Robot 6

For Batman’s 75th, the line breaks free of the New 52 mold

gotham academy1

Gotham Academy

When DC Comics relaunched its superhero line in 2011 with the New 52, there was an unmistakable sameness to the aesthetic of many of the titles. Sure, there have been some eye-catching exceptions, but for the most part, the Jim Lee-led character redesigns have exerted great influence over the DC Universe for the past three years.

If you’re a fan of Jim Lee, that’s pretty awesome. If you’re a fan of a lot of artists and styles, that’s less awesome and has made the New 52 sometimes frustrating and occasionally baffling. There are more than 75 years’ worth of characters bursting with the imagination of hundreds of creators. Why filter all that down to such a narrow experience for readers? I love Oreo cookies, but can I ever have chocolate chip cookie?

But then, along comes new Batman Group Editor Mark Doyle, who moved from Vertigo in February. Suddenly, there’s a new creative team, a new costume and a new outlook, for Batgirl, followed by announcements of Gotham Academy, Arkham Manor and, just Tuesday, Gotham By Midnight, demonstrating that Batman and his world are a resilient and powerful corner of the DC Universe. It’s one where offering different aesthetics adds a richness to the entire line while (possibly) attracting the eye of those looking for something different in their reading experience.

Essentially, Doyle just installed a snack bar. So let’s go eat!

Gotham Academy probably has me the most excited. A book that teams Becky Cloonan with Karl Kerschl makes it feel as if a genie just showed up at my door. This is a teen drama about a creepy prep school in Gotham City and looks to feature mostly new characters. That’s a clear premise that’s pretty easy to get on board with. This isn’t spinning out of some byzantine crossover, there’s no prequel miniseries I need to read; just pick it up and go.

Sure, Bruce Wayne will drop by, and the school apparently has a connection to something in Gotham’s past, but that’s just window dressing. Otherwise, it almost seems like it’s a creator-owned book, which I probably would’ve preferred, but if it means they get to create this book and get some of that sweet, sweet Batman money, more power to them. The ongoing series will be co-written by Brenden Fletcher, who’s also co-writing the Bat-book that falls next on my excitement list, Batgirl.

I think I’ve already joined everyone else in flipping out about the redesign of Barbara Gordon by co-writer Cameron Stewart and artist Babs Tarr, but it’s worth noting in this context. The reason everyone has swooned over the new look is because it’s such a departure from DC, and from mainstream superheroes in general. This book and Marvel’s Ms. Marvel represent (at least I hope) a sea change in the depiction of female superheroes. With Batgirl in particular, I can’t help but feel like the design is influenced by cosplayers. This was a costume designed to be worn in the real world yet still look heroic. There’s also a refreshing level of fun that is so great to see. Sometimes it feels as if DC is trying to be cool by making everything gritty and dark. And now here’s Barbara Gordon having a blast being Batgirl, and she looks better than just about anyone else in the New 52.

Gotham By Midnight

Gotham By Midnight

Gotham By Midnight is the newest addition to this new wave of Batman books. It’s more of a supernatural horror comics, which is fitting for the eternally spooky Gotham City. It’s also appropriate that one of the great modern horror artists is on board.

From 30 Days of Night and Fell to his own Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse (where even his humor is unsettling) and his current The Squidder (even the name makes me uneasy), Ben Templesmith has always fascinated and scared me. The way he sees the world isn’t right, but I’m glad he depicts it so well. He’s joined by writer Ray Fawkes, who’s also an artist in his own right. His experimental One Soul and its thematic sequel The People Inside (released today) are fascinating explorations of time and space using comics. No one else uses the comics language like Fawkes does. His DC work has been less about experimenting with the form and language of comics, but this should nevertheless be an interesting team up of creators. At the least, any lingering thoughts of visiting Gotham will surely be eliminated.

The final in this quartet is Arkham Manor, perhaps the most conventional of the bunch. Both it and Gotham By Midnight spin out of the weekly Batman Eternal, and Arkham Manor serves as something of a companion to the regular Batman series. Perhaps not surprisingly then, this is the only book of these four that Batman plays more of a central role. Hopefully it won’t be too reliant on Batman continuity. Even so it wanders enough from the well-traveled New 52 path to merit trying, mostly for the fantastic artwork of Shawn Crystal, whose name should be better known among fans. Deadpool and Nova writer Gerry Duggan joins him to spin a horror tale with more of a suspense angle, and hopefully something of a psychological thriller. Wayne Manor gets turned into the new Arkham Asylum, twisted inmates and all.

