It has long been my assertion that Gotham Academy is at its absolute finest when not dealing with Gotham’s other denizens. Gotham, as a city, is a weird, spooky place — something that Gotham Academy Annual #1 even mentions, with tongue firmly in cheek. Part of what makes the series work, is when they merely explore the creepier parts of the city’s legacy and setting, and cast off the shackles of trying to insert Batman, Robin, or any of the other Gothamites into the story. Gotham Academy Annual manages to do exactly this, and it’s one of the best issues we’ve seen in a long time.
The issue, boldly, removes its main character, Olive, from the action within the first few pages, having her succumb to a mysterious illness that is sweeping the campus. Olive suffers a vision of a ghostly skeleton reaching for an old clock in the chapel, before her illness hits and thus a schism is formed in the Detective Club.
On one side, you have Pomeline, asserting this is clearly the work of vampires, and on the other, you have Colton, suggesting it was, in fact, their new mysterious professor, the aptly named Mr. Powers, who is at the heart of the illness. As the team splinters in two, poor Maps is left in the middle, desperate to bring the team back together.
In classic young adult fare, the main character is almost always the linchpin of a group, and it would seem that way with Olive. Several issues have explored the dissolution of the group when Olive is either missing or wavering on her devotion to the group. In this instances, Maps, is always the voice of reason who brings the group back together, and in some respects, I occasionally wonder if Gotham Academy is a story that is about Olive, but stars Maps. Simply because Maps steals the goddamn show every issue, and God bless her for it.
Naturally, as the story progresses, we see that both teams were correct, and it’s only when they work together that they’re able to solve/fix the mystery. In so many respects, Gotham Academy feels like a more effective version of Scooby Doo, with our young heroes constantly solving mysteries that plague their campus. It’s a simple premise that works very well with the setting.
It’s a welcome return to status quo, after what felt like several issues of both the writers and the characters spinning their wheels. My biggest complaint, throughout the series, is that I’m not always certain there is an endgame. Clearly, DC wanted a young adult comic that could “appeal to a wide audience,” (read: adults and teens), and Gotham Academy certainly fits that bill. But with too many ventures into other DC properties, and occasional deep-dives into Olive’s past and nature, I’m not sure the series really knows what it wants to be when it grows up.
Gotham Academy Annual, in my mind, should be the poster child for what this series both is capable of and should be: A solid mystery series full of intrigue, action, comedy, and friendship.