Change is evolution, and sometimes people dislike the new because of attachment to the old. With comic books the stories and characters evolve organically; the new exists alongside the old, and either the new fails, the old becomes replaced or they co-exist.
Gotham Academy is an evolution of the Batman mythos, and the clearest example of Mark Doyle’s intention to create ‘a Batman book for every fan’. It’s fun, accessible, beautiful and well written.
A popular summary of Gotham Academy is, “Hogwarts in the Batman Universe”, and that’s not too inaccurate. The old boarding school, full of mystery. The oligarchic headmaster. Strange objects lying around that seem unremarkable until misused. All of this happens under the very recognizable shadow of the bat.
Gotham Academy takes an established approach in it’s first arc, where the more mystic elements of Gotham that the Batman deals with regularly are background elements that threaten to break into the lives of the students. This is a similar approach taken by HBO’s Game of Thrones. It’s first season was light on the fantasy elements, often doing little more than alluding to old legends, and played out more like an alternate historical fiction. This allowed people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves fantasy fans to engage with a show they may have otherwise passed over. Netflix’s Daredevil took a similar tone, giving an occasional nod to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe while keeping the tone and themes of the show very much at street level.
Batman: The Animated Series used a distinct style and approach to bring Gotham to a whole new audience (Andrea Letimendi’s site is a wonderful resource to understand the impact of that show). Gotham Academy has the potential to do the same to a new generation. Comic readership is increasing and so is the demographic breakdown of readers. Gotham Academy is a fantastic entry point for young adult readers new to comics. The Batman references (Arkham, Bruce Wayne, Damian Wayne, Killer Croc) are all light enough that a vague awareness of them i all that’s needed, yet they anchor the story into the universe so effectively; long time Batman fans can spend hours spotting obscure references that decorate the comic.
That the comic focuses on a new group of characters in a relatively enclosed environment makes it more accessible again; the walls surrounding the academy allow Fletcher, Cloonan and Kerschl to create a similar effect achieved my the into page to the Fraction/Aja run on Hawkeye, which explained to new readers, ‘this is all you need to know, now go enjoy the story’. From that point on, both are self contained narratives within a larger universe.
Gotham Academy has brought a new style of storytelling to the Batman line that’s in equal parts adorable (Maps!), sharp, funny, touching, tragic and playful. It’s a look at Gotham through new eyes, but once you scratch the surface the same dark city is waiting beneath.