When DC relaunched its entire line of comics over three years ago, branding the universe The New 52, it experienced a number of problems, chief of which was a line of titles which were far too uniform in tone and story. The few bright sparks (Animal Man and Swamp Thing in particular) were almost all quickly brought in line with the rest of the universe. Everything was brooding and dark. Everything was very Christopher Nolan to be honest. The best titles that have graced the line since its relaunch have been the ones which have strayed from that tone and delivered something which feels unique – Wonder Woman, and Dial H in particular.
Now it seems that DC have understood what their universe needs and have set about launching a few new series which look to try something new. The Batman titles have been the real focus and this month saw the launch of a few new Gotham set series.
First up, Gotham Academy, set in the titular boarding school on the outskirts of the city, and written by Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher. The comic tells the story of a group of students in the academy and their misadventures, aiming clearly for a Harry Potter all-ages audience. It’s something that DC desperately needs in their output, so it’s good to see a comic which genuinely tries to engage with a YA audience. From the Manga inspired art from Karl Kerschl (easily the highlight of the title so far), to the teenagers’ dismissal of the Batsignal (“Ugh, I hate that thing,” one character says, spying it in the clouds), this is an easygoing, fun title. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have issues. There is no real hook to the series so far, and all of the characters are very much cut from the cloth of general YA tropes. But those are problems which can be ironed out as the series progresses. The comic aims for something akin to Runaways (the Marvel comic about a group of kids who discover their parents are supervillains) and doesn’t quite hit those lofty heights, but at least it’s trying to do something different. If you know a kid who wants to read Batman, then this is probably the title to pick up for them.
Batgirl on the other hand is a bit of a mess. Hitting issue 35 in the series, the title has undergone an enormous relaunch under the pen of Brendan Fletcher and artist Cameron Stewart (on writing duties too), with art from Babs Tarr. Batgirl was one of the better received comics of the New 52, with fan favourite Gail Simone taking Barbara Gordon out of a wheelchair and back into the role. The relaunch has her lose everything quite quickly (she moves out of her apartment, and her gadgets and costume burn up in a fire) and try and find her place in a new environment. Her current residence? An area known as Burnside: hipster central for Gothamites. One suspects that the writers of this took a look at Marvel’s Hawkeye title and tried to emulate it. The results are very mixed, and the comic is literally a game of two halves. In the centre of the comic lies an advert for the new TV show Gotham (which, by the way is atrocious), the pages prior to that advert are fun, witty and smart; the pages that follow, dull, pedestrian and wholly stupid. It’s as though the writers lost any kind of confidence they had with the concept and just gave up. The plot of the issue finds Batgirl investigating a club whose resident DJ also runs a website which posts pictures of people they wouldn’t like to have released to the public. What he’s actually blackmailing them for is never actually discussed. One character suggests that, “he messes with people’s lives for fun,” and one of his cronies says that he “just wants the data.” But what’s never really said is why he bothers releasing it online, or why he needs to also run a nightclub when he has a fairly successful blackmail website up and running. It tries to be very cool and hip, but it just doesn’t add up. It’s a shame really, because the first half just about sets a decent tone. As with Gotham Academy, the clear highlight in this issue is the art. Babs Tarr nails more or less every page, and her breakdown of a party is a particular highlight.
Next month we’ll take a look at the final issue of Brian Azzarello’s run on Wonder Woman, and the new Image series The Fade Out, which hits its third issue.