It’s no secret that DC Comics currently leans a little bit too heavily on the Dark Knight and his world; there are currently thirteen Batman-related monthly titles, and that’s not even counting the weekly Batman Eternal book. But it’s hard to blame the folks at DC really. Gotham City simply has the richest world to explore, and let’s face it: the Bat sells, and sells a lot. The latest monthly to be centered on Batman’s world is Gotham Academy, a book that’s a little bit CW television series and a little bit Harry Potter, with a wee touch of manga-inspired storytelling. While that might all sound like an awful mix to some, Gotham Academy actually turns out to be a really fun and charming book.
The world of Gotham already has tons of cool locales to use as story fodder- most famously Arkham Asylum and Blackgate prison – so why not add one more? The idea of a boarding school (one with a long and possibly haunted history) into Gotham City is such a no-brainer, I’m frankly kind of shocked it took DC this long to figure it out. And I also have to give big kudos to DC for making the two main characters of this series young girls instead of boys. Both DC and Marvel have been getting a bit of flack for their lack of diversity in their comic books, and deservedly so, so points need to be awarded to DC for listening to fans and doing the right thing. If you need to sneak in female characters into an ongoing title by putting them in Batman-related books, then by all means, do so.
The first issue opens up with two young girls — 15 year-old Olive Silverlock (an appropriate name given her hair) and 14 year-old Maps Mizoguchi, a first year student, and younger sister to Olive’s former boyfriend. They’re meeting with the school headmaster, who looks strikingly like Argus Filch, the caretaker at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films (he looks a little bit like Ra’s al Ghul too. I really hope it’s not Ra’s al Ghul though.) The Headmaster has tasked the older Olive with being a sort of “nanny” to help the younger Maps adjust to life at the Academy, and give her a tour of the grounds.
Olive has clearly had some sort of personal tragedy over the summer between grades involving her mother, but the book doesn’t go into too much detail about that quite yet. That being said, I appreciate the writer not laying all her cards out on the table so early. It’s okay to leave a little mystery to get readers to come back. Olive and Maps end up ditching the school assembly, and go exploring the school’s old bell tower, which is of course structurally unsound and dangerous. The girls get into an incident that almost costs them their lives, and you get the sense that this moment is the one that will bond the two girls for good. They also ruin a speech by returning Gotham Academy alum Bruce Wayne (you knew he’d pop in here somewhere) which will do them no favors in endearing themselves to the school’s staff. Olive seems to have something against Batman, but we don’t know what it is yet. I have a feeling though, that whatever happened to Olive’s mom, she blames it on the Bat.
Writer Becky Cloonan (American Virgin, Northlanders) brings a fun, playful tone to the book, and writes kids who feel like kids, something a lot of adult writers have a hard time doing. She manges to make Olive “the serious one” without making her a goth caricature, and also makes Maps the “younger, perky one” without making her seem brain dead. But easily my favorite part of the book was the artwork by Karl Kerschl. I’ve loved Kerschl’s art for years, especially on books like Teen Titans: Year One, but this is maybe the best interior art I’ve seen from him ever. Kerschl evokes the right balance between fun and poppy and manga-esque, all while fitting in to the superhero world that these girls inhabit just by virtue of living in Gotham City.
Yes, there are still too many monthly Batman related books out there, but if they are all of the quality of Gotham Academy, then it’s hard to find yourself complaining about them too much.