This first collection of Gotham Academy runs on teen angst, mystery, and a touch of self-referential humor. It reminds me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or first season Vampire Diaries, although the supernatural presence lurking behind Gotham Academy isn’t vampires, it’s Batman. Like Buffy, Elena, or even the eponymous Veronica Mars, Gotham Academy’s protagonist Olive Silverlock is having an identity crisis. She’s become the “weird” girl after a mysterious summer incident that she herself doesn’t remember but which had a detrimental impact on her life. As she attempts to figure out who she is now, she finds herself also investigating rumors of a ghost haunting the academy. The volume unfolds from there.
The highlight of Gotham Academy is Olive’s plucky sidekick, Mia aka Maps. Maps is a first year student and Olive’s estranged boyfriend’s younger sister. What makes Maps fantastic is a combination of optimism, confidence, and a practical application of the lessons she’s learned playing the D&D-inspired table-top role-playing game Serpents & Spells. She maps everything, carries a backpack with compass and flashlight, tells stories of her gaming sessions, discusses real world tools in terms of their add-on rating to skills, and categorizes people by their alignment: “He’s too lawful-good to come with us.”
Maps is just a standout in an array of interesting teen students and academy teachers. Their quirks, insecurities, and relationships are engaging and fun to follow through the issues, and they develop in satisfying ways. The most emotional moments of the collection had, in both narrative and illustrations, an influence of melodramatic teen manga.
But this is a Batman title, and there’s certainly the shadow of Batman hanging over the academy. There is, of course, detective work being done by these students as they investigate the reports of ghost sightings and the mysteriously condemned North Hall. There are allusions to Batman characters and stories from comic canon. One character even makes reference to an event from Batgirl: The Batgirl of Burnside volume thatjust came out–a sister title if ever there was one, since both center their stories on young women and give the noir-ish genre of Batman a sassy goose in the pants. And, of course, Batman makes his appearances in the volume, though he remains mostly in the background.
Gotham Academy is a great fit for fans of Batman looking for a new tone and angle on the mythology and appreciate teen drama and intriguing female protagonists.