By: Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher (story), Karl Kerschl (art), Geyser & Dave McCaig (colors)

The Story: Think Rushmore, but with hipper uniforms. And Batman.

The Review: The idea behind the DC relaunch was to take a drastic step in redefining the publisher, presenting a new face to a new generation of readers. Over three years later, the renovation hasn’t come very far. The changes have been more than superficial, at least, but it’s still the same old building brought up to code. Sadly, nearly every title that’s dared to be different has sunk, which perhaps says more about the comics-buying audience than DC’s efforts to break new ground.

The ultimate doom of series like Demon Knights, Dial H, and All-Star Western wasn’t that they were too different or not different enough, but that their appeal was too niche for commercial viability. They stood no chance of appealing to a broader audience than the sword-and-sorcery crowd, China Miéville fans, and western/Jonah Hex addicts, respectively. Gotham Academy‘s a different story; it presents a completely different tone and premise than the endless parade of superhero titles, but it’s also grounded and accessible enough to evangelize new readers.

Let’s not fool ourselves, though. The only way GA amassed this much popularity before its first issue even came out is by its looks. I can’t write that without sounding cynical, but in no way do I consider this a bad thing; I consider it an excellent thing. DC’s house art is a shudder-inducing byword in the comic book community, and has increasingly suffered from comparisons to Marvel and Image’s dazzling array of artists. GA goes a long way in removing this heavy blemish on DC’s reputation. Kerschl’s visuals are soft, lovely, and pleasing, but chock-full of personality. They’re animated instead of cartoony, which makes a world of difference.

The pointed chins, round cheeks, and wide eyes suggest an anime influence, of course, and the richly colored figures against the soft, painted backgrounds recalls the work of Studio Ghibli. But it’s the thoughtful, comprehensive design sense of GA that stands out, with lush, period-sensitive sets and architecture, populated by students and faculty who each add a touch of individual flair to their uniforms. They mesh when fitted together, without getting lost in the blend. It’s a pure joy just to look at the issue, which is high praise indeed for a comic.

As far as the story goes, Cloonan-Fletcher deliver a more than competent script with a simple mission: explore and have fun. We only get the barest outline of a plot in this first issue, which focuses far more profitably on developing the luxury and mystery of the school, its grounds, and its residents. We never linger too long on any one place or individual except our two protagonists, but the moments are carefully chosen to show the relationships among them. The goal is to get you interested in knowing more, not to hand you all the information at once. Cloonan-Fletcher wisely allow Kerschl’s art to do the talking: Pomeline Fritch’s stylish hoodie and Colton Rivera wearing sunglasses indoors on a rainy day say as much about who they are as all their tense interactions with Olive Silverlock.

As for Olive, she’s your typically moody teenager struggling to contain her attitude, but she avoids drowning in type thanks to a mid-issue recognition of the jerk she nearly becomes. We don’t know nearly enough her past experiences to sympathize with her angst, but her thawing friendship with “Maps” Mizoguichi (who just barely misses being too cutesy for words) makes her a likable enough protagonist. Once she rappels down the side of the academy’s old chapel to rescue Maps, in full view of a visiting Bruce Wayne who recognizes her by name, it becomes clear there are depths to Olive worth exploring. Her fear of Batman (“You’re not taking me too!“) and her
interest in Millie Jane Cobblepot, a historical figure who decried the crimes of her family, all imply an unsavory family history, though how this ties in to her unhappy school life, we have yet to see.

Conclusion: A shining new piece to Gotham’s already rich mythology, the issue almost lives up to all the hype that’s preceded it.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Oh, my God—waffle and omelet bar? With home fried potatoes? For school lunch?? I hate to say it, but this might be worth joining the 1%.