Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Gotham Academy Second Semester #4 Review and **SPOILERS**

There’s Nothing Creepy About a Carnival at Midnight

Writer: Brenden Fletcher 
Artist: Jon Lam 
Letters: Steve Wands 
Cover: Mingjue Helen Chen 
Cover Price: $2.99 
On Sale Date: December 14, 2016


Have I ever used this space to talk about the feature film Up the Academy? After the successful release of National Lampoon’s Animal House, publisher and proprietor of MAD magazine was approached by…oh, some filmmaking Canadians, I assume, to slap their name (and probably some dollars) on a movie about hijinks at a boys’ military academy. Ralph Macchio was in it, as well as some other vaguely familiar people that I’m not even going to both to look up. I actually rented this movie more than once as a kid and…it’s not very good. It’s something that might have run in afternoons on Nickelodeon in the 1980s, and still been one of their cornier offerings. Word has it that Gaines saw the movie and paid $20,000 to have all traces of MAD’s involvement scrubbed—but I think it must have been on the VHS box somewhere, since that was the reason I rented the movie in the first place. And I definitely recall the movie ending with the rascally kids driving down a long road upon which Alfred E. Newman is hitchhiking with a “What Me Worry?” sign. The film was terrible, still I wish the school in Gotham Academy Second Semester was more like the one in Up the Academy, if only for the quips. Read on for my review of issue #4!

Explain It!

According to a caption in the first panel of this comic book, this story takes place before the events of Gotham Academy Second Semester #1. So…it takes place before the first day of school? As I recall it, Olive had to stay at the Academy over Winter Break as described in Gotham Academy Annual #1, and then the first issue of Gotham Academy Second Semester was everyone reconnecting and Olive acting super weird because of her make-believe friend. Or does this mean that these events took place last semester? Because you might have said that. There are people actually paying attention to what they are reading, even if the editorial staff is not. It’s like they looked at a conceptual timeline and decided that institutions of learning aren’t known for their rigid schedules or perennially-occurring school events, so let’s just wing it! So sometime before the events of Gotham Academy Second Semester #1, which is most likely in the first semester, the Carnival Midnight comes to town. The name should be indication enough that this is a shady, creepy carnival, so it’s being advertised at the Academy by a shady, creepy boy dressed like a 1920s casino dealer. When I was in high school, a kid dressed like this, in a bow tie and vest, would have had his face caved in. I guess that’s prep school life for you. Also he might be invisible to everyone but Olive, at least outside of the Carnival Midnight. Olive seems to attract a lot of invisible friends, these days.
So of course the gang goes to the Carnival Midnight, which opens at midnight naturally. This should have been another clue that this amusement park was a little off, as well. What the hell kind of carnival opens at midnight?! You know what, don’t answer that. To really drive home the point that this place is the epicenter of evil, a carnival barker that literally looks like Satan in a top hat entices the Gotham Academy students with free admissions, taking particular interest in Olive due to his enhanced creep factor. Headmaster Hammer shows up and condemns the barker, named Brother Bete, with whom he seems rather familiar. Hammer kicks Bete off the property and for most people it would be the conclusion of the story…but for the Detective Club it’s only the beginning!
They descend into the dankest, dustiest part of the library to pore through old yearbooks and Academy publications to see if they can find a connection between Hammer and Brother Bete. They do find a picture of a very young Hammer from about a hundred years ago, one that looks like it’s from an article about the depicted companion, Bray, having gone missing. Just then, the spooky old-timey kid, named Bernard, has shown up and told only Olive that Carnival Midnight has set up just outside the Academy’s gate—so they can all visit tonight! If they’re idiots! And here’s where you might expect a super spook-fest of a carnival, full of crazy clowns and ghosts and mummies or whatever…but it’s not. The place is empty. Olive is lured into a hall of mirrors where Bernard and Bete try to mess with her mind, and the rest of the crew tackles a giant snake lady (who looks pretty cool, admittedly), but the fact that this is a carnival seems entirely incidental. Where are the rifle ranges? The thing where you bang a pillow with a sledgehammer in order to ring a bell? The unsafe kiddie rides manned by pedophiles—or at this place, I would hope, werewolf pedophiles? There’s simply no reason for this to have been a carnival, it could have been a beckoning fairy in the woods luring the children to a snake monster for all that the Big Top setting mattered.
No big shocker, Headmaster Hammer shows up to save the day and forces Brother Bete to take his true form, which is like a freaky goblin-looking thing, then kills it and frees Bernard, who turns out to be the “Bray” mentioned earlier, from some kind of spectral imprisonment that kept him young forever. He rapidly ages and dies in Hammer’s arms before turning to dust, which is fair enough since I didn’t give a crap about him to begin with. So, why are we getting this story from the first semester of Gotham Academy? Why did it take place at a spooky ghost carnival? Especially since the cliffhanger last issue was that Colton was about to be expelled. Is this supposed to be ratcheting up the tension surrounding his imminent expulsion? Because I gotta tell you: it’s really not grabbing me. This book was once really tight, with individual characters and lots of interesting, spectral adventures. Now it feels like a few half-baked ideas stuck together to fill twenty pages of story. And for a title that looks as nice as it does, that’s a real shame.

Bits and Pieces:

Here's a meandering, out-of-continuity story that is better executed than conceived. As always, a very pretty-looking book, but it's gone a bit off the rails lately, focusing more on the Scooby-Doo hallway hijinks than the characters that made this series interesting. Also, there's been much less Maps involvement lately! Look, Gotham Academy Second Semester team, you know what side of the bread your butter is on! Make with more Maps!


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