Children Are The Future – Reviewing ‘Strange Academy: Finals’ #5
by Scott Redmond
All roads have been leading to this point as ‘Strange Academy: Finals’ #5 reaches the point for these students that was teased all the way back at the beginning. A personal and magical tale that builds so much upon the amazing work that this creative team has done to enrich this corner of the world.
It’s that time of year when the achievements of students after a rigorous school year are given a well-deserved spotlight. Too bad for the kids of the Strange Academy that some gatecrashers have other plans.
One of the things that have worked so well with this series since it began back in 2020 has been the ability to create a fun character-rich series with focus and direction in the form of a slow-burning well-developed plotline that is currently being wrapped up. We were introduced to the idea that someone would turn on the school and bring about something possibly apocalyptic and since the vision had something to do with Dormammu, the easy guess is that his ‘son’ Doyle would be the one to bring it about. This whole prophecy has helped define so much of what the characters have done and where the series has gone in its 23 issues so far.
As it all began Skottie Young put the focus on Emily Bright and she was by all appearances set to be our protagonist and the focal point for the series, but quickly Young showed that there was far more at play. We see the culmination of that all now with Emily as the foe and the whole cast is so developed and so life-like that we care about their struggles and successes and about how far they’ve come and how far they’re willing to go to save Emily and Dessy despite what they have done. Just like how Calvin was welcomed back, and all the other defectors who returned were welcomed with open arms.
Young is just such a fun writer with a deep love for creating fleshed-out characters and magical worlds, while also being able to really hold down a long-form plot. Those are hard to do in monthly comics as if you take too long or don’t give readers enough it’s easy to lose them or lead to them not caring about a resolution. Seeding that amongst great character work and just a lot of fun elements helps to make each issue worth it for the reader and gets them attached for the long run.
We’re given some backstory of Doyle’s origin and it’s handled so well here. A lot of questions still lingered about him and how he could be related to Dormammu and they are answered here as we finally meet his mother. Alongside this one of the biggest moments of the issue is how we fully see that not only have the children grown and learned over all this time as they embrace each other and build relationships, but the teachers display how much they have grown. Everything that Emily says about the teachers was true at one point but we see now that students and staff alike have surpassed the vision she still holds of them, putting her fully in the vengeful villain role unwilling to believe that others can and have changed.
Much of that colorful fun comes from the fabulous job that Humberto Ramos and Edgar Delgado have been doing on the artwork this whole time. Much of the weight and lively feeling of the characters is because Ramos has a style that is detailed and full of emotional resonance and great body language, but also has a particular flare to it that has a sort of sharp appeal to it. By that I mean there is a tiny bit of roughness mixed in with proportions not 100% fitting what one might call reality, which helps with that sort of fantastical element. All of it still feels quite real though even without fitting into the realm of more photo-realistic style art, because the background pieces are so well rendered, and the paneling gives new dimensions with how it’s laid out and the great close-ups peppered into it all.
All of that helps with the fact that Ramos is called upon to bring to life a wide variety of characters of every conceivable, and even inconceivable, shape and size and even appearance. There is uniqueness on display and scale, as the larger characters actually truly feel large compared to others on the page rather than us knowing they are large/tall but not feeling it with perspectives that are in play. Dormammu feels huge and threatening just on sight alone without even taking into account what he’s saying or doing at any given moment. When I open this book, I fully believe that this world could and does exist or that I could walk into it right now, because of everything Ramos pours into the page.
All of what I said above is also present in its own way within the colors that Delgado is putting down. Sure, the specifics of the penciling don’t apply to coloring but the same ideas behind them and the style choices are clear. That roughness/sharpness is there in the colors because they are full of dark/shadowy elements but are also quite toned down at times in order to create that more realistic or relatable feeling. At the same time though, there is plenty of vivid powerful pops of colors when the magical or supernatural elements are on full display making sure that they stand out even more from the more ‘normal’ elements in play. I just love how despite magic being sort of a unifying theme every character has their own tones/colors that dominate when they do magical things which makes sure that they not only stand out from each other but allows their personality to play into their magic as well.
Speaking of personality and flair being added, that’s just what Clayton Cowles does with all the lettering. Different characters all have differences in the font for their dialogue, shapes or colors for their speech bubble, or other bits of the lettering that makes it clear who is talking but again also pops a bit of their theme or personality into their words. Alongside that are the other little bits that Cowles brings into play that make sure that the tone or volume of a character’s speech is also clear, easily showcasing louder versus quieter or more neutral speaking moments.
I bring these things up a ton with lettering not just because it’s part of what is being done on the page, but because it’s not always something that one sees and is, in my opinion, very important for comics. We cannot hear these characters like we would if this was a TV show or movie, we hear them in our mind as we read and are therefore creating a voice for them. Having it clear on the page how particular lines are being delivered allows us to hear it that way within our mind rather than having to guess. Every little bit that these creators are bringing to the page makes things that much better and cohesive and just a great immersive experience.
Strange Academy: Finals #5 is now available from Marvel Comics.