LUMBERJANES/GOTHAM ACADEMY #1
Written by Chynna Clugston Flores
Art by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Maddi Gonzalez, and Whitney Cogar
Published by BOOM! Studios and DC Comics
Release Date: June 8, 2016
It’s city goth meets forest goth at last as everyone’s favorite private school troublemakers take an ill advised road trip that lands them deep in hardcore lady-types territory.
Lumberjanes typically calls to mind fond (and maybe sometimes not so fond) memories of summer camp: campfire songs, the scents of the great outdoors, and various encounters with the supernatural. I live in the Pacific Northwest, so maybe that last one isn’t a universal experience, but there certainly is a strong draw to the innocent fun and discovery of youth for Lumberjanes’ adult readers.
As a long time Gotham Academy reader, this crossover has brought out a decidedly maternal sense of pride in me that probably recalls my mother’s perspective on sending me out to summer camp for the first time.
I can’t help but feel like a fussy mom towards Olive Silverlock, who remains, in my opinion, DC’s most compelling character. Did she remember to put on sunscreen and put the tube back in the sandwich bag I gave her so it doesn’t leak out all over the inside of her backpack? These things concern me greatly when a precious goth darling goes adventuring in the forest.
The answer, of course, is no. The Gotham Academy gang steal Professor MacPherson’s car and plunge into the woods after she disappears, armed with a thirty year old postcard, the Jaffa Cakes in her glovebox, and a handful of glow sticks. Definitely Robins in the Jason Todd/Stephanie Brown tradition of “Leap First and Hope There’s Something Soft Under You Later” tradition.
Thankfully, they’re intercepted by April and Jo, who are on a hunt for a missing authority figure of their own after Rosie sends up a distress signal that is probably somehow related to Professor MacPherson’s sudden disappearance. The party gets broken up by an encounter with the supernatural, a group of skeletal monsters who accuse them of trespassing in a very polite kind of way.
Still, no one is keen to be following eerie skeletons with antlers and tattered black robes deep into the forest, so they scamper only for Olive to lead them off to buy everyone else time to escape and send Jen plunging after her, leaving the rest of the kids to fend for themselves. Pretty typical summer camp experience for me, all things considered, which is why I only went back as a counselor the one time.
Ever since both titles debuted, they’ve been the most obvious candidates for a crossover because they do largely the same kind of things and appeal to a nearly identical audience. Kids at a spooky summer camp have supernatural adventures versus kids at a spooky private school have supernatural adventures. There’s a lot more to both, of course, and that’s where the real potential of this crossover emerges. Lumberjanes is an indie darling that has become an industry leader in LBGTQIA representation for being incredibly successful in its portrayal of same gender relationships and portrayal of transgender characters.
This issue and the promotional material that accompanied the miniseries don’t describe Jo as transgender, which is for the best, but what’s really key is that there are going to be readers coming to this miniseries who haven’t read Lumberjanes yet. Once they fall in love with these ridiculous children and dig into the main series, they’ll get the chance to discover the most powerful conversation about trans identity in comics to date.
Jo’s trans status was confirmed in issue #17 in a conversation with a Scouting Lad named Barney who was questioning whether he might be more comfortable as a Lumberjane — which, in all seriousness, sure is a childhood memory of my own from summer camp and scouting. None of this is in the forefront of the miniseries so far, and probably won’t be, but there will be a lot of metafictional resonance for anyone who’s been reading both titles regularly.
The question with the most obvious answer for the collective fanbase was which of the Gotham Academy characters would thrive the most at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp For Hardcore Lady-Types. It has to be Maps Mizaguchi who has been very clearly depicted with a non-binary gender presentation since the earliest issues. And while Maps certainly exists in a peer group and setting where her expression is normalized and embraced, Lumberjanes is a world that speaks directly to her worldview and has far more characters who get her at her own level.
Interactions between Maps and Ripley were probably the most hotly anticipated part of this crossover and it certainly pays off in spades as Ripley comes flying out of a tree to kick a monster for attacking her new friend. I certainly wouldn’t want Jen’s job for anything in the world when presented by that pair of hyperactive squirrels set loose in a candy factory, but it’ll be enormous fun to spectate from this side of the page as the series goes on. Maps is definitely the metafictional bridge between the sensibilities of the two series, and that opens up those new readers to more specific kinds of representation.
