Coming to Gotham City right alongside the brighter, trendier Batgirl will be Gotham Academy, which tells the tales of what it’s like to be a prep school student in a city where a masked vigilante who beats respect for the law into the mentally ill is the local folk hero, where the criminally insane run rampant, and where it rains a lot and it’s often dark and moody. New Batgirl writer Brenden Fletcher will be teaming up with Becky Cloonan to write the adventures of Olive Silverlock and her friends (and frenemies, no doubt) as the kids at the school try to solve mysteries.
At San Diego Comic-Con, I sat down with Fletcher, Cloonan and Bat-book editor Mark Doyle to get the skinny on Gotham Academy for the uninitiated. Check it out, won’t you?
Crave Online: Gotham Academy. For some reason, the first thing that came to mind after hearing that title was the image of Batman opening up a training camp for new Batman family members or home-schooling all his sidekicks.
Brenden Fletcher: It’s not that, no.
Right. It’s basically a prep school in Gotham City that Bruce Wayne donates to. How involved is he in the administration?
Becky Cloonan: He’s not involved at all. There’s a scholarship that’s been set up, and our main character, Olive Silverlock, is the recipient of that scholarship, so he’s the reason why she’s going to school there.
Is this it’s own universe or tied in with the Bat-books?
Fletcher: It’s part of current continuity and you’ll see the events in other Bat-books, specifically Batman Eternal, will play into Gotham Academy, but you don’t need to be reading those other books to get the full story in Gotham Academy.
Mark Doyle: I think the questions that we’re kind of dancing around are ‘so if Batman and Robin and Batgirl’s not in it, who the hell are these people?’ They are completely new characters, but the whole pitch stems from conversations that Becky and I were having about ‘okay, yes, we have books with all those people in them, but what about everybody else in Gotham? What about young people in Gotham? How do they feel about all these costumed people running around? What’s it like to live in the shadow of Batman?’ That’s where this comes from. They are all new characters, but you will definitely see how events in the whole universe affect these characters, too. You’ll see them in it. Bruce is in the first issue, and there are other characters who I can’t talk about who will weave in and out. They are new characters, but no, it’s not a sidekick training academy or anything – which is another pitch. If someone sends me that, I’ll look at that one, too.
Is this the same school that Bruce went to? The recent Batman & Two-Face storyline established a history with Bruce and Harvey and the McKillan sisters all attending school together.
Doyle: That’s an interesting question. Can we get back to you on that?
Cloonan: Bruce had a little bad boy period.
Doyle: Yeah, he did, and we showed some of his high school days in Zero Year recently, too. I don’t know. I’m going to have to circle back on that one.
Fletcher: I think we can leave it sort of ambiguous at the moment and just tell you that Bruce Wayne, in his past, had experiences with Gotham Academy, but we’re going to be non-specific at the moment as to what those were, and that will come out as part of his involvement with the school. We’ll touch on that.
Might Stephanie Brown go to this school as well?
Doyle: No. Stephanie Brown is a major character in Eternal, so if you want your Stephanie Brown fist, that’s where you go.
So what’s the main gist of the story?
Cloonan: It is a mystery!
Doyle: Tonally, not exactly Scooby-Doo, but in terms of set-up, it’s not that far off. There’s no talking dog, but it’s a bunch of kids dealing with mysteries that, on the surface, seem very supernatural in nature. These kids want to get to the bottom of it. Their opinions on the source of the mysteries is quite different. It’s kind of a Mulder/Scully thing. There are some kids who believe this is supernatural and oh my god, you should be terrified or oh my god, you should be excited. There are other students who are very practical and feel like there’s a crime behind this and we’re going to get to the source of it. We’re going to find out who that criminal is and tie them up and pull their mask off at the end.
There’s no reason either side has to be wrong. This is the DC Universe – it could be both.
So how big is your initial cast of new characters? Are you focusing on a small crew or showcasing the entire school?
Doyle: Well, they’ve figured out every character in the entire school, yes. There are SO many characters, but we’re going to be focusing on a few specific characters at the start.
Cloonan: I think there’s five or six main characters in the first arc, plus we have some teachers. There are some characters you might have seen before. Can’t be too specific on that, but the main core characters are all new.
Fletcher: We should say that illustrator Karl Kerschl is an absolute superhero because very few illustrators come onto a book and have to design an entire cast. Karl has had to do that, and we’ve created so many characters, and he’s been a real trooper. In addition to getting the pages done, incredible covers and a bunch of other promo artwork, he’s designed a million characters.
Doyle: And he’s amazing, too, just about asking things like ‘would this person do this? Would this personl like this? What would this person’s favorite book be?’
Oh, so maybe it’s less being a trooper and more being super-excited to do what you’ve given him to do?
Doyle: Very excited, yeah.
Fletcher: We are all in the studio space together. We’re all physically in the same space.
Wow, that’s great, and rare these days.
Fletcher: We are going out for coffees, eating cookies – a lot of cookies, a lot of coffee – and just bouncing stuff back and forth with each other and with Mark. This is a really solid team. We have a hive mind on this kind of stuff. While we are writing the script, we’re all involved in the creation of it.
What was the genesis of the idea?
Fletcher: I think Mark told Becky that she had some book about tennis. (laughter)
Doyle: Yes! As I said last night, Gotham Academy is the Trojan horse for us to do a tennis story.
Cloonan: It’s been three years in the making.
Doyle: Yeah. No, the genesis of it was, once I started doing the Batman books, I called Becky, who’s worked on a number of projects before, and I specifically asked her if she wanted to write something. You’re known as a great artist, but you are a great writer, too. You’ve written great stuff over the years and I really wanted your tone and sensibilities for some younger characters in Gotham. That’s the conversation that started. Like I was saying earlier, what’s it like to go to school in this weird city? That’s how it started and then you took the ball and ran with it.
Cloonan: And I kind of just picked up Brendan and Karl and I was like ‘dead or alive, you’re coming with me.’
Fletcher: Becky’s definitely the Robocop of our team.
So is this a way to brighten up Gotham a little bit? Gotham tends to be dark and miserable at all times, and this sounds like a way to inject some sunlight into it.
Cloonan: Well, the scene opens and it’s raining. I don’t know about sunlight.
Of course! It’s Gotham City.
Cloonan: We really want to make a fun book, and although the series might have some serious gravitas and drama – melodrama even – but it does balance out with a lot of fun. This is a story about kids. As miserable as you are going to high school, you always end up having so much fun. There are so many good memories. So we wanted to try and balance a book that talks about serious things, but at the same time, you can laugh and enjoy it.
Fletcher: There may be a lot of gags.
As well there should be. Although, come to think of it, Gotham City is the perfect place for moody teenagers, as it reinforces all those ‘woe is me’ emotions.
Doyle: Right, right, exactly. It becomes this circle.