This week in Arc Reaction we’re discussing the first story arc of Gotham Academy by Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan, and Karl Kerschl. Gotham Academy saw its release as Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr took over Batgirl, and both of these releases have played a part in showing the diversity of Gotham City. While Batgirl rebrands an existing character, Gotham Academy introduces a bunch of new characters, places, and mysteries into the world. So I must warn you now, there are spoilers ahead.
Gotham Academy primarily focuses on Olive Silverlock. She’s new to the Academy, and attending under a scholarship from Bruce Wayne. It’s probably no coincidence that Batman put her mother in Arkham Asylum, and she seems to be harboring some fire-starting superpowers. The real fun is in the normal stuff. She’s assigned a guide when she joins the school, Maps Mizoguchi, the little sister of her ex-boyfriend Kyle Mizoguchi. There’s yet-to-be-revealed drama there. More weird characters attend the school and join their group as it goes on. It gets fun.
One of the more interesting points of the story is the use of the Gotham History class. You see, they’re all reading the diary of Millie Jane Cobblepot, a member of the Cobblepot family who was displeased with what the questionable ethics of the family itself. She was held prisoner in the Academy by Dr. Arkham and the Cobblepot family for fear she’d speak up, and now her ghost haunts the Academy hallways. There’s a fairly obvious likeness being drawn between Millie Jane’s criminal family and Olive’s. But I absolutely love Millie Jane’s story because it also builds on the history of the Cobblepots in Gotham, and develops the Gotham Academy as this tragic landmark.
The other big tragic character we’re introduced to is Killer Croc. He shows up in the tunnels we learn connect Gotham Academy and Arkham Asylum. He knows Olive’s mother, and seems to be watching over her. Now Killer Croc has had quite a few takes on him, but Kerschl wisely draws him in a style reminiscent of Batman the Animated Series. This Croc is friendly, a bit misunderstood, and just wants to smash Batman’s head with a rock. He’s not a danger to these kids. Fletcher, Cloonan, and Kerschl do a wonderful job building him as a sympathetic character so that you can get into Olive’s head a bit when Batman inevitably shows up. You don’t want Batman to succeed here, and there’s some really smart writing done to make those late scenes work.
Kerschl brings a unique aesthetic to Gotham Academy. His layouts are all very fun and dynamic. Panels change shape, side, and angle frequently. The backgrounds are all painted with the characters more flat–it brings a neat animated look to the book. Gotham Academy isn’t dark, it’s fun, and Kerschl gets that. It’s spooky, and weird, and mysterious, but never horrifying. There’s quite a few colorists through this arc–Geyser, McCaig, MSASSYK, & LaPointe–who all help bring the school vibrantly to life. Everyone’s built a certain style to Gotham Academy that really stands out amongst DC’s other offerings.
Gotham Academy is reminiscent of a fun young adult novel. There’s mysteries, adventures, and romance. It’s a look at Gotham from the perspective of kids growing up there, and Gotham doesn’t look as scary as you’d think. It’s full of mysteries, tragedies, and oddities; but it’s also just interesting. Gotham Academy is a series I wish I had as a kid. I’m just happy it exists, and I just hope it’s able to leave a mark in the world of Batman.