LUMBERJANES/GOTHAM ACADEMY #2
Written by Chynna Clugston Flores
Art by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Maddi Gonzalez, and Whitney Cogar
Published by BOOM! Studios/DC Comics
Release Date: July 13, 2016
It’s just a jump to the left and then a step to the right in the second part of the Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy crossover as Jen and Olive tumble down a timewarp to 1986.
I’ve got to say, it’s great to have a digression into the 1980s in this series because since I was two years old at the time I don’t bear any of the sins of the era. I get to not feel old for once reading a comic mostly aimed at the opposite end of the millennial spectrum from myself. It’s also a trip deep into Chynna Clugston Flores’ place of power as established in her breakout series Blue Monday, so there’s doubtlessly a lot of joyous lampooning coming our way in the issues ahead.
Jen and Olive wake up in a period-preserved bedroom at Greenwood Lodge, at which point the old technology jokes fly fast and furious. Olive is aghast at a bakelite rotary phone, a sentiment more or less echoed by her classmates as they, allegedly with both feet planted in the twenty first century, discover just how far from civilization they’ve really strayed.
All ready to follow up on the lead offered by the Greenwood Lodge postcards Professor MacPherson and Rosie received, the Gotham gang hit a brick wall when they find out there’s no Internet and they have to rely on encyclopedias, or as Colton calls them, printouts of Wikipedia pages for information. This kind of fun that explores facets of the setting previously unexplored, like the fact that the Lumberjanes don’t really have internet access, is one of the immediate benefits of bringing both fresh characters and creators to Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp For Hardcore Lady-Types.
The same goes for bringing out the full potential of the characters themselves, and we see that come to the forefront this issue as Ripley and Maps emerge as the cool heads who prevail in the dispute over how to proceed next after losing Jen and Olive. A dispute that contains a brilliantly oblique reference to possibly the greatest tweet of all time.
Last issue I mused at the Sisyphean task Jen was faced with by having to corral both Ripley and Maps, but it also seems like their shared anarchic nature brings out the best of them in a crisis. It makes a certain amount of sense, too. Ripley is big on friendship, and claimed Maps as such immediately, so her desire for harmony in the face of Jo and Kyle arguing over whether or not to go straight back out to find Jen and Olive is definitely in line with her personality, as is Maps’ love of scheming and planning.
So far it seems like in the absence of a usual authority figure, Clugston Flores prefers to let the characters whose abilities fit the situation bubble into the forefront rather than baptize a single leader, revealing the wisdom of splitting Jen and Olive from the pack.
Disrupting social hierarchies in teen and children’s narratives is something we could all stand to see a lot more of, and there’s been great care taken so far to build the camp into a liminal space that suspends those kind of differences. It’s most evident this issue as the Gotham gang change out of their ruined school uniforms into spare clothes offered by the Lumberjanes.
It’s a sequence that, on the surface, seems intuitive and unremarkable, but is actually both quietly and deeply subversive. No one either notices or remarks on the fact that, technically speaking, Colton and Kyle are wearing girls’ clothes because of the largely androgynous style that the Lumberjanes adopt that is only ever noticeably feminized by their hair styles, accessories, and in Apri’s case, the pastels she favors.
As I suggested last issue, it’s Maps who finds the most comfort in this androgyny, remarking on how comfy the shorts and baggy tee she gets from Ripley are while admiring herself in the mirror. The not so subtle way that Gotham Academy’s regular creative team has presented Maps subverting gender norms has certainly not gone unnoticed by the crossover team and the result here feels like the culmination of a subtle thread building towards a moment like this since the beginning.
Just how far Maps’ gender nonconformity will be pushed across the mini or be picked up on at the other end with the next volume of Gotham Academy remains to be seen, but it’s incredibly gratifying to see the specific potential of the crossover to explore this aspect of the character seized on almost immediately.
The liminality of the camp resulting in the blurring of social stratification and gender lines has an intriguing semiotic foil in the scenes at Greenwood Lodge, beginning with how Jen and Olive are left a pair of garishly feminine dresses that they must wear downstairs to guest orientation.
Clugston Flores appears to be doing the opposite of building up a glaze of nostalgia for the period with decisions like this, given that the 1980s segment is highly prescriptive in matters of clothing and deeply defined by class while the contemporary world literally strips differentiation away and embraces androgyny.
