Gotham Academy may feel like a separate little corner of the Batman universe, but the comic's creators are about to reveal Batman's connection to the comic — and what they're calling the "deeper meaning of the series."
Written by Brenden Fletcher and Becky Cloonan with artist Karl Kerschl, Gotham Academy is just like most other Batman books — filled with mysteries — but it's told from the perspective of young people, and depicted in a rich, digitally painted, animated style. A mix of Harry Potter and Batman: The Animated Series, the comic tells the story of Olive Silverlock and her friends, students at the prestigious, private Gotham Academy.
With January's issue #4, Bruce Wayne made a visit to the Academy — offering another clue to his already established (but still mysterious) connection to main character Olive Silverlock.
Readers also saw Killer Croc show up in the book, an appearance that's presumably linked to the mystery of Olive's mother Sybil.
As Gotham Academy heads toward the Convergence break, the answers will start coming fast, according to the comic's creators. We talked to Cloonan, Fletcher and Kerschl to find out more.
Newsarama: Brandon, Karl and Becky, I keep reading reactions from readers and critics who are surprised at how much they're enjoying this this comic is. Are you enjoying getting to delve into this world of Gotham Academy as much as, I think, your readers are?
Brenden Fletcher: Oh my God, we need more pages, Vaneta. Like, seriously, we just want to write about these characters more. We talk about them all the time. They're our friends.
Karl Kerschl: It's a bummer to have to end scenes where we do all the time, because we could just drag these conversations out forever.
Becky Cloonan: I feel like, at the end of each issue, I always end up thinking, if only we had two more pages. Two more pages!
Nrama: Although you've always had these nods toward Gotham City, the story is now really involving elements of the city, with Bruce Wayne and an Arkham Asylum inmate showing up. Is that perception on point with what you're trying to do, and is that were the next few issues continue?
Fletcher: This has been part of the plan from the beginning, as we were saying to each other yesterday. We were reminiscing about how it was a year ago we started this process. And what DC required from us was an entire layout of the first six issues. And this was part of the plan, delivering readers a smudge of Gotham connectivity in every issue.
But it's there, and it informs the entire basis of the book — everything is really indelibly connect to important elements of the Batman mythos, and to Gotham. We just don't want to serve it up right away.
In fact, you mentioned the Bruce Wayne scene, and that was one we had written for the previous issue, but because of space constraints we ended up deleting the scene, and we squeezed it into issue #4.
Other than that, the appearance of Bruce Wayne and an Arkham Asylum inmate was always the main beat we wanted to end this issue on.
Cloonan: Yeah, that was part of the plan from the beginning.
Fletcher: And it means more than it seems on the surface, too. You're going to get a lot more information about the significance of his appearance in issues #5 and #6. And that informs, in a way, the deeper meaning of the series.
Fletcher: God, that was vague.
Nrama: That's OK. I don't think anyone wants you announcing the deeper meaning of the series in an interview. We keep saying "Arkham inmate," because I'm not sure if you're acknowledging who this is, but this character is someone familiar, right?
Kerschl: He's recognizable, if you already know who he is.
Nrama: But we can say the name, right?
Fletcher: It's Killer Croc.
Nrama: OK, which makes sense here, because he's such a sympathetic character in the Batman universe now. But this is a little different design for the character than we usually see in comics.
Fletcher: Karl can speak to the design, but we were very influenced by Batman: The Animated Series.
Kerschl: Yeah, there have been so many versions of Croc over the years, even recently, that when we talked about how to depict him, we all went back to the animated series for inspiration. And I think it works in this case, because that version is the most human of all the different versions of Croc that I've seen.
It was important for us to reveal him, but then we devote a page to a showdown between Croc and Olive, in which Olive kind of has some sympathy for him, and we needed to see that in his eyes. And the animated version of Croc was the best one for getting across that kind of humanity.
Nrama: And this will bring us closer to answering some questions about the mystery surrounding Olive's mother?
Nrama: Which we've also see show up in Arkham Manor.
Cloonan: Yeah, if you've been following along with Arkham Manor, there's a tie-in there. It's not imperative to read that series in order to understand the plot of Gotham Academy. But it's been fun to work with Gerry [Duggan] and Shawn [Crystal], to tie our two series together a bit.
Fletcher: Yeah, Sybil Silverlock is Olive's mom, and she's been an inmate over in Arkham Manor. In Arkham Manor #4, a significant event occurs with Sybil Silverlock.
And through the appearance of Killer Croc, we'll be learning a lot more about the significance of Sybil in the Bat-universe.
It's difficult to talk about all this without revealing all our mysteries!
Cloonan: That's the problem with working on a mystery, isn't it?
Nrama: And there are a lot of mysteries in this comic. Yet you've answered several of the questions in the last couple issues. In January, with Gotham Academy #4, we found out the truth behind Millie Jane Cobblepot's ghost. That put to bed part of the supernatural side of this story. What were your thoughts behind having this fake ghost in the midst of all these other mysteries?
Fletcher: It's partly kind of classic Batman, you know? These detective stories. And Sherlock Holmes, where the Hound of the Baskervilles had this sort of ghostly specter of a giant dog haunting the moors, and then you find out it's just a dog.
It's that sort of feel where you get these kids who are kind of doing some detective work, and figuring out how to be detectives and solve mysteries and disprove these supposedly supernatural events.
