From writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher, and artist Karl Kerschl, the YA-flavored series about a group of misfit kids at Gotham City's spookiest private school was one of the test kitchens where a lot of the new DC's style was cooked up in. And now that the series is in the midst of its second arc, it's working hard to define its voice, characters and connection to the world of the Dark Knight.
CBR News spoke with the trio of "Academy" headmasters for a look inside what makes the book tick, creatively. Below, Cloonan, Fletcher and Kerschl explore their own personal definition of a dynamic duo, show off what cult classic Bat villains help challenge their teenage cast and dig into the werewolves and secret identities scaring up the action in this week's issue #9 and beyond.
CBR News: "Gotham Academy" was part of a wave of new titles to the Bat Office last year, but I wanted to know what you guys felt made this "a Batman comic." In other words, what is it about Olive and Maps and the rest of the kids that make them worthy additions to Batman's specific world?
Brenden Fletcher: I wish you could see the cover that Karl is working on right now. It answers so many questions! [Laughs]
Becky Cloonan: There are some things you haven't seen from the kids yet, but even from the very first issue of the book with Olive, her life is directly affected by Batman, of course. Batman/Bruce Wayne is only the person that he is because he is from Gotham. The Batman character is a direct product of his environment. And very much like that, Olive is also a direct product of her environment. Batman had a huge influence on her life when she was very young, but she's also going to Gotham Academy now on a Wayne scholarship. So Gotham will have an influence on everybody in the book, but Olive especially.
Fletcher: I think it was apparent that from the very first cover to this series that these characters may not be obvious Gotham characters, but in Olive and Maps, we're setting them up to be our Batman and Robin in a lot of ways. Olive is darker, and she more internalizes things. She's got some anger. But Maps is just this bright spot and is someone who balances Olive out and allows her to be a normal student at this Academy. Who would Olive be without Maps and vice versa? It's very much that Batman and Robin relationship. Would Robin find adventures without Batman leading him there? And would Batman just descend into darkness without Robin keeping him balanced? That's the relationship, and you might not see it visually because they don't wear capes and cowls, but it's certainly what we're playing with on the page.
Especially after the first arc, the kids of the school have taken that crimefighter step of forming this Detective Club, but the series is also populated with some obscure Bat villains from the past, like Mr. Scarlet from the '60s TV show, Professor Milo and the mysterious Headmaster Hammer. Did you conceive of the faculty as a rogues gallery?
Fletcher: They're only a rogues gallery if you're familiar with the history of Batman and Gotham. To these kids, they're just adults who are kind of potentially creepy. In that way, I think you're right. There's a sense of oppressive authority and an ominous vibe to school life itself, but we also inherit a lot from the fact that this is called "Gotham Academy." It's set in Gotham, which has this rich history of people who are freaks.
The end of the first arc revealed that Olive knows that Batman trapped her mother in Arkham and labeled her a villain -- whatever the full story there may be. That informs a lot of Olive's personality, but what does that reveal and what does the whole first arc do to open things up moving forward?
Fletcher: Well, we've got two things going on in the second arc. We've got Olive feeling more comfortable about who she is at this point in her life -- in this school called Gotham Academy, in this group of supportive friends. We started the series with Olive feeling very alone, and now she's got some people that she can lean on. But she also knows at this point that her mother is perhaps not who she thought she was. So the second arc really starts to dig into the identity of Sybil Silverlock and Oliver's revelations about her mother and the repercussions of what that all means for her. And it's going to be tough for her. But luckily, she's got a group of great friends now to help her both dig up the clues she needs to find the answers but also to provide a shoulder to lean on if she needs it.
One thing that's stuck with me as you moved into that "Endgame" one-shot and into issue #6 and on is that you've taken some time to put focus on Maps and some of the other characters rather than having the book always be through Olive's eyes. What does putting the focus on an ensemble give you in terms of storytelling?
Cloonan: I think all our characters work in the group, but they're also a lot of fun on their own. So when an opportunity came to do an "Endgame" tie-in, we went into the old DC offices in New York and our editor Mark Doyle was talking to us about it. Really I think he came up with the idea right on the spot, and it made so much sense for us to do it. It felt like writing fan fiction about our own characters. [Laughs] It's nice to take a breather from Olive's storyarc.
Fletcher: The idea was also always to flesh out Olive and her situation before taking some time to explore the school from some other characters' point of view. So it's hard. We only have so much time to get a story across, so we have to hyper focus on Olive. But I think we take chances where we can get them to see things from other characters' perspective -- especially Maps who everyone wants more time with anyway.
Cloonan: Oh yeah! She's the favorite.
Coming up, we've got a werewolf story, and when I hear that I automatically think of Professor Milo. Am I wrong in that assumption?
Fletcher: You are not jumping to conclusions there; however if you've read "Batman Eternal," you know that Professor Milo has met with another fate. He's been taken away, and he's no longer the science teacher at Gotham Academy. However, he'd been there for a while on staff, and who knows what villainy he was responsible for in his time there or what the kids will have to clean up in his wake?
And Karl, your take on Croc earlier in the series was very much inspired by the '90s animated series, and Milo as a character is probably best known from that show as well. Will you continue to draw from that resource with your visuals?
Kerschl: For the characters and the world in general, absolutely. We're constantly drawing on the animated series. I think it's a touchstone for all this stuff. To me, it feels like one of the purest depictions of the Batman universe of characters that's ever been done. So every time I have to introduce another character or Batman rogue -- for example the new science teacher in issue #8, who we revealed to be Kirk Langstrom -- the first thing I do is go and look at how they did it in the animated series.
But the werewolf was one thing where I did not go back and reference the show for at all. That's just me playing on the page.
To wrap, what is the one thing you're most excited for to get into the book across this second arc?
Cloonan: There are bits of Shakespeare happening in the issue we're just working on, and I'm really excited about that. Simon Trent [AKA The Gray Ghost] gets a spotlight.
Fletcher: We can also say it because the name has been out there, but Calamity is going to be pretty...exciting? I'm not sure if that's the right word, but I'm excited for readers to experience our villain in Calamity.
"Gotham Academy" #9 is on sale now from DC Comics.