Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Gotham Academy #1 Review (Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher)

Well timed to debut between the start of a new school year and Halloween, Gotham Academy takes elements of both and mixes it up into something resembling the two. Because, wow, is Gotham Academy deliciously gothic! The school itself looks like the classic, centuries-old boarding schools in England and even the headmaster plays into that idea, making his grim first appearance with a candle. 

Our hero is Olive Silverlock, a returning student to Gotham Academy, who is tasked with chaperoning the younger Maps Mizoguchi, who also happens to be the little sister of her ex, Kyle. But something happened to Olive over the summer, and it wasn’t just the breakup with her boy - there’s a mystery surrounding her mum and Olive herself has become more combative and rebellious. And then there’s the academy itself. Is it true what they say - Gotham Academy is… haunted? 

Oh man, I was so disappointed with Gotham Academy #1! I was expecting a more fun, bouncy kind of read akin to Marvel’s Young Avengers and instead got a sort of by-the-numbers schoolgirl shenanigans-type story that’s super-gloomy with a token cameo from Bruce Wayne. 

Writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher give us: the gruff headmaster (who’s bound to have a heart of gold); the bullying popular girl who knocks down our heroine in the hallway, scattering her papers; the jerk boy throwing paper things at Olive’s head in class (who you just know has a crush on her) - there’s just too many cliches in the opening few pages which is never a good sign. 

There’s also no real story. This first issue is mostly concerned about setting the tone than it is with plotting. Olive and Maps (who likes to draw maps) slowly get to know each other, they venture into a belltower, and the action is centred around one page where Olive pulls off a kinda lo-fi Batman-esque move. 

That said, one of the biggest complaints of DC’s New 52 has been the lack of diversity across their line. Almost uniformly their titles have been aimed squarely at straight white adult males whereas Gotham Academy feels more aimed at a younger crowd, the school crowd, and has the potential to speak more to that audience than anyone else. It’s Young Adult, which DC rarely does well, albeit gloomy Young Adult (though I like Maps’ energy!). 

Karl Kerschl’s art is pretty nice and thankfully doesn’t have anything in common with DC’s house style - it’s softer, more flowing and has an anime flavour to it. Though they really overstated the whole Batman thing in this issue - as if the title didn’t tell you this is set in Batman’s world, there’s Bat signals aplenty, bats flying around everywhere, and Bruce Wayne dropping by (in one panel appearing, in a hallucination, like Batman). 

I really wanted to like Gotham Academy but the debut issue leaves a weak first impression when I would’ve loved to have instead seen it come out swinging with a bold statement. It doesn’t set up a compelling direction for the series to go in, or introduce any standout characters you want to know more about. Maybe this series will work better on younger readers but for me Gotham Academy #1 feels as shaky as the architecture that make up its grounds.

Gotham Academy #1

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