It might seem out-of-place to talk about Star Trek here, but hear me out. Whenever I watch Star Trek, especially the earlier stuff, I’m always struck and impressed by how much of the tension is driven by exploration and problem-solving, rather than conflict with some baddie of the week. I just happen to think these make for more layered, unpredictable stories, something you don’t often get from the superhero genre.
But then, Gotham Academy isn’t your typical superhero series, is it? The only outright antagonist at the Academy thus far is Pomeline Fritch, who’s more of an annoyance than a villain, though she shifts a little closer toward the latter once exposed in a quasi-Satanic ritual. But even hooded and chanting over a roaring fire in an underground cavern, Pom is only a piece of GA‘s puzzle, the outer borders of which haven’t fully formed yet.
At the moment, two different mysteries are pushing the series forward. The most compelling one, even more than the strange, seemingly supernatural stuff around campus, is what exactly happened to Olive over the summer. We get scattered hints from Pom and Professor MacPherson, all hinting at some kind of identity crisis involving Olive’s mom, and her obsession with the troubled life of Mille Cobblepot strongly suggests Olive found some unsavory business in her own family.
That might explain a lot about Olive’s current emotional problems, but not everything, least of all why she draws a blank when it comes to her memory of the summer. This is a level of weirdness usually associated with the supernatural, though Cloonan-Fletcher do their best to keep the details open enough for something more earthly. The academy’s antiquity and spookiness is such that you’d be more than happy to leap towards the more fantastic conclusions, but since we’re still operating out Gotham, caution is advised. As the last scene proves, even the most occultish circumstances may turn out to be three preppy teens in robes and hoods, though shaggy blonds (out of uniform, you’ll notice) with demonic red eyes are harder to brush off.
Against these unusual plotlines, there’s the usual high school drama: mean girls, relationship angst, creepy geeks, and insufferable assholes. To Cloonan-Fletcher’s credit, they manage to portray a slice of teen life with greater integrity than, say, Teen Titans or Young Avengers. It’s not just because Olive and her classmates are clearly not costumed showboaters; they’re just more put-together, confident, and thoughtful than your typical fictional adolescents, and thus closer to those of the real world. I think my own former students will tell you that they’re not all drama and rebellion.
Once you really examine the story, it’s not much different from the prep school mysteries of Morning Glories, even Gossip Girl. What really makes GA stand out is Kerschl’s visuals, which somehow manage to be cute and elfin with the best of the shoujo manga, but still have that American attitude. If Fiona Staples’ art had a younger sibling, this would be it. The design sensibilities are trendy and hip, but very much wearable. Overall, the look of GA is incredibly fashionable, an description shared by few other titles in the mainstream lines.
The wheels spin just a little bit on the story, but the character relationships and plot threads all get fleshed out.Some Musings: - Do I sense a bit of wishful thinking in Cloonan-Fletcher's elaborate cafeteria menus? "Sweer [sic] Potato, Chick Pea & Spinach Curry," "Poppadoms," "Tuscan Bean Soup with Parmesan," "Fresh Fruit Salad with Cream," "Basmati Rice"…I can't even find places to pay for this kind of food.- Looking at Kyle's near-ideal tennis serving form, I'm brought back to my Prince of Tennis obsession. Maybe it's the hat or his aloofness, but Kyle definitely strikes me as the Sanada Genichrou type.- Maps, if you want someone to "draw my Serpents & Spells character," try Deviantart. That way, you can physically avoid the creepy sketcher kids.