It's a little classic Batman, a little classic Sherlock Holmes… a lot Scooby Doo, I guess. [Laughs.] Pulling the mask off the villain.
Cloonan: But it also tells us about Pomeline's boyfriend Heathcliff. He's just doing it because he wants Pomeline to feel good.
So in the end, it's like, you pull the mask off the monster, and it ends up being someone doing something for a kind of cute reason, you know? It's not just thrown away.
And… we haven't actually heard the last of Millie Jane, too. Pomeline and Olive are actually still working on their class assignment. So the Millie Jane stuff does tie in as well. It wasn't just there as a red herring. There's stuff that we're building there as well, with the history and the idea that Gotham is full of these crazy characters and these families that have been there for generations and generations.
That's part of the fun of working in this school. It's just filled with history. It's steeped in Gotham lore. And that's been fun to play with.
Nrama: We've met a lot of characters and gotten to know them — some more than others, but a lot of endearing characters nonetheless. And there are these tiny clues that have meaning, which we saw in the last issue with the button that Olive found and gives to Heathcliff. I'm wondering, because I know you're all three involved in the story — how do you keep track of all this? Do you have outlines you share online? Or a big whiteboard you use to keep track of all these mysteries and solutions and characters and connections?
Fletcher: We should get a whiteboard!
Cloonan: I like that idea! We need a whiteboard!
Fletcher: We use Google Docs as our sort of virtual whiteboard, because we're all over the place.
Karl's pretty grounded here in Montreal. But I've been traveling a bit. Becky's all over the world.
But you know, we've got these documents that we prepared back last year, this chart of at least the first arc of our mystery. And while we've shuffled a few things around and made a few alterations to it, we've held to the core details. And that's kept us together. We know what information we need to get out there.
There's a few things, like, certain characters we didn't intend to be as fun to write as they are, and so they've become a little more prominent and their story has become a little more prominent than we intended. And other characters who we intended to play a more prominent role in the story have kind of become a little more like fun sub characters.
In particular, Eric, the character that you first meet in issue #2, in the cafeteria, sketching his book before Olive spills a soda on it — he was supposed to be more of a main character in the book, but through Karl's characterization of him, we ended up thinking of him in a different way, and now we're writing him a bit differently, and we're going to use him a bit differently in the plot too.
So details change, but the structure of the mysteries and the reveals, I think, held to our original document, so far.
Kerschl: The important stuff – the little tidbits that are important to the main plot, we laid the groundwork for that pretty early. The symbol that Olive sees and that they're tracking down in this issue has been everywhere, from issue #1. It was on the first issue's cover, it's been on different graves, and I think I put it on the third issue's cover somewhere. It was Eric's sketchbook, obviously, because that was important to the plot.
Little things like that are just details that have been dropped in.
And there are more, too. I wouldn't overlook any of the stuff on people's walls, on posters and things, because a lot of it has to do with upcoming story stuff.
Nrama: Oh, now I have to go look closer at the posters!
Cloonan: Yeah, we tend to seed our ideas pretty heavily, I guess.
Nrama: You've got two issues before Convergence. I know Batman shows up soon as well.
Nrama: [Laughs] Can you tell us about what the next couple issues bring?
Fletcher: We address all the major mysteries, and I think we're going to answer most of the questions that people have had from the beginning.
You're going to find out exactly what Olive's tie is to Batman.
You're going to find out what Sybil Silverlock's deal is.
You're going to find out what happened to Olive in the summer, in a way. Maybe not everything that happened to her, but I mean, you're going to get a really good idea of what her summer was all about.
And you're going to find out what the mystery of our own Gotham Academy's Jordan Catalano, Tristan Grey, the boy with the mysterious eyes. You'll find out what he's all about.
Is that everything? Is that all the mysteries?
Oh, and Millie Jane.
Cloonan: Yeah, we give you Millie Jane stuff.
Kerschl: That's a lot!
Cloonan: It is!
Kerschl: And also, I don't know if we mentioned it, but Maps is in there. Doing Maps stuff.
Nrama: Maps stuff is worth the cover price alone. But wait… Batman does show up, right?
Kerschl: Well, we had the reveal in issue #4 of an Arkham Asylum inmate in the school. So you've got to figure Batman's going to show up to deal with that at some point.
Fletcher: And in terms of the overarching mysteries and the questions everyone has, everyone wants to know what Olive's tie is to Batman, and we need to answer that in some way. It was one of the central questions of the first issue.
So by issue #6, we're going to address what Olive's tie is to Batman. And I think that's what we're sort of suggesting on the cover.
Nrama: And we just found out your title is definitely coming back in June. Can you tell us anything about the long-term future of the book?
Fletcher: I think the biggest tease we can give is that, we see a future where everybody is wearing Gotham Academy letter jackets and cardigans. And all of this good will toward our book will result in an actual Gotham Academy being built, and we will be professors there. I don't know if I want to be the headmaster, but I'll definitely be there in some capacity.
Cloonan: We have years of material. Like we said earlier, it's a lot of fun — and honestly, it's also a lot of work. But every time we sit down and talk about it, we're all on the same page and we're all so invested in this story. And right now, we intend to be working on this for years down the line.
Fletcher: Olive's story certainly doesn't draw to a close in issue #6. And we're excited to explore more of how Olive is connected to Gotham Academy and to Batman, and to ultimately be able to reveal our entire, grand, master plan. It's going to be exciting!