Thursday, January 14, 2016

Gotham Academy #14 Review and *SPOILERS*

Arnold and Dudley Trapped in an Elevator

Written By: Brenden Fletcher, Derek Fridolfs, Katie Cook, Hope Larson
Art By: Adam Archer, Sandra Hope, Dustin Nguyen, Katie Cook, Kris Mukai
Letters By: Steve Wands
Cover Price: $2.99
Release Date: January 13, 2016

*Non-Spoilers and Score At The Bottom*

Gotham Academy fans shuddered a few months ago when solicits and a public farewell from the man himself revealed that artist Karl Kerschl would not be on this book after issue number thirteen. He lent the book a cinematic, cartoonish feel that had become its hallmark. Can we still enjoy the tales of Olive and Maps and the rest of the gang even if the book has a different style? What if it has four different styles? Yes, Gotham Academy has been around for about a year and a half, and that means it’s earned its own clip show. No reminiscing about tales of yesteryear, however, these are all new yarns and anecdotes. Are they worth checking out? Well, if you read on, you’ll find out what I think!

Explain It!:

When fans of Gotham Academy found out that Karl Kerschl would no longer be drawing the book after issue #13 (with no public mention of Becky Cloonan vanishing as co-writer at the same time) there was mass panic. It was a light panic, mind you, but it coursed throughout the internet and comic book shop chatter with concern about the future of the book. Would Gotham Academy still retain its unique look, or would it be relegated to a more standard artist that might dull the comic’s edge? Would I be able to recognize all of my favorite characters, or are they going to start gritting their teeth and straining their neck muscles all the time like they’re taking massive poops? Most importantly, would Gotham Academy still look cute?

Good news, Academy fans: the book is still as adorable as ever. This issue eases us into the artist shake-up by presenting three unique tales (and one interstitial story to stitch it all together) and four talented artists with wildly divergent styles. So this issue takes place shortly before Winter Break, and Olive Silverlock has a present for Maps Mizoguchi to pore over while the two BFFs are parted: a scrapbook detailing some of the wacky adventures they’ve had and witnessed over the school year. That more or less says everything we need to about the interstitial parts, it’s just a device to move us from one story to the next. It’s worth saying that artist Adam Archer did a really good job in making the core characters recognizable while injecting them with his own style. They appear more three-dimensional, less like painted cels from an old cartoon, but the art is still far from static and lies closer to “cartoonish” than, say, a portrait by Rembrandt. The first story in Maps’ Scrapbook is about Prank Week, the first week of classes when students prank other students as well as teachers. Eric and Colton are outside Dr. Kirk Langstrom’s office, attempting to break in and steal something to douse in spraypaint as their very poorly thought out prank. Once they get inside, they release some kind of toothy goat monster that chases after them and can even scale a wall. It menaces them, then sprouts bat wings and flies off into the sunset, Dr. Langstrom behind them as witness to their misdeed. As punishment, he makes the two of them stand in the school’s courtyard wearing sheep costumes, holding signs that read, “I’m a baaaaad student.” Seems like a quick little yarn almost not worth the telling, but it’s drawn by Dustin Nguyen so you know the visuals are good.

The next story is written and drawn by Katie Cook, and looks sort of like if the Rugrats was drawn as anime. It’s about pompous Glee Club nerd Dillyn, who has created an app that, when coupled with her voice, can control people’s minds. Olive and Maps go to confront her about it, but only Olive does so and get ensnared by Dillyn’s tech while Maps is watching cat videos online in the hallway. Seeing her friend all hemmed up by Dillyn’s glee, Maps tries to make a break for it at first, but then she chances upon one thing that can break even the most focused concentration: cute cat videos on the internet. She projects one over Dillyn’s head and breaks her hold over everyone. Olive breaks Dillyn’s tablet and the day is saved once again. What’s really notable about this story is that though it doesn’t look strictly like typical manga, it uses a lot of the same language and iconography and to pretty good effect. I also liked the “my kid is super special” name Dillyn, as well as the nod to the addictive nature of internet cat videos. I have succumbed myself, a time or two. Or three.

Our last story has to do with Professor Ilsa MacPherson, who attended Gotham Academy for a year in 1985. We go back thirty-one years to an art style by Kris Mukai that I really dig. Young Ilsa is hanging out with her friends Kristy and Sheila at the Gotham Fashion Mall, when Kristy spies a boy she wants to talk to working at Orange Julio. That must be the Latin version of Orange Julius. They tell Ilsa she’s got to hang back, because every time a dude hears her sultry Scottish accent, they only have eyes for her. Ilsa tearfully agrees, and while sobbing on a mall bench, she’s approached by a punk rocker named Tony who freaks her out and sends Ilsa flying into the ladies’ room where she encounters New Wave chick Toni, who seems to know Dave and tells Ilsa he’s harmless. They commiserate a little, and Toni tells Ilsa that she needs to stand up for herself, and she can start by going to a mall salon and getting a wild hairdo. Ilsa, emboldened by her teased mane, goes to Kristy and Sheila and scares the shit out of them. They can’t see Toni because she has a special ability to…well, turn invisible, for practical purposes, and Toni uses this ability to steal the number from the dude that works at Orange Julio right out of Sheila’s pocket. In the present, we see an adult Prof. MacPherson looking at an old picture of she and Toni from those halcyon days of the 1980s, then we see a digital newspaper headline on her desk that tells us Toni aka “La Pisada” is a wanted assassin who has evaded capture once again. Dun dun dunnnn!!!

The characterizations of the students and teachers at Gotham Academy we have come to know seem to be intact, and while Maps’ Scrapbook is a pretty silly gimmick to force some one-off stories, the stories themselves are enjoyable enough and really push the envelope, art-wise. There’s not a ton to say about this book, because it’s more something that should be seen rather than told. I’m not sure that this issue constitutes a good “jumping on point” for new readers, since it tosses us right into a bunch of stories featuring characters we may or may never see again, but I’m sure it would be understandable enough to anyone looking to check it out for the first time. For the rest of us stalwart Gotham Academy fans, rest assured that this issue delivers the same fun and silliness it always has, with perhaps fewer Gothic-styled spooky content than usual. But it is still cute, and that’s the most important thing.

Bits and Pieces

A trio of talented writers and artists (Katie Cook pulling double-duty) join Brenden Fletcher and Adam Archer to bring us some slice-of-life tales from Gotham City’s premiere prep school, and they’re all pretty cool. The issue contains lots of humor and plenty of cute stuff to draw all over your loose leaf notebook. If you’ve been a fan of the book but were on the fence about this issue due to the departure of artist Karl Kerschl, then hop off that fence and give it a look. It’s still delivering the same goofy fun we’ve come to expect and enjoy.

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