citywide disaster, as the comic's closing panel makes abundantly clear. Of the two most obvious reasons for Batman's inclusion, this is the one that holds the issue back in some regards. Part of what makes Gotham Academy work as well as it does is the fact that exists in a microcosm away from the craziness that goes on in primary DC books. That, along with an abundance of strong writing and beautiful artwork, makes this series so approachable and engrossing. It has all of the perks of mainstream comics without the hindrances. The scenes would have worked without Batman because these characters have been built up in the previous series and throughout the past eight issues of this series, and because the story and art treated what was happening with the appropriate severity. Batman is ultimately out of place.
The second obvious reason for Batman's appearance is notably stronger. It ultimately would have worked without Batman present, but his presence doesn't detract from it. The flashbacks to the founding of Gotham during Pomeline's side of the plot, while feeling reminiscent of Harrow County or Paranorman, are some of the best scenes in the entire series to date. Pomeline's ancestor was the best friend of Olive's ancestor, and as Olive's ancestor was burned alive by the townspeople, Pomeline's ancestor saved her infant daughter and noted the names of all of the Gotham settlement founders who were responsible for the tragedy, all of which correspond to Batman and some of his more famous rogues. This deep sense of generational conflict where the sins of the earliest generation both directly influence and need to be rectified by the present generation contributes to the fantastic gothic sensibility driving this series and makes for some goosebump-inducing reading in the sense that you are reading something powerful. Including Batman and direct reference to his villains places this series in the context of DC continuity, but does so in such a way that it isn't shackled to decades of retcons and side stories.
The art team behind Gotham Academy has never delivered a bad issue, and with #8 the absolutely blow the roof off. There is a sense of fluidity to the panels, all of which balance the line between being highly stylized and low key enough to never be intrusive. The fire, background patterns, eye color, and clothing prints all demonstrate digital artistry in comic books at its peak. There isn't anything on the shelves currently that looks like Gotham Academy, and if the next arc indeed closes the book on the series as a whole, there will be a vacuum. Gotham Academy demonstrates exactly what the Big Two comic publishers should be doing in a market that is more democratized and accessible to indie creators. The creation of new characters in this series was already a step in the right direction, but keeping it as insulated as it has been has made this series unique, even among its fellow DC titles, and approachable in a way that nobody would expect a DC book. This is a series that could find a home on any fan's shelf, and one which really should as it continues to impress arc after arc.