Of particular note on the topic of androgyny is the glamour projected over Professor MacPherson to project the image of her teenage self. Her short hair and choice of a blazer over one of the frilly dresses assigned to Jen, Olive, and Rosie certainly defies the most normative conception of 1980s femininity, but her androgyny, in that context, is that it makes a pointed and unmissable statement.
Androgyny of that kind certainly was a major feature of 80s fashion, but when taken against the context of the kids swapping clothes in the present, what emerges is fresh recognition that the kind of androgyny that MacPherson projects is an oppositional statement that acknowledges if not outright reinforces the existence of a gender binary, while the kids in the present collapse it. It isn’t so much of a value judgement as it is a statement about what kinds of transgression was admitted within the mainstream at the time.
To stand in the gap between two rigidly defined genders at the peak of the 1980s as MacPherson did meant having to draw on deeply gendered items that evoked the opposite of the applicable norms. For her, that meant extremely short hair and a boxy, formless blazer.
For men to project an androgynous image in the same era, like Adam Ant or Prince did, it required bold make up, lace, ruffles, and an assortment of other deeply gendered items to create an equivalent kind of homeostasis. These are not considerations that apply to Maps in a context where everyone is swapping denim, flannel, and khaki. She can disappear into overlap in a way that MacPherson never could (had she desired to).
It’s particularly delicious that Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy is returning to 1986 with a subtly critical eye as it’s the most fetishized and endlessly analyzed year in all of comics history. Especially given that the era defined by is becoming a deeply polarized generational battle line. Once seemingly universally lauded comics like The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and The Killing Joke are being re-examined and scrutinized under the harsh gaze of a generation that doesn’t feel beholden to them, facing resentful pushback by their proponents.
One of the most intriguing results of the rapidly deepening schism is the emergence of Generation X creators striving to bridge the gap between the Boomers that deified the era and the millennials eager to tear it down like the Berlin Wall.
Clugston Flores appears to be asserting herself along those lines here, but the most obvious and contentious example so far has been Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher digging deep into The Killing Joke’s impact on the Batgirl mythos towards an exorcism illustrated by James Harvey in Batgirl #49, and we’re set to see more of these aftershocks reverberate in ways both big and small.
Beyond superhero comics, the 1980s were, despite being mocked with tongue in cheek for its many excesses, deified in pop culture for its teen narratives and John Hughes’ contributions in specific. The widespread critique of Hughes’ oeuvre has been as long and slow coming as that of Moore or Miller’s, but it has nonetheless arrived in earnest in the last couple years.
“Nostalgia is a sneaky bitch,” Bitch Flicks writer Stephanie Rogers observed in her re-examination of Sixteen Candles, a sentiment that very much appears to be on display in Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy as a cast of characters is assembled to re-enact a moment in time under pain of something really bad happening. By including Jen and Olive in the re-enactment, a dispassionate eye on both the specific events and the era as a whole has been unleashed, and the outlines of what that might entail are already emerging.
Artistically, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell and Maddi Gonzalez make no visible distinctions in how they cartoon the different eras, which leaves their differentiation at face value and for the reader to puzzle over for themselves. The same more or less holds true of Whitney Cogar’s colors. Interestingly though, Valero-O’Connell’s cartooning comes into a sharper focus this issue as the competing aesthetics of androgyny take center stage in Professor MacPherson and Maps.
Whether by design or happenstance the kind of androgyny that Maps, and the contemporary world of the comic in general, embodies is very evident in Valero-O-Connell’s faces. The sharply defined cheekbones and chins that are typically used to reinforce gender in cartooning disappear in Valero-O’Connel’s soft shapes and don’t re-emerge in Gonzalez’s inks, which is critical in communicating the liminality of the clothing swap.
In comics, we’re accustomed to subversion being a loud and upfront affair. Parody awash in neon glow, dialogue shouted directly at the reader. Gotham Academy and Lumberjanes have pursued a quieter, softer revolution and their synthesis carries that banner proudly. Instead of holding up a norm and tearing it asunder in the town square, the devious minds behind Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy have quietly instituted new norms in the hopes that we might align more closely to them as part of a peaceful transfer of power.
The Verdict: 8.0/10