Gotham Academy is exactly the comic book I want to read.

That probably doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who's been reading ComicsAlliance for any significant amount of time. I mean, if you made a list of the things I like seeing in my comics, then Batman, teenage mystery solvers, and high school drama set in a superhero universe are all things that are going to land pretty close to the top of the list, and those three elements form the exact core of Gotham Academy's premise. It's so perfectly designed to fit my very specific tastes that you'd actually have to work hard to combine them into something that I wouldn't like.

Because of that, it might be tempting to write off anything nice I have to say about the book, but trust me: this first issue of Gotham Academy is great, not just because it's got a bunch of stuff I want to see, but because Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Geyser, and Dave McCaig, have produced one of the most solid starts of the year.

 

 

To be honest, a lot of what I like about Gotham Academy comes from what it represents as much as what's actually contained in these 20 pages. I've always been attracted to comics that focus on the stranger and more obscure corners of the universe, showing how a world full of superheroes can shape the other people around them, and I think that's because it makes the universe feel more complete.

When you have a covert ops task force made up of otherwise forgotten arch-criminals, or a super-team that's structured like a law firm fighting crime for profit, or a district attorney who raids the evidence locker for super-weapons that she can use to fight crime, things feel like they're connected. It's something that you get from a universe that's been around for a while, and as a result, it's something that -- to me, at least -- feels like it's been missing from the DC Universe for a few years.

'The New 52', with its relaunched mandate to put the focus on all-new, all-collared iconic heroes, just hasn't felt lived-in. It's been like a brand new house without any furniture in it. But with this book, and a few other recent launches, that feels like it's changing.

Gotham Academy is, after all, a book that requires a history on multiple levels; a history that it's creating on the page as you read it. It's right there on page one, when Cloonan and Fletcher talk about the stories behind the school in the first lines of the book:

 

 

It's not just the school itself, though. It's the history of the city, a history that's inextricably linked to Batman, and -- moving to the small scale and the focus of the comic -- it's the history of Olive Silverlock, the character that we join for this first issue.

We learn a lot about Olive in pretty short order: This isn't her first year at Gotham, she recently broke up with her boyfriend Kyle, and most importantly for connecting Gotham Academy to the wider universe; Olive has a history with Batman. Something happened between them over the summer, something that was bad enough for someone that Bruce Wayne remembers her by name, which is very rarely a good thing for all concerned.

That's the history that we're dropped into in this first issue, and it's great. As tempting as it might have been to "Harry Potter{ things up and follow a character who was new to the setting in order introduce it, using Olive as a returning student as our viewpoint character helps to establish that feeling of history that makes things work so well. And besides, we've got Maps along as the wide-eyed newcomer for when we need that POV.

 

 

As a quick aside, can we talk about the names in this comic? Because they are that special kind of ridiculous that loops back around to being amazing: Olive Silverlock, who quite literally has silver locks of hair, and "Maps" Mizoguchi, who is super into D&D and draws maps all the time. Those are names that could only exist in comics, and those are just our main characters. Once you get into the other students, there's a whole new world of improbable names, including troublemaker Colton Rivera and rich rival Pomeline Fritch (!), which is astounding. I love it.

Beyond the names, the characters are instantly engaging, and they feel fully formed after just one issue, even when there's plenty of mystery about them still left to be revealed. There's a sense of adventure and fun to the whole thing that just feels masterful in how well it's put together.

It's Karl Kerschl, though, who shines brightest in this book. Kerschl's an amazingly talented artist, but he's always seemed to me like a creator who's never quite gotten the credit he deserves. In Gotham Academy he is phenomenal. The exaggerated, cartoony character designs are perfect for the characters, with Olive's moody eyes framed by her silver hair, and Maps's peppy, wide-eyed delight at her surroundings coming through on every page. Even the page layouts are amazing, whether it's the cutaway that establishes the setting in the opening pages, or the corkscrew of panels as they climb to the top of a bell tower:

 

 

In the end, it's not just a beautiful comic full of engaging characters and instantly enjoyable teen drama; it's one of the few comics in a long while that I think is truly a perfect gateway into the DC Universe. It doesn't shy away from superheroics or the weirdness of its setting -- I mean, Batman's in it, after all -- but it presents it all in a way that lets you see it in a fresh and fascinating new way, with incredible storytelling from everyone involved.

It's not just the comic that I want to read; it's the comic that DC needed to put out, and they nailed it with this one.