The “let’s tell ghost stories” format is a familiar one these days; it’s an easy way to plug a hole in the schedule, tell a one-off or let a lot of creators all pitch in on a comic. In the case of “Gotham Academy: Endgame” #1, it lets the book tie into the current “Batman” storyline while also keeping the kids from the school away from actually fighting any bad guys. More importantly, Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher’s script takes what can often feel a bit dull and livens it up by giving the story structure a distinctly Gotham spin.
As the Joker’s virus infects the population of Gotham, the academy is sealed off from the rest of its surroundings with the students and teachers on lockdown for safety’s sake. Olive, Maps, Pomeline and Professor MacPherson end up passing the time with a very distinct type of story: ones connected in some way, shape or form to the Joker. It makes perfect sense the second the first story kicks off; who needs to make up a boogeyman when there’s a true blue one that regularly terrorizes the city? At the same time, though, the idea of the ghost story isn’t thrown out here. Each story uses the Joker as a jumping off point, and the stories end up that much more effective.
Pomeline’s story, with art by Clio Chang, is as much morality tale (the danger beginning over an act of shoplifting) as it is ghost story. The idea of the Joker mask being a demonic force that is unshakable once awoken has a great undercurrent of fear at its core. Do something bad, and the punishment will be incredibly disproportionate to the crime. Chang’s soft lines and colors bring that to life, at first by looking gentle and sweet and then growing more horrific with each new page. By the time the climax of the story hits, the soft browns and oranges are now lurid greens; it’s a great way to build tension through the art.
MacPherson’s story is the most removed from Gotham, but it’s the art from Joy Ang that sold it for me. Ang’s art reminds me of animation cels with its crisp, glowing color and smooth forms. The jester’s head turns and twists under Ang’s designs in a way that ends up looking unnatural in a deliberate manner. With the shadow forms of the jester and the person who tries to escape managing to bring horror to the proceedings even as it keeps it from looking gruesome, it’s a neat and effective second story.
Olive’s story is drawn by Vera Brosgol with colors from Sonia Oback, and I was delighted to see new comics from Brosgol. It’s a dark and somewhat personal story for Olive’s character, mixing ghost stories, real life monsters and psychological disorders in one fell swoop. The numerous reflections get creepier by the moment, and Oback adjusts her coloring style to match Brosgol’s art. Once again, there’s a soft, gentle art style that slowly becomes more unnerving with each new panel. Knowing that the story came from Olive’s mother makes it all the more poignant, especially knowing what we do now about her own mental instability. It’s a glimpse into Olive’s home life, one that gives a sad, somber note to the comic.
Jeff Stokely and Jenny Donovan illustrate the framing story, which is the closest in style to regular artist Karl Kerschl’s work on the series. It has that slight animation-style look in Stokely’s lines, and Donovan’s color palette does a good job of minimizing choices to provide a unified front; the greens and blues of the outside, for example, make the stormy night look almost like an underwater, silent vista. I also appreciated that Clooney and Fletcher made the framing story matter, too; it reveals something about a supporting character that we hadn’t known before, and adds a bit more to the lore of the school in general.
If there had to be a “Batman” tie-in within “Gotham Academy,” this was definitely the way to handle it. These are characters who had no logical reason to tangle with the Jokerized citizens of Gotham, and having them on lockdown provided an interesting opportunity for Clooney and Fletcher. What could have been another ho-hum ghost story comic turned into something much more interesting. Add in some good art, and the end result is a comic I’d definitely recommend. This is the proverbial making lemonade out of lemons, and Cloonan, Fletcher, Jeff Stokely, Chang, Ang and Brosgol should be proud of the end result.