Gotham Academy is probably one of the most anticipated titles from DC this year. Written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher, with illustrations by Karl Kerschl, it promises to deliver a very different story than what DC usually put out. Basically it looks like this series is an answer to what we’ve been asking for, namely: fun female characters and a story that’s not about the same old angry white men punching other white dudes.
If you’ve managed to avoid hearing anything about the series then here’s the basic premise: Gotham City, home of Batman and co., has a very fancy boarding school. This is the story of that school and two particular students who attend it. The story throws us right in. There’s no slow introduction or wordy exposition, the story begins on page one. In fact, it feels like the story is already well underway as we join the protagonist, a teenage girl named Olive, at the start of her second year. We’re given hints and references to what took place previously but any details are left for us to speculate on. We know something has happened to her recently but we’re not quite sure what. This means that thankfully the issue just gets on with things and certainly shows rather than tells, while at the same time it gives us something to ponder on.
It’s time to take a moment just to appreciate the artwork: it’s stunning. This is one of the best looking comics I’ve read in months. Incredibly detailed, the stylised cartoon illustrations are just a joy to look at. Seriously, can we have an animated Gotham Academy TV show with this artwork? Basically you can look at any page of the comic and you can just see how much effort has gone into it. Even the clothes look like they’ve been carefully rendered on every single panel. Nothing has been rushed and no corners have been cut. You feel like you’re really getting your money’s worth with a comic this good looking. As for the actual composition, it flows exceptionally well. Panels are laid out dynamically but carefully, it’s a very easy read and one that avoids looking too standard or simple. This is the best work of Kerschl’s career.
This opening issue strikes quite a nice balance in tone. Most parts are actually pretty funny or lighthearted, while a few are a bit darker and more ominous. But it never strays into the bleak territory that so many comics happily march into these days. This is something you can hand to a 10-year old and be confident there’s nothing too much for them to handle in there. Although any adult readers will get a really fun story too, I think it’s teenagers that will get the most kick out of Gotham Academy, especially as it looks like school politics are going to play a role in the series.
Speaking of the school itself, there’s a gravitas to the backdrop that’s hard to describe. Gotham Academy itself feels practically ancient. You can absolutely believe that kids here would be hunting for ghosts and exploring abandoned buildings. Through a combination of the spooky art and the clever story, the academy itself is arguably the standout character of the whole issue. It’s a brilliant addition to the Batman mythos and it deserves to sit alongside other mainstays like Arkham Asylum. As for the characters that inhabit it, the glimpses we get here were enough to pull me in. They’re fun to follow and have a human touch that elevates them beyond the stereotypical teenage students you may have seen in other stories. By the end of their little adventure I was certain I was coming back next month for another round.
Gotham Academy is the type of comic that you read and then wonder why the hell there aren’t more comics like it. It’s providing something that’s really lacking in comics and it’s doing it incredibly well. It makes you realise how especially rigid super hero stories have become. How many series’ do we have from Marvel or DC that are about the friendship between teenage girls? And how many teenage girls are there out there who enjoy super hero movies? Well those people have something to read now that they can easily relate to, it’s called Gotham Academy and it’s awesome.