Review: Gotham Academy Vol. 3: Yearbook trade paperback (DC Comics)

July 16, 2023

 ·  1 comment

Gotham Academy Vol. 3: Yearbook is the most Gotham Academy-y Gotham Academy book so far.

I respect the ambition of devoting five entire months to one-off guest vignettes that hardly forward the book’s overall plot, though surely some of these pieces must have pushed the limits of even the readers most open to experimentation inside the confines of a Batman-family comic. This all falls particularly within one of the most avant-garde periods in recent DC Comics history, the so-called “DC You,” alongside rock star Black Canary, the Batgirl of Burnside, a de-powered Superman, a robot Batman, so on and so forth. In that context, the idea for Yearbook makes perfect sense, though going ahead with it is another thing entirely.

[Review contains spoilers]

Yearbook marks the end of the first iteration of Gotham Academy. Given DC You begetting Rebirth and Gotham Academy being relaunched almost immediately (and lasting another 12 issues), I wouldn’t try to scry the past and venture the “Yearbook” storyline spelled the death knell Gotham Academy or anything; if anything, I imagine Yearbook is original creative team Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan, and Karl Kerschl’s idea of what a proper Gotham Academy finale should look like.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

And I have always been upfront that while I’m a fan of Gotham Academy, I don’t think I’m its primary demographic. A scene where young Maps Mizoguchi runs from a room because her best friend Olive Silverlock is assigned a visiting student as a temporary roommate (not permanent, and not even by Olive’s choosing) and Olive has to buck her up feels rather more silly than dramatic to me, though I wholly respect that others' results may vary.

That’s part of Yearbook’s first chapter’s Robin War tie-in (before “Yearbook” proper gets underway), a chapter indicative of my own push-and-pull reading Gotham Academy. Though I equally appreciate what seems clearly a portrayal of Maps as a neurodivergent student still loved and accepted by her friends, some of the dramatics and faux zombie hunting shenanigans at the beginning of that chapter fall flat for me. At the same time, the story redeems itself for me in the end when the zombie is revealed to be a Court of Owls Talon and also Olive makes a surprising anti-heroic move.

Again, I recognize I’m likely weighting these aspects of Gotham Academy backward from what’s intended. And indeed, the “Robin War” tie-in is about the last time Yearbook touches anything resembling generic DC Comics superhero reality for the rest of the volume. Take “Yearbook”’s first vignette, the four-page “Animal Science 101” by Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen. Under the auspices of prank week, two students break into a science lab, they’re chased by a weird goat creature, and then their professor makes them wear sheep costumes as punishment.

This is, on one hand, an excellent object lesson in three-act storytelling in an exceptionally small space using the comics medium. It’s also, of course, a spotlight piece for Fridolfs and Nguyen, popular and well-known among the DC Comics set for both books skewing younger (like Batman: Li’l Gotham) and mainstream (Batman: Streets of Gotham). But it’s also, no offense intended, something of a nothing piece, a bit of cotton candy; without dismissing the Sunday morning comics entertainment value, this seems unlikely to move the average ancillary-Batman-title reader — and this is just the openening salvo.

Another — Zac Gorman’s “Staff Party” in “Yearbook”’s second part is the only work so far that the writer/artist/cartoonist has done for DC, a cute doubling down on Gotham Academy’s flirting with the 1960s Batman show by introducing Egghead (originally played by Vincent Price) alongside series regular Bookworm. Ostensibly the four-pager is about Bookworm’s lonliness, but it also zaps itself in the end when Maps complains in-story about how boring the story is. That’s some absurdist comedy, which I applaud, but I equally feel like “Yearbook”’s just talking to itself at times, the audience notwithstanding.

See also Mingjue Helen Chen’s “Hammin' Around,” which is beatifully rendered but is also three pages of a dog trotting across the Academy campus, or Erin Hicks' “Drivers Ed.” And to speak perhaps a very unpopular opinion, I couldn’t imagine Robin Damian Wayne doing what he does at the end of this story, though increasingly my perception of Damian is different than what you find in the Robin title.

There were stories in Yearbook that I gravitated toward, though I fear these may reveal my philistine tastes: “This One’s For You,” by Fletcher himself and Annie Wu, an overt crossover with the Black Canary title; also “Map’s Day Out” by James Tynion and Christian Wildgoose, where Batman all but appears on the page. “Serpents & Secrets” by Eduardo Medieros and Rafael Albuquerque dragged on a little for me, but I liked the use of Headmaster Hammer in the end (Gotham Academy: Endgame, tie-in to the Batman event, is only collected in Joker: Endgame and nowhere else, though it’s referenced in the “Robin War” tie-in and has relevance here). “Boring Sundays” by Ken Niimura (I Kill Giants) looked enough like a Sunday comic to endear it to me despite its predictability.

This book — or, if you rather, the new compendium edition of Gotham Academy that collects Welcome to Gotham Academy, Calamity, and this volume — ends with an annual that almost completely sidelines Olive. That was surprising to me — you could say, in essence, the season finale doesn’t include the series lead — but that’s not without precedent and maybe helps to insist on this book’s ensemble title status. Science-fiction, the supernatural, and DC’s TV properties collide here, which is equally “very Gotham Academy,” so I can’t complain.

Though, here and for a while the writers have been hinting at Colton’s attraction to Kyle. I don’t expect Kyle to reciprocate, and the longer it goes on (and other characters tease Colton about it), the more awkward and uncomfortable it becomes. I wouldn’t expect Gotham Academy’s creators to treat that kind of story lightly or insensitively, so I’m curious to see where they’re going with this — obviously into Gotham Academy: Second Semester, since it’s not resolved here.

2.0

Rating

Gotham Academy Vol. 3: Yearbook will be an acquired taste; it is not even my acquired taste as compared to the other two volumes, but again, I can appreciate when a comics title swings for the fences. I would not be so at peace about it, to be sure, if I didn’t have two other more straightforward volumes still left to read.

[Gotham Academy Vol. 3: Yearbook includes original covers and character sketches. The new Gotham Academy compendium includes original and variant covers (from earlier volumes), character designs, issue #1 partial script and pencils.]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. DC You... man, that brings back memories. Not just the books you mentioned, but also Midnighter and The Omega Men, Starfire & the Harley Quinn explosion, Doomed and Doctor Fate... plus Dan Jurgens's Batman Beyond, which ended up running more than 60 issues. It seemed like it was trying to be both the wholesome alternative to "Futures End" yet also the bold new future for superhero comics... until Rebirth.

    I'm a little surprised that Gotham Academy hasn't had legs. "Second Semester" was nominally a Rebirth title, but I can't actually remember if I've read it. They've flirted with bringing Maps back, but I always thought there was a market for this as the all-ages counterprogramming for stuff like "Arkham Manor."

    Then again, DC has been putting out books like "Secret Hero Society," "Batman & Robin & Howard," and most recently "Clark & Lex," all of which scratch that middle-grade itch a little more directly. Still, I prefer that frisson of recognizing a professor, over and against seeing Superman literally in grade school.

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