Young adult comics are often overlooked by mainstream readers. Perhaps it’s because, after so long insisting comics are also for adults, it’s easy to forget what we meant is that comics are for everyone. In The Stand, Stephen King reminds us that, “Country don’t mean dumb”, and sometimes it’s good to be reminded the same is true of YA.
Brendan Fletcher‘s run on Batgirl is contemporary, sassy and highly acclaimed. Alongside Becky Cloonan he is co-writing Gotham Academy, which is classic, slow-paced and equally as deserving of your attention.
Gotham Academy is a mystery and, like any good mystery. it knows the power of a narrative that’s slow burning. The threads of the mystery extend beyond the school and touch all aspects of Batman mythology. Bruce Wayne is a patron of the school; history class covers the founding of Gotham and the Cobblepot family; the bat signal shines above the school at night. The web of intrigue spreads across the city, but its center is the Academy and student Olive Silverlock. Events of the previous summer have left Olive psychologically scarred and with her mother a patient (or possibly inmate) at Arkham, Her position is not dissimilar to that of the young Bruce Wayne. Batman is even connected to her trauma, with Olive possibly collateral damage in his vigilante war. As Olive tries to rebuild her life on returning to school, she finds herself surrounded by converging mysteries.
There is a secret society that hides behind bat masks, the North Hall of the school is forbidden to students, some kind of ghostly presence that haunts it and the diary of the late Millie Jane Cobblepot could tie everything together. The first four issues carefully put these pieces into place, some of which Olive uncovers and some, reminding her of trauma, she’s reluctant to confront.
A good mystery is a trap for the reader as much as for the detective, and Cloonan & Fletcher have been setting this one expertly. The threads overlap but don’t interconnect clearly; we don’t know if Olive is at the center of the web or has just stumbled into it. If you haven’t picked this up yet, issue 4 is out tomorrow and you can piece together the strands for yourself. If you prefer your mystery without the suspense of monthly installments, then the trade paperback (available for pre-order) is due in June.
Comparisons of the title to Hogwarts not uncommon; some have used this in a dismissive tone to show they consider it too childish for them, but it should be considered favorable. This is world building on the scale that few mediums are capable of. The existing mythos of Batman and Gotham is being extended and adapted for a new audience without the need for a reboot, alternate universe or any of the other techniques comic books traditionally use. The boarding school setting allows for a self-contained world that the outside insanity of Gotham can slowly bleed into. If you want to compare it to Hogwarts, think of it as The Dark Knight meets the Dark Mark, or as putting the Joker in J.K. Rowling.
Young Adult titles aren’t often gifted with artwork as gorgeous as that by Karl Kershl (which alone makes it worth opening an issue) and Gotham Academy has perhaps been overlooked as people reach for the more serious tone of other DC titles. But just because comics can be appreciated as art for adults doesn’t mean they can’t also be wonderfully told, beautifully drawn mysteries for everyone, and that’s exactly what we get with Gotham Academy.