The school year rolls on at Gotham Academy, and Olive’s life—already complicated and messy—takes a sharp downturn. Her mother has just died in Arkham Asylum, but Olive doesn’t feel like she’s really gone. Mysterious notes, secret files, whispers in the woods, and unexplained fires all seem to indicate that Olive’s mom, who may or may not have been the villain Calamity, is still around.
Meanwhile, Olive’s friends at school are having other hair-raising adventures. Maps solves the mystery of a cursed quill with none other than Bruce Wayne’s son, Damian. Kyle discovers a startling truth about his classmate Tristan, who Kyle feels is spending far too much time with Olive. A monster starts attacking people on the academy grounds, and the school theater seems to be haunted. Luckily for Maps, Kyle, and Olive, Pomeline’s guts and Colton’s scientific knowledge help to save the day. These exploits are all intertwined with Olive’s search for answers about her mother’s past.
The plotting in this story is fast-paced and intricate, demanding close attention from readers. Clues as to how different events and people might be connected are not lingered over, but are contained in a snippet of dialogue or a single panel. In addition, the events in the story careen from one to the next, with barely a pause for breath in between. It’s a book that demands to be re-read, because it’s so easy to miss things.
Though the interactions between members of Olive’s gang of friends (especially Maps’s jokes and other commentary) are often funny, the story’s mood is overall quite dark, matching most other titles in the Batman canon. The bonds of friendship between the kids are fairly strong, but the adults all clearly have their own objectives, often don’t prioritize the kids’ best interests, and generally cannot be trusted. This juxtaposition does a marvelous job of adding darkness to the mood and tension to the plot.
The artwork complements and emphasizes all of these story elements. The palette is generally dark and gloomy, with lots of shadowing; it perfectly matches the mood. Because of this, Olive’s silvery hair really pops on the page, making her impossible to ignore. Maps and Kyle, Olive’s closest allies, wear bright yellow in most scenes, keeping the spotlight on them as well. Adults are generally drab-looking and blend in much better with the sinister-looking backgrounds. Also, most of the kids are people of color, while the adults are mostly white. All this further emphasizes the divide between the kids and the adults.
Panels are shaped and arranged in an irregular yet dynamic manner. They’re small and numerous, with very few large spreads, contributing to the breakneck pace of the story and indicating the need for a close eye for detail. Backgrounds are indistinct and out-of-focus, giving the reader the uneasy impression that something awful could lurch out at any moment.
Kids ages 10-14 who like fast-paced mysteries with sinister paranormal elements will devour this book. Long-time DC fans won’t be disappointed either; in addition to matches in tone and mood, better-known heroes and villains such as Batman, Robin, and Clayface are all tied in with the story.
Gotham Academy, vol. 2: Calamity
by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher
Art by Karl Kerschl
DC Comics, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14