One of the best surprises to come out of the New 52 was “Gotham Academy”, the fun YA-oriented series taking place at a prestigious Gotham City boarding school with ties to the city’s most famous crime-fighting citizen. Written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher, with Karl Kerschl on art, “Gotham Academy” wound up being a delightfully kooky and well-structured mystery for kids without being childish. With its first semester having concluded, Gotham Academy Annual #1 acts to bridge the gap between the first arc and its upcoming one. As such, it works brilliantly to introduce new readers to the concept and characters while giving fans something to tide them over until school’s back in session.
The story finds the school in the middle of strange goings-on. Following a sinister storm, the student body and the staff are stricken with a mysterious illness. Our central cast, the students who make up the “Detective Club” are split on the cause, with Colton believing it to be a suspicious professor while Pomeline is convinced vampires are behind things. Each of them, along with the other members of the club, go their separate ways to solve the mystery. What follows is a funny, exciting, and delightful adventure story that takes the structure of “Scooby Doo” and places it in the world of Batman and then adds the characterization of young adult novels of today.
Cloonan and Fletcher obviously know their leads well, and therefore can quickly communicate both their personalities and the group dynamic quickly and without clunkiness. The issue is new reader-friendly without being basic, so that you can sense that while there are elements that would be more rewarding and clear having read the previous issues, the narrative and relationships remain easy to follow and enjoy even if you haven’t picked it up prior. And while the adventure is appropriate for pre-teens, and the witty sense of humour is on full display, the plot still retains a spooky atmosphere and a sense of jeopardy that never feels casual.
The art on Gotham Academy Annual #1 is the one drawback. Rather than regular artist Karl Kerschl, the art on the issue is handled by a collection of pencilers and inkers and colorists. I have to confess I’m rarely a fan of multiple art teams on a single issue. Unless done very, very well, I find the switching between different art styles can really massacre the organic flow of the narrative, taking a script that read like a single cohesive whole and rendering it as a jarring episodic mishmash. I will say that the art here never gets that bad, overall things work okay, but there were moments when elements became confused and unclear. The biggest offender was the way the character Warren was depicted, his appearance changing so much between teams as to be unrecognizable as the same person. It proves my feelings about this practice, even though the art teams all do well individually. It’s the story as a whole that tends to suffer.
But, overall, Gotham Academy Annual #1 works amazingly well as both a fun done-in-one adventure for fans waiting for the series to return, and for new readers wanting to sample Gotham Academy’s considerable charms for the first time. That’s why I’m giving the book a solid 8.5/10.