Thursday, April 23, 2015

Gotham Academy Volume 1 by Becky Cloonan

Title: Gotham Academy Volume 1
Author: Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher
Publisher: Time Warner
Rating: WARTY!

Illustrated by Karl Kerschel

This is an advance review copy ARC), which despite this age of instant electronics, we're cautioned to consider uncorrected and to not treat as final, but with a nod and a wink to that, I have to say that the reading experience in Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) was odd to say the least. It reminded me of that old Monty Python vinyl record (I think it was the Matching Tie and Handkerchief) which you can't really reproduce in any other medium. The record actually had two spiral tracks on one side instead of the usual one, and what this meant was that whenever you played it, you would randomly get one version or the other dependent upon where the stylus set down when you played it. It was confusing - even creepy - until you realized what they'd done, and this comic felt like that because of the way the pages presented themselves.

On the iPad, it was fine, but in ADE, the numbering on the bottom of the ADE app would sometimes jump two pages instead of one when you click to the "next page". I've seen this before and never noticed anything odd about it (other than the apparent jumping of a page), but in this particular case, the comic actually was jumping two pages, because if you click back having moved two pages forwards, you would not return to the page you just left, but to an intermediate page which you had skipped right over when you clicked forwards the first time! It was like the pages were almost randomly choosing to appear. Had this been a supernatural comic, that would have been really cool, but it's a super hero comic, so, not so appropriate!

In the opening pages, which were rather self-indulgent (the same image was repeated once in color and once in gray-scale for example, and there were several other random pages like this) and a grotesque waste of a good tree, this didn't matter from purely a reading perspective, but it made me wonder how many panels I would be missing reading the story if the comic was going to be randomly jumping pages like this.

Another issue was that if I slid the bar to return the comic to the first page (an orange-toned image of a startled-looking girl with a shaded bar down the right side proclaiming a welcome to Gotham Academy) and then closed the comic, it would open at a different "first page" - one which showed the current choice for cover as of this version! That image has a green-toned background and depicts two girls in plaid school uniform skirts descending a rope with an ominous shadow of batman behind them.

Starting from the opening cover, one page click shows the same cover (but now as page two), from which a click-back shows the "original" orange-toned cover described above. Clicking forward from the cover takes us to half of a "rogues gallery" image showing (presumably) a handful of academy students. Another click shows us the second half of this same picture. Another click shows us the green cover again, but with no text. Another click shows us the cover yet again, but in gray-scale, no text). The publisher and writers/artists must really hate trees! A click to page eight shows this same image, but a click back shows us what I took to be the first page of the actual story - a full-page image of a clock tower, showing, at five minutes to seven, a lightning strike on the tower. Maybe Marty McFly is parked nearby?

A click forward shows us the same gray-scale image of the two girls, descending via a rope from the top of the tower - but inside the tower, rather than on the walls outside. At this point I gave up on the clicking back and forth experiment and tried to enjoy the story, hoping I was missing no pages in the process! I didn't seem to be until we got the skip-page routine again around page thirty, where it was definitely jumping over a story page that you could only find by clicking back. Clicking forwards missed it every time. But let's move on.

The art work was good - moodily colored and very appropriate to the creepiness of the text, but the artist really needs to learn what a sabre (saber) is. It typically sports a curved blade, and has a hand guard. A regular sword does not. The lettering once again was way too small to read comfortably. Naturally you don't want it so large it obscures the images, but the story is just as important as the art - at least for me it is - and I certainly don't want to be rewarded with eye-strain for simply trying to follow the story!

So what was the story? It's Gotham Academy, an ordinary high school with nothing special about it except that it's housed in a creepy old building which was built from stones even older than the academy, which I thought was a rather evocative thought. Every stone, we're told, has a story. It's almost a Gothic tale, except that it's set in contemporary times.

My problem immediately was that the story we're being told here was scattershot. It seemed like it had a portion missing, and we were coming into it a few minutes late - like the movie had already started and I'd missed the opening couple of scenes. It was annoying, but it slowly came into focus after being all over the place.

One problem was that I didn't get the relationship between the girl named Mia "Maps" Mizoguchi and the other main character, Olive Silverlock. Olive is supposed to be showing Maps around the academy - like this is her first year, but it's clear that they knew each other from the previous year, so this made little sense. Maps is the younger sister of Kyle, the guy with whom Olive just broke up, so it's possible the reference is to them knowing each other outside of school, but it's not depicted that way.

Olive's idea of showing the "new student" around is to take her into the most dangerous parts of the school and almost get her killed. The weird thing is that big brother Kyle has absolutely no issues with this at all, but later, when Olive takes Mia into the North Hall, a trip which is a lot safer than what they went through with the fall from the tower, Kyle gets all bent out of shape. This tells me that at best he's a complete jerk, and at worst, an absolute moron.

There's a ban on students going into the North hall and there's a creepy eye - of which Olive is unaware - peering into her room from a tiny crack in the wall. A student with the highly unlikely name of Pomeline Fritch is playing Malfoy to Olive's Harry Potter, although to be fair, it's much more complex than that, and doesn't go the same way. There's even a character named Heathcliff. There's also, supposedly, a ghost in the North Hall, and Mia, Olive, Pomeline, and a guy named Colton Rivera, decide to break into the hall one night to investigate, and find something way more disturbing than a ghost.

I have to say that the story (even without the oddball hidden pages) was far too choppy. The cutting from one scene to another was startlingly abrupt making me think I'd skipped a page. An example of this is around page 80 where we go from the idiot thespian misidentifying his sword as a sabre to what feels like the middle of an interrogation of one of the students about a symbol he'd drawn in his notebook. It's obvious what the symbol is right from the start, so no mystery there. The scene with the actors could have been skipped and the pages devoted to a softer segue to the interrogation instead of the breakneck switch we got.

Overall I can see how the story might appeal to young, desperate, indiscriminate readers, but then the imagery is a bit scary for really young ones. Older children who can handle the story might well have a problem with it being less than thrilling. Neither of my kids showed any interest in it! It's for these reasons that I can't recommend this graphic novel.

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