Review: Gotham Academy: Second Semester Vol. 1: Welcome Back trade paperback (DC Comics)

I don’t feel so badly about thinking Gotham Academy Vol. 3: Yearbook was an off book for the series, given that Gotham Academy: Second Semester Vol. 1: Welcome Back seems a triumphant return to the form I preferred — Yearbook being the exception that proves the rule, perhaps.

And what a return to form it is — there’s a dizzying amount happening on every page, near bursting the limits of the book’s seven issues. It feels indeed like what it is, whether it was known at the time or not — the pulse-pounding beginning of Gotham Academy’s final act.

I was surprised by just how much of this hearkens back to the book’s early days, though that maybe feels farther away than it actually is in terms of actual publication vs. how long it took me to end up reading these volumes. If we consider Gotham Academy’s first “season” was only 18 issues and an annual, of which five of those were devoured by “Yearbook,” then we’re only here essentially coming to the end of year two. Maybe that’s still grounds for plumbing the mysteries of the first issues, maybe not.

[Review contains spoilers]

In that vein, though the final volume may tell for sure, I’ve a sense of Gotham Academy as an ensemble book that was never particularly good at being an ensemble book. Though at one point we have one character kidnapped by witches and one character in danger of being expelled and more ancient tomes and stolen notebooks than even the Bookworm can handle, most everything comes back to Olive Silverlock; even the mysteries the characters pursue on their own circle back to influence Olive’s story. More — to make a reference — in the style of CW’s Naomi than Stargirl, Gotham Academy seems to a great extent to mistake having lots of characters around for actually developing those characters.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

To wit, in this volume the “Detective Club”’s happy-go-lucky munitions expert, Colton, finally admits he’s in love with pal Kyle. Over 20+ issues, I’ve been interested to see where the creative team’s been going with this, as Colton’s sexuality has always seemed paired with a sense of “wrongness” within the book — Pommeling teases Colton about his attraction, and it’s always seemed unlikely that Kyle, Olive’s former boyfriend, would reciprocate Colton’s feelings. The creative team treats this like just another rom-com — which is perhaps good, on one hand, but on the other, what if Kyle were to get upset and shun Colton (it’s already suggested that Colton’s father hits him)?

As it turns out, Kyle just gives Colton a brotherly hug and everyone goes about their business. Maybe there’s more coming up in the second, final volume, but as it seems here, Colton is verily the character with the most internal life besides Olive, and nothing comes of his whole-series storyline than the mildest of resolutions. Throughout, Kyle has been milquetoast, a character who stands around until the other characters decide where to go; his sister Maps is the series' breakout star but it hardly feels she’s changed from day one. Pomeline Fritch has grown from Olive’s enemy to frenemy, but in Welcome Back we find the resolution to Pomeline’s search for her birthright is that she’s simply historical ally to the Arkham/Silverlock clan. Frustratingly, because I like these characters, none of them seem to have much to do that doesn’t come back to Olive.

But all of that said, Welcome Back remains terribly exciting, chock full of strange symbols and secret passageways. As mentioned, at the point in which there’s a mind-controlling witch on campus and Maps has been kidnapped and Colton’s in trouble with the headmaster, young Eric is becoming rapidly more agitated and Olive’s seeing visions in the fire, and that’s only the third of seven parts, it feels Gotham Academy is making up for lost time! Again, happy as I am with this return to form, it’s almost too much — call me no fun, but at the point the floor of a hidden crypt is unscrewing to lower the students even further down into a subterranean basement — about the fourth or fifth successive secret layer — I rather felt we were stretching the believability of how much could be buried under Gotham Academy’s aging structures.

Over a couple dozen Gotham Academy issues so far, I wouldn’t say we’ve seen many “supervillains” per se. Killer Croc was just misunderstood; ditto Katherine Karlo, a piece of Clayface. The werewolf was just the coach when his medication ran out, and so on. The teachers are all uniformly weird, but haven’t been outright evil until Second Semester, when English teacher Elith Pio kidnaps students after a falling out with the librarian, Mr. A. S. “Bookworm” Scarlet. And while Bookworm — based on a 1960s Batman TV villain — had seemed so far to just be eccentric, we learn here he’s been manipulating events as far back as Gotham Academy Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy on the hunt for a powerful ancient book. Even if I figured there might still be some content about Olive and her mother, I didn’t think we’d still be revealing conspiracies from the first issues here in the second semester.



This iteration of Gotham Academy comes to a close with the next volume. With the benefit of future sight, I have some guess about how this will end, but more on that in the next volume’s review. A little frenzied, maybe a bit too irreverent, Gotham Academy: Second Semester Vol. 1: Welcome Back is everything that made the first semester great, dialed up to fever pitch.

[Includes original and variant covers]


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