Who is Olive Silverlock? It’s the black hole in the middle of “Gotham Academy,” the missing information that everyone dances around but no one directly references. While that’s the mystery at the forefront of readers’ minds, with this being Gotham there are many more swirling about it in the second issue of DC’s amazing new Bat-family book. Brenden Fletcher and Becky Cloonan set up dominoes all over the academy grounds and the art from Karl Kerschl provides an animated, youthful vibe that is far removed from the swollen-muscled house style that permeates the rest of the New 52.
Olive is assigned her History of Gotham report and is forced to work with Pomeline Fritch, a sass mouth in a hoodie and ripped tights, the surefire signs of a bad girl. After finding an old book with a mysterious map, Pom takes a powder, leaving Olive to contemplate her lost homework assignment and lost love under the bleachers by the tennis courts. Later, she and Maps see several people in Batgarb stealing away across the campus grounds towards the cemetery, and what they find there may tie together who is Olive and what is the secret of the tome found in the library.
This book is a treat. The dialogue feels alive and crackly with youthful energy, be it brooding or jovial or curious. Characters are given great moments to shine throughout, especially the very funny and very inquisitive Maps. Fletcher and Cloonan have amazing chemistry as a writing team and are creatingÂ a rich tapestry of characters and a campus full of intrigue in which they cay play. Being the second issue, there is still a lot of talking around issues instead of addressing them directly. That’s understandable as the book still needs to tease the reader a bit longer as it builds its foundation, but it’s the type of aspect that would make for a frustrating read a dozen issues from now. Mystery books are a difficult balance in that regard.
Kerschl’s art lends itself well to digital formats. The flat designs are given depth and shape by the colors rather than rendering within the linework, like animation cels with word balloons. As a result, coloristsÂ Geyser, Dave McCaig and John Rauch are a very important part of the visuals. It’s Gotham so the palette will never get brighter than “street light overlooking dead parents” but that also means a lot of moody under lighting and candles in wall sconces. The designs are anime influenced mixing sharp and soft contours in the characters faces and bodies. Everything about the book screams youthful, which is sorely needed in DC’s repertoire right now.
What will keep this book gripping is finding the balance in the mysteries — how long to tease them, when to introduce new ones, at what point to resolve them. The soap operatic nature of the plotting so far, reminiscent of Claremont’s best work on the “X-Men” titles, shows that this is a creative team willing to take chances and discover how to find that sweet spot. The spotlight will be on when the tease is paid off with Olive’s lineage and how satisfying that feels to the readers. If they can pull that off, this is a book that will pay dividends for DC down the road.