DC Comics has announced something like five new Batbooks to start in the upcoming months. Included in that list is Gotham Academy, which released on October 1. Gotham Academy is brought to you by writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher, and artist Karl Kerschl. This new title focuses on a boarding school for Gothamite children and actually doesn’t involve any of the Batfamily, the only familiar face to be found so far is that of Bruce Wayne who is giving a speech to open the school year.
From what can be seen in this first issue it seems that Gotham Academy is a secondary school, meaning the children appear to be about 12 or 13 and up. DC offers few Batman related titles to their younger audience so a kid friendly book that isn’t based off a cartoon is refreshing. Also, immediately noticeable and just as refreshing is the fact that not only are the two main characters female, but they also appear to be children of color. This is a move in the right direction for the company, but it also begs the question; is DC being influenced by Marvel’s sudden move towards inclusion? Whatever their motivation, it is a welcome change.
The issue opens up with the main characters, Olive Silverlock and “Maps” Mizoguchi waiting anxiously outside the headmaster’s office. Context clues indicate that it is the first day of school. Olive is assigned to Maps as her “nanny” for the year, so these two will clearly be spending lots of time together as the book continues. After the girls leave the headmaster’s office they head to class, and during their walk, the first antagonistic characters are revealed. A group of three students gives Olive a hard time, knocking her books into the rain-filled street. She takes this conflict rather hard and the readers are introduced to age appropriate and relevant conflict. By making Olive a young girl who feels like an outcast and is bullied by her peers, the writers provide fans with someone they can relate to, especially young readers. The question is will Olive gain self-confidence and learn to stand up for herself? Kids who suffer from bullying in school often fantasize about someone who will swoop in superhero style and save them, but the inevitable lesson is that there are no caped crusaders and problems must be handled your own way. Hopefully Cloonan and Fletcher will develop Olive’s character into someone who can be a role model for school age girls and boys in this same situation.
As the story continues, we see a little less of Maps, which could mean that this is mainly focused on Olive’s story. Olive and Maps split up during lunch; it seems that Olive used to date Miss Mizoguchi’s older brother and isn’t keen on reuniting with him anytime soon. Again, Olive and Maps are very relatable characters. Who hasn’t had to deal with the aftermath of a high school breakup? Who hasn’t had to deal with younger siblings who always want to tag along? These are the types of experiences that will draw in readers of all ages because they are quintessential adolescent milestones. Some readers may look back on their own high school days with a feeling of nostalgia, and some may find themselves going through these hardships right now.
Later in the story, after Olive has had some time to herself where she experiences more negative interaction with her peers, she decides to be kinder to Maps and offers to take her up in the very creepy bell tower. Throughout the issue, there is various mention of ghost-like eyes watching students through the windows and scary sounds being heard all over campus. This build up before the girls enter the bell tower gives hint of a mystery to be solved, and of course where else would a ghost reside than in a creepy tower where no one is allowed to go? The reader will be expecting the girls to meet this monster or ghost while they are having their adventure, but they will be disappointed. The mystery remains just that, and the only real action we get to see is when Maps falls off the balcony and Olive “literally swooped down like Batman” according to Maps, a comparison that Olive doesn’t seem to enjoy.
Considering that the first issue has to establish character detail, setting, and mood amongst other things, there isn’t a whole lot of anything going on yet. The most interesting thing to be found in this first issue of Gotham Academy is Olive’s attitude toward Batman. Any time that he is mentioned she behaves with disdain and something similar to fear. At the end of the issue she reassures her roommate who is convinced that there is a pair of eyes looking in their window by telling her “It’s just the Bat-Signal, same old thing as every other night”. The panel in which this dialogue appears shows Olive with an expression resembling annoyance. While most Gotham citizens regard Batman as a hero and someone to be respected, Gotham Academy’s leading lady seems to have a different opinion. Despite the ghostly sounds and glowing eyes which the students often describe, the real mystery of Gotham Academy is what is Olive’s issue with the Bat?