These four books are a great way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Batman, a character who’s shown so much flexibility and resiliency to allow for a wide spectrum of interpretations. Whether noir or goofy or straight superhero, Batman is still Batman. That kind of tonal and stylistic diversity also applies to what we’re reading today. The DC Universe is too rich to confine it. And the days of comics fans only reading superhero comics from one publisher are fading. Readers can handle a teen drama beside a horror book and a fun superhero comic. They may not buy all of them, but they’ll grab the ones that appeal to them. And then the readers that bypass the entire Batman section entirely may see something that catches their eye too.

I grew up a Marvel guy, so DC reading has been limited in the past. But I’m always looking for an entryway, and this line-up looks like the perfect opportunity.

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Comments

22 Comments

Seems like Batgirl is also going to get out of Gotham which will be a plus. Don’t get me wrong because I like Gotham as a backdrop but there are simply too many things going on at once. From what little I know of the new Batgirl, it’s almost like they are restarting it. Babs looks younger and has a less teched out suit like the other Bat characters have. I think Gothtopia showed us a potentially “happy to be Batgirl” Barbara and that is what this is going to be. No Birds of Prey, no Batman or whoever looking over her shoulder, no Mom or James Jr…just Babs.
Kudos to the introduction of Miss Gage-Radcliffe to the new world of DC and that leaves poor ol Cassandra. I find it kind of terrible that there has been so many A and B list characters brought back but nothing of Cass. I always thought that if they wanted to reintroduce her, they could have made her out to be the Talon of this time period by the Court of Owls, but having to “hire” out in a sense and get her from across the sea.

Might be a silly question but is Gotham Academy coed or is it all girls? Seems like all the art I see involves girls but no where has I seen it described like that. It would be cool to have an all girl cast leading a series for DC.

I noticed a gradual decline on my DC pulls. I have become more interested in the Bat books as a result of–it seems–editorial changes.

Everything Batgirl is becoming should have been made for Stargirl. Hype up the other brands, and let Simone lighten the tone like she always wanted. Babs just sounds dumb now.

“It’s one where offering different aesthetics adds a richness to the entire line while (possibly) attracting the eye of those looking for something different in their reading experience.” Just so long as Batman’s in it……lol!

I thoroughly enjoyed Avengers Initiative and the sequel books that came out of it. I’m not usually a fan of the teen angst type of books but when done well they can be very entertaining.Gotham After Midnight and the new Batgirl look great. I am a huge fan of Arkham asylum stories but the whole move it to Wayne Manor schtick makes no sense. How much time and money would it take to make an old mansion into a secure facility? Oh wait it’s already incredibly secure? It’s almost like Batman lives here. Wink wink. Just an excuse to get Batman interacting with the Arkham inmates. Of course I’ll be buying it….

I totally agree with your thoughts on the new 52. If you look at the DC racks in the comic store, all the covers just feel the same, big and loud. It definitely feels like this new bat group guy gets that and wants things to change.

Jim Lee is not the greatest artist in the world ya know… he probably wouldn’t make my top 100, his designs and art are one of my least favorite things about the new 52 and I absolutely enjoy seeing different artists all the time, I get bored if it’s the same artist over and over and over…

I don’t know why so many people are happy with the changes in Batgirl, I don’t know if I’m old fashioned or whatnot but I LIKE my Bat-family dark and gritty, for me it never gets old, and losing Batgirl in some kind of “sex and the city” bullshit ohmygodwhymenaresolame scheme does not sit well for me.

I mean, I hope for the best I really do… but cant help this feeling.

So happy to see Mike Marts and Katie Kuberts go to Marvel. It was because of those two wankers that we got all this extremely grimdark bollocks on the Batman line. Wonder if the use of bright colors in Year Zero was a silent protest from YZ team.

@Nicole She’s still in Gotham, just in a specific neighborhood.

@Carlz’ Nothing in the descriptions of the new direction for Batgirl remotely resembles Sex and the City, so I’m wondering where you’re getting that from.

@pikapika I’d wager a guess that those orders came from higher up than Marts and Kubert and is probably, in some way, why they jumped ship.

Norville Rogers

August 17, 2014 at 2:16 pm

^ Or they didn’t want to be forced to move to California to keep their jobs, like the few remaining permanent employees at DC.

