Ask Chris #292: Staffing Gotham Academy
Q: What villains do you want to see working at Gotham Academy and what are their positions? - @comicsfan4life
A: There are a lot of things to love about Gotham Academy, but as someone who spends more time thinking about D-List Batman villains than he does thinking about... well, pretty much anything else in the world, my favorite thing about it is how many obscure, forgotten and otherwise ignored Batman characters have managed to make it into that book as part of the staff. A school setting does, after all, require teachers, and when you have 70 years of goofball villains and oddball supporting characters to draw from, you might as well have a bunch of weirdos who may or may not be planning thematic bank robberies teaching your classes.
It's something that book's done so well and so cleverly that I honestly don't know if anyone can top what they've already done, but since you asked --- and since summer vacation is the perfect time for a boarding school to recruit a new staff --- I've definitely got a few ideas.
So first, let's talk about the characters that we've already seen. Very early on, Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan and Karl Kerschl introduced the idea of Bookworm --- an arch-criminal from Batman '66 whose incredible design, completely bonkers plan, and ridiculously over-the-top performance by Roddy McDowall made him far more memorable than any one-shot villain should've been --- serving as Gotham Academy's librarian. It was a pretty brilliant way to tie the book to Gotham City's superheroic history, but once it was on the page, we were pretty much off to the races.
Over the course of the next 18 issues, we'd find out that the Academy's staff included Drama teacher Simon Trent (the actor who played Bruce Wayne's childhood hero in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Beware the Gray Ghost"), science teacher Professor Milo (an on-again/off-again baddie from the Silver Age best known for making Batman afraid of his own logo), and of course, Egghead (another TV villain played by Vincent Price) as the chef in charge of the private school's eggsquisite lunches.
I mean, they even got Sterling Silversmith in there as a shop teacher, and if that's not a dedication to reviving obscure characters, I don't know what is.
But taken all together, those characters create an interesting set of requirements for taking a staff position at Gotham Academy. For villains, it works best if they're not just obscure enough --- and/or old-fashioned enough --- that it's unlikely that they'll be called up for a comeback in one of the core Batman titles, they also have to have a gimmick that's easy to translate into education. I mean, you don't really want to see the Rainbow Creature from Batman #134 showing up to teach math by turning all the students into graphs or whatever.
Although actually, now that I've written that out, that is literally the only thing I want to see.
I will concede, however, that while it's one thing to find Killer Croc lurking in the basement, actually having a hulking monster teaching a class might not fit with the theme they're going for in the book. I mean, you don't want to overshadow the students, and a multicolored rock monster that can turn you into paper is probably going to get a little more attention than you want.
So with that in mind, I think my first pick for a Gotham Academy cameo is going to be the easy one: Professor William McElroy, alias King Tut!
This one's so glaringly obvious that I'm a) genuinely surprised it hasn't been done already, and b) willing to accept that it might be a little too obvious to even bother with, especially if you've already gone for a deeper cut like Bookworm. But still, he fits the aesthetic perfectly, largely because he's one of the few Batman villains whose day job is that he's a teacher. With that in place, he'd be easy to slide right in --- and given the nature of what Adam West's Batman described as his "strange double delusion," he could pretty effortlessly move from teaching a class to trying to steal a sarcophagus or declaring himself to be the new Pharaoh of Gotham City. All it really takes is for Maps to drop a Serpents & Spells manual on his head, and we're off to the races.
The only problem, of course, is that Egyptology isn't usually taught in high schools, but given how often priceless twin cat statues and mummy treasures show up at the local museum, I think we could probably give 'em a pass. At the very least, he could be a guest lecturer.
Along the same lines, if Gotham Academy is in need of a classics professor, then look no further than Maxie Zeus:
Like Tut, Maximilian Zeus was originally a history professor, but since he has the same kind of gimmicky mania as a Sterling Silversmith, he feels like the kind of character who could show up and insist that it was the gods who were the heroes of all those stories, and that your Herculeses and Thesei were just a bunch of meddlers toying with things they didn't understand.
On the other hand, he might actually be a little too high profile for a job teaching a class. Yes, he's a B-lister, but even a B-Lister gets to step up and actually fight Batman every now and then. Of course, any story that ends with Batman crashing through a classroom window and punching out the teacher, then turning awkwardly to the class and and grumbling "Stay in school" before ziplining out the window would probably be the greatest comic of the year.
A school needs more than teachers, though, and given all the scrapes and scares that we've seen the kids of Gotham Academy go through already, I'm surprised we haven't seen them take more trips to the school nurse. If Headmaster Hammer is in need of someone to patch up the kids, I have a solid candidate: Matt Thorne, alias... The Crime Doctor!
I honestly considered giving Shondra Kinsolving this job, because she deserves way better than the ending that she got after the events of Knightfall, and she's the better choice to be the focus of a story. If, however, we're sticking with cameos and distinctive looks to carry things through --- and the idea of kids having a somewhat adversarial relationship with their teachers, a staple of the boarding school genre --- the Crime Doctor and his signature star-shaped sunglasses (sadly not pictured in the otherwise amazing splash page above) would make for a great background weirdo.
Aside from those three, there are a handful of others that could work really well, like Economics professor Joe Coyne (better known as the Penny Plunderer for his attempts to fight coppers with copper) and the Astronomy department's Professor Norbert (alias the Planet Master), but really, there's an endless number of great characters that you could slip into the background of that story, and I can't wait to see what happens when it returns in a few months.
Seriously though, even if he can't get a class, maybe the Rainbow Creature could be an administrator or something. Deputy Headmaster Rainbow Creature has a ring to it, right? Right.
Ask Chris art by Erica Henderson. If you’ve got a question you’d like to see Chris tackle in a future column, just send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #AskChris.