When DC Comics announced their slate of Rebirth books back in April, GOTHAM ACADEMY was one of the notable properties missing from the list. Fans of the cult series were incredulous, bombarding the company and creators on social media, desperate to know if the title was coming back. It was quickly revealed that Olive, Maps, and company would be back in a September-launched title called GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER. Furthermore, prior to the new number one, the Detective Club would face their biggest case yet in the first ever in August’s GOTHAM ACADEMY ANNUAL.

READ: Did you forget where GOTHAM ACADEMY left off? Catch up on the last two issues here.

I must admit, even as an ardent fan of GOTHAM ACADEMY, I didn’t know how to feel about this news. On the one hand, I was happy to have the series back in some form. On the other, I worried that the nearly six months between issues could affect the narrative flow of the series, especially coming off the hit or miss “Yearbook” arc. Unfortunately, the GOTHAM ACADEMY annual did little to assuage my fears.

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The ANNUAL’s story is rather straight forward. Many students at Gotham Academy, including Olive, have fallen ill. The other members of the Detective Club try and get to the bottom of the case, but end up stymied due to in-fighting. Pomeline believes the culprit to be a vampire while Colton believes a mysterious new professor (whose identity I won’t reveal here) is to blame. From there the book splits into two stories, with the former and Tristin hunting creatures of the night, while the latter teams with Kyle to expose the professor, all with Maps stuck in the middle. The two stories weave together in a way that brings in elements from the animated universe that have barely been explored in DC Comics proper.

I came out of reading GOTHAM ACADEMY ANNUAL #1 confused as to how I felt about it. The book wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it featured a lot of my favorite elements of the series. Writers/co-creators Brenden Fletcher and Becky Cloonan crafted a well-plotted mystery with a clever twist, incorporated elements of the Batman-mythos in new ways, and filled the issue with their trademark humor and character interplay. The art, from Adam Archer, Msassyk, Michael Dialynas, and Chris Wildgoose (annoyingly, the issues credits didn’t specify particular pages) was solid and captured the defining GOTHAM ACADEMY look that artist/co-creator Karl Kerschl brought to the title. However I couldn’t shake the feeling that the issue left me unsatisfied, like scarfing down a bag of Halloween candy without eating a real dinner.

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In thinking over the ANNUAL, I’ve figured out three pet-peeves that kept me from enjoying it the fullest. The first is that, for the “biggest case ever” the story felt small in scale. Sure it was fun, and the twist was executed well, but in the end it little to do with the series’ overall mythology. None of the on-going plot threads, including Olive’s family history, Hammerhead’s true motivations, or the school’s secret history were touched upon. Secondly, I have anthology fatigue on the title right now. Between the anthology-style “Yearbook” arc and the Post-Rebirth break, it’s been nearly a year since we’ve had a regular issue of GOTHAM ACADEMY that told a single story with a consistent art-team. I’m greatly missing the strong, central narrative flow hat the series had in issues 1-12. Thirdly, the story has very little Olive and Maps. While I enjoy the rest of the Detective Club a great deal, they can be a bit flat. It’s Olive and Maps’ friendship that makes the series tick. Having the former medically incapacitated and the latter essentially a non-entity hurt the issue overall, exposing that the other characters can’t carry the title without the leads. Perhaps this problem could have been avoided had the creative team used the opportunity to expand on Colton or Pomeline, but the two are presented the same way they’ve been since the series began.

gotham academy annual panel 1

My issues with the GOTHAM ACADEMY ANNUAL underscore my overall fears about the SECOND SEMESTER branding. I’m a bit worried that the series may veer into being a hollow version of itself. Still fun, with well constructed characters and plots, but without the heart that made the first twelve issues so memorable. However, I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet, as I still have faith creative team of Cloonan, Fletcher, and Kerschl (who’s returning to the book as a co-writer), and will be first in line to celebrate if they prove my fears to be unfounded.

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