I think the beauty of Batman — and of his universe — is that you can have many genres all at once. I’m a Bat guy, so the more Bat related titles on the market, the better it is. But I think there is an underlying issue at play here.

I do question such a change, because on paper, it sounds like a good idea. But there is a danger to all this if you continue to oversaturate the market. Eventually, you will saturate demand, and over time, value loses meaning. One of the things that Batman has going for him is that he is riding high as we speak in all forms of medium. So in theory, it makes sense to make more Bat titles without as much saturation as possible, because if you have different genres coalescing in one universe, it adds diversity and depth to a character that is already synonymous with celebrity. It makes his world become real, without Batman making it real. That’s the thinking. Can it work?

Short answer, yes. Long answer, not close. One of the problems DC faces when it comes to their titles is that they are perceived as this dark company, who takes their characters very seriously. Just look at Batman #34. That was a pretty dark book. For the very first time, it depicted a city as a somber, depressed, and isolated book than in previous Bat books. The art was perfect, it made Bats look real and vulnerable; the city lonely and depressed, psychologically uninspired. Even though we can predict the end of the story — or arc — sometimes how you get there is the defining moment than an ending.

These books won’t get nowhere. Sadly. I think DC overthinks their Bat titles, because they think is a priority to make good Bat titles by association. It only makes sense to make good Bat titles because Snyder, arguably the man in the books, is setting the example to these writers. Is that fair? I don’t think so. I think DC just like what Snyder is doing, and as long he is getting results, a lot of pressure will come to tweak things up. Look at Catwoman. Her sales have fallen really bad. Now she’s kingpin of Gotham City. Funny Batman ‘s world changes when he himself has not. How ironic.

Of course, they are good books, no one will complain. But there is no doubt DC needs Batman as much as Batman needs DC. Some will say is a good thing, others say is not. I’m in the middle. More Bat books is always a good thing if people want them. That’s fine. But you do gotta be careful. DC does have other titles that don’t need to rely on the Bat name like a hollywood movie relies on a celebrity for their movie’s success. But at this rate, they are heading that way. And the last thing you want to do is deindividuate Bats.

Can I trade Gotham by Midnight to get Simon Dark back?

This stuff looks like DeviantArt dreck. I think I prefer “house style”.

I am excited for Gotham By Midnight becasue it is being created by Ben and Ray Fawkes. I do agree though that it seems that DC is publishing way too many Bat-related books to the detriment of other potential titles/characters. I would prefer to see Booster Gold or Jaime Reyes get their own title – with the same sort of marketing push that the Bat-ttiles get – than yet another book with Bat or Gotham in the title.

I love how everyone’s losing their collective sh*t over the new (boring) batgirl costume, but Brubaker and Cooke did this BETTER a decade ago when they toned down the sex in Catwoman and gave her functional black leather, goggles and moto boots.

And really, outside of the ridiculous Starfire getup, what nu52 costume was outright demeaning to the feminine form? We haven’t really seen outright salaciousness in years, but according to the talking heads, this new Batgirl is a total seachange! It’s so teen oriented and teen functional! Nevermind the fact Peter David did essentially the same thing with Supergirl 15 years ago now (which I completely and totally still miss, full disclosure!) Yeah. But it’s so new!

Whatever. It’s great for comics. But let’s not act like they’ve been a complete cesspool up until this very point.

The more I read about the new Batgirl, the more I miss the Stephanie Brown version. I really really liked that book.

I’ll be dropping Batgirl and picking up Gotham Academy, Gotham by Midnight, and Arkham Manor.

I am glad as a marvel person, you’re considering reading some of the Batbooks. However, I would have to respectfully disagree with your (and seemingly everyone’s) assessment that the new 52 were all the same looking books. My personal opinion is that there were quite a few books that looked different and also a few tried different genres (whereas Marvel still really only has the one: superheroes). OMAC, Swamp Thing, Animal man, All star western, Flash, Action comics, wonder woman, batwoman, men of war, I, Vampire and so many others looked strikingly different from each other. I’m not really sure why the popular consensus nowadays is to poo-poo on DCs new 52. sure not all of it worked, but DC tried (and are still trying) to offer different things to readers.

Anyone who says the New 52 all looks the same very clearly isn’t looking outside the top 10 lists because this statement is simply not true. At this point the New 52 complaints seem to be coming from people who haven’t picked up a DC book in years.

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