Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher
Gotham Academy is what I like to call DC’s way in with the young adult readership. Of course we have the current run of Batgirl too, but Gotham Academy is a new series with all new characters and it’s outside the influence of DC’s other titles. It follows Olive Silverlock, a sophomore at the prestigious boarding school, Gotham Academy, who’s experienced something traumatic the previous summer that’s connected to Batman.
The series has the hallmarks of a young adult story: a protagonist who feels she doesn’t belong, a friend she can go on adventures with, boy troubles, and a boarding school (young adult gold!). What makes this interesting is that our protagonist is keeping a secret from us (the readers), her friend is the sister of her ex-boyfriend (but not really ex-boyfriend) and it all takes place in Batman’s city. Oh and there’s a ghost. This sounds great and the art mirrors the youthful audience with brighter colours than we’re use to in a DC title while still maintaining the eerie feel of Gotham. An IGN review of the first issue said it felt more like “an animated television show than a conventional comic” and I completely agree. The page layouts are probably my favourite thing about this comic because they’re visually exciting which is fantastic for the younger demographic it’s targeting. I have two examples of these great layouts and the first is found in issue #1 as a two page spread:
I thought this layout was fantastic because we’re given an establishing shot of our primary location: the school. It offers a look at the characters we’ll be seeing throughout the series and we’re also given the first glimpses into Olive’s inner thoughts. The second example is from issue #2:
The reason I chose this page among other great layouts is due to its simplicity and the way the panels are shaped like matches. The oranges and pinks in these panels pop against the black background like the fire burning within the story and it creates the illusion of being able to grab the panels in your hand like you would with loose matches. Karl Kerschl is a fantastic artist and Geyser’s colouring deserves a nod as well.
“If we want the truth, we have to get as close to the source as possible.”
In regards to the writing, I think Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher are still in the beginnings of finding their groove with this series. I’m aware of Cloonan through her self-published comics but this is my introduction to Fletcher. The first issue is stronger than the latest two but the series is doing some interesting stuff through the themes they seem to be circling. Mental illness is woven throughout the series so far with Olive’s mother and Millie Jane Cobblepot but their inferred mental illness can also be read as supernatural abilities. This isn’t a new comparison since mental illness in the past was often explained away as the work of the devil and/or the supernatural. The writers are also alluding to Olive having her own relationship with mental illness and the supernatural through her fear of being like her mother and being able to relate to Millie Jane Cobblepot via her diary. Mental illness is not only a great topic to tackle because of the stigma surrounding it but I think mental illness is a great vehicle for exploring yourself as a person in terms of perceiving the world. At the end of the day, Gotham Academy is about the perception of teenagers as they wade through what defines them and what doesn’t. It marks a rich time in our lives where we’re caught between dependence and independence.
So some final thoughts:
- Batman seems to be the curtain Olive is too frightened to pull and I wonder what’ll happen when Olive finally decides to get close to the source of her truth.
- What’s up with that Le Morte d’Arthur? How will Cloonan and Fletcher use the King Arthur lore in their storytelling?
- Is this ghost Millie Jane Cobblepot and if not, who?
I’m not sure what DC is doing in terms of its marketing but they should really direct this book to the young adult community. It shouldn’t rely on just the comics sites since they cater to people who are already reading comics. They should reach out to people beyond the choir like the many popular young adult blogs and sites that’ll love a series like this. Come on, DC. Don’t let this series fail!