One of the benefits of doing this project is seeing certain patterns start emerge. For instance, I’ve looked at Runaways and The Woods already; both are series that follow casts of kids, and they had certain things in common that made them work:
- Both lead with character*.
- Those characters’ relationships were clear and informed the plot.
- They did not condescend in plot; their characters weren’t stupid just because they were kids.
- Nor did they condescend in tone; they recognized that their audience isn’t stupid just because the book is about kids.
Reading Gotham Academy reminded me of those titles mechanically because it sticks to those same rules. That is not to say that these books are one in the same; each is unique in execution, but Cloonan and Fletcher follow the same basic strategy. And with that in mind, let’s look at what differentiates Gotham Academy.
For starters, it’s not about superheroes or survival: it’s a mystery book. Olive Silverlock and her protégé Maps** (who also happens to be Olive’s ex-boyfriend’s little sister) investigate Gotham Academy’s resident ghost—the spirit of Millie Jane Cobblepot. This first arc sees the two of them pull together a circle of friends to figure out what’s really going on—all while Olive struggles with how to process the recent family drama of her summer vacation. Think Scooby-Doo meets Harry Potter.
I’m an enormous fan of Karl Kerschl’s art in this book; it has an anime/manga vibe that fits the tone and setting perfectly. The revolving color team transitions fairly smoothly from issue to issue, although there is the occasional noticeable change. Despite that, the book’s visuals are an integral and vibrant part of its DNA.
Instead of telling you that this is a pretty easy recommendation (it is), here’s my advice on choosing between Gotham Academy and the other kid-centric books we’ve talked about: look to genre. This title is a mystery book first. It shares some of Runaways’s focus on legacy and how much you have to be like your parents, but that book is much more a traditional super hero book; and where The Woods is also rooted in a mystery, it focuses more on tension and survival than Gotham Academy does. Incidentally, this is also a book that you could probably put in front of younger readers, if that is important to you.
**So called because she is a colossal D&D nerd who treats the world as her own adventure and is constantly drawing maps. She is, hands down, the coolest character in this book.
- Gotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy (#1-6)
Writers: Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher | Artists: Karl Kerschl, Mingjue Helen Chen (Epilogue & Arkham Flashbacks) | Colorists: Geyser, Dave McCaig, John Rauch, Msassynk, Sergei LaPointe, Mingjue Helen Chen | Letterer: Steve Wands