With that said, the exchange works both ways not least because Gotham Academy is a racially and gender diverse gateway into the most vital and exciting place in mainstream comics: the Batman group. If indie readers are going to find a foothold in the mainstream, and superhero comics in general, this is where to do it. The Batman titles are far and away the most LBGTQIA friendly space anywhere in comics, especially after having explicitly confirmed Catwoman and Harley Quinn as bisexual and making Midnighter a key supporting Nightwing character and returning Batwoman to a place of prominence in Detective Comics. It’s by no means perfect, but Gotham City (and Harley Quinn’s New York just over the bridge) are unequivocally the Castro District of comics.
“Gosh, exposition,” is probably the most common thing to hear from critics these days, especially as DC Rebirth rolls on (I did my share of it last week with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Pink #1) and thankfully writer Chynna Clugston Flores has found a way to keep things tight and efficient in that regard. The shorthand she uses to let us know that Olive is None More Goth and Jen’s monologuing to explain the basic dynamic at the camp caught me a little by surprise at first because it reminded me that there are people who don’t actually read both titles.
Such is the bubble I live in that enthusiastic support for both titles is more or less assumed, but it’s great to see that Clugston Flores really narrowed in on what was truly essential to impart to newcomers and that’s pretty much the major character beats. It also speaks to the elegance of both titles: Gotham Academy is Batman Hogwarts and Lumberjanes is Scooby Doo Summer Camp. They live comfortably within genres that are easy to establish while also staking out their own territory.
Clugston Flores really captures the essence of all the characters flawlessly, there’s nothing jangling or unnatural coming from anyone, the Gotham Academy characters read just as smoothly as if Fletcher or Cloonan were scripting. For my money, Olive’s determined self sacrifice by leading the monsters away from the group displays the most solid grasp of the characters, because it’s pretty tough to get Maps wrong as long as you know how to make coherent Dungeons & Dragon references.
Pairing her off with Jen as they’re separated from the pack is a pretty brilliant and creates the most anticipation for next issue. Jen’s impending horror when she discovers she’s deep in the woods with a girl whose pyrokinetic abilities are frequently triggered by fear or trauma is a big part of it, but both groups have lost their most mature and levelheaded members. Which means it’s more or less going to fall on Jo and April to be the adults unless Pomeline or Kyle step up to the plate. Herding cats doesn’t really come close to describing trying to maintain order in a group that includes Colton, Ripley, and Maps.
While both series have employed a very animation friendly aesthetic art wise, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell and Maddi Gonzalez bring forward a pretty specifically Lumberjanes aesthetic with smooth shapes and whimsy taking precedence over the sharper and more melodramatic aesthetic that Karl Kerschl established on the early Gotham Academy issues that has set the tone since.
While Serge Lapointe and MSASSYK have certainly pumped up the daytime glow at times on Gotham Academy, there’s a lot more sunniness and cheer to the crossover’s conception of the school than rays of sunlight penetrating into a dusty old library thanks to the rounded shapes and rubber faces that Valero-O’Connell and Gonzalez favor. Getting to see characters translated into brand new aesthetics is one of the true highlights of crossovers like these and this certainly recalls the joy of getting to see Babs Tarr, Amanda Conner, and Emanuella Lupacchino put their spin on Mikel Janin’s secret agent Dick Grayson or Janin’s reciprocation when he got a turn at the Batgirl of Burnside.
There’s a lot of subtle magic at work in Whitney Cogar’s colors, which is where the recognition of the Gotham Academy aesthetic really comes out. Most of the issue uses soft colors and round edged, textured shading that continues the dominance of the Lumberjanes aesthetic, but in the early pages with the Gotham gang she uses sharper cel shading for the shadowing to give a recognizable tip of the hat to LaPointe and MSASSYK.
Trouble may abound for the characters themselves, but Gotham Academy and Lumberjanes are cool for the summer.
The Verdict: 9.0/10