‘Strange Academy’ approaches the end of its first ‘semester’ as plotlines approach their endgame and the cast of characters grows and becomes even more solid than they already were. There is a dark and magical beauty to this title that finds a way to balance expertly upon that line that makes a book about teenagers in a magical/superhero world good.
Power is addictive, and just like many other addictions, it can sometimes overwhelm to the point of causing one to engage in behaviors they might otherwise never consider to chase the feelings their addiction brings them. Within the world of magic, the cost of one’s addiction might very well be a price that many must pay.
There are only a few issues left in the first ‘semester’ of Strange Academy (it was announced the series is ending this first run at #18 with more story to come after a break), and quite a few of the character-specific plotlines appear to be heading towards potential conclusions. As the intro points to the story of Calvin and his lost power and his deal with the addictive wish giver Gaslamp is a large part of this issue.
Like with many ongoing stories of any medium, it takes a bit of time to find the direction that works best especially when trying to juggle a large and diverse cast of characters that have their own needs and stories that need to be told. Skottie Young has done a good job juggling those character balls in the series, and truly the last few issues have felt like the book has begun to form a real solid foundation as it spreads the character moments around. There is a great balance of teen/school book moments and magical energy/moments/callbacks that give the book a good depth.
Calvin’s story is something that is quite common to teen books, the student that develops an addiction that threatens themselves and others and a classmate or classmates realizes this and tries to help them. Magic comes with a cost, a thread repeated in this book and other magic books at Marvel in the last few years, and in this case, the cost he must pay is getting other students hooked to the wishes. It’s a different way to tackle a common story idea, making it work for the genre and focus of the story vehicle.
While that plotline is common (which is not a bad thing at all), I really appreciate that the Doyle plot took the less commonly traveled path. Despite seeing a bad future that caused him to want to run away (after hearing a prophecy about himself many issues ago) Doyle Dormammu instead sticks around because he comes to realize that this choice could be the thing that causes the future and it’s only a potential future. Normally this is a revelation that takes longer, but we have it happen quickly (mostly off-panel) which is nice. It gets the character back with his friends and leaves it in a spot where even we’re not sure what might or might not be for him at this point.
Humberto Ramos and Edgar Delgado continue to bring out all the best qualities of this magical series, hitting all the right notes as needed. Whether the character exposition scenes or the really fun magical fight/defense lesson pages further in, they are all not only wonderfully detailed but fluctuate between the bright and fun and happy to the slightly more ominous or magical at the drop of a hat. There is a depth to the work that makes the world even more full and helps bring us deeper into the emotional moments.
Part of that comes from Ramos’ keen sense of panel design, helping make certain moments even bigger to engage us more. Like where Emily is yelling at Zelma over Doyle’s potential departure. Perspective and size changes as well as well-placed close-ups that make the raw emotion larger as it washes over the pages.
Another part rests in Delgado’s colorwork, where we get moments that are highlighted by pure bright colors that really make the magic moments pop but also are not afraid to get really dark. Such as the moments in Gaslamp’s area, where it’s dark and confined and ominous in a very terrifying way. An overly creepy place of business for a deadly immoral creepy being.
One cannot forget the always great lettering work that Clayton Cowles brings to the many books he works on. Personality and emotion are clear in all the dialogue, not just the bubbles that have different fonts or colors for certain characters. Emily’s anger in the previously mentioned panels with Zelma is not just felt because of the clear anger on her face but in the way, her words are put together. Emotion is just resonating off the page from every aspect and angle.
Also, a magic book comes with a lot of fun magical elements and fights and the SFX should be just as magical and fun, and with Cowles they very much are. Personally, I’m a fan of the SFX-style scream that Emily releases on Iric, as it just makes the moment work even better than it would with the scream in a dialogue bubble. It showcases the power of the magical scream as we see the effects on-page.
Strange Academy #15 is now on sale in print and digitally from Marvel Comics.