DC released the latest in their original YA graphic novel line last week, and it's a bit of a departure from all that's come before. Gotham High, written by Melissa de la Cruz and illustrated by Thomas Pitilli, stars characters you'll know by name, including Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle and Alfred Pennyworth, but puts a different spin on their lives.
Gotham High sees billionaire teen Bruce Wayne start at the titular high school after getting kicked out of Gotham City's Arkham Preparatory School for Boys for fighting (or, actually, protecting a fellow student named Richard Grayson). There, he makes friends with (literal) girl next door Selina Kyle and Jack Napier—a total joker of a guy. Soon, rich kids start getting kidnapped and Bruce gives himself a mission to uncover what's really going on.
Let’s break it down!
The colors on this cover are the true standout here—the lime green on the bright turquoise really pops, and the title treatment is eye-catching with its hand-drawn style. There's something very CW about the trio, which says a lot about the story within, and I love the small nods to the characters they might someday become.
Tell Me a Story:
Selina Garcia Kyle and Bruce Wayne used to be friends when they were kids, thanks in part to the fact that they lived next door to each other in the richest part of Gotham. But after Bruce's parents were killed and his uncle, Alfred Pennyworth, sent him away to boarding school, the two grew apart. While Bruce became richer, thanks to his uncle's smart asset management, Selina struggled and is now barely making ends meet with every penny she has going toward her father's care. (He has Alzheimer's disease, and her money is tied up in a trust that she can't access until she's 21.)
When Bruce starts up at Gotham High School post-getting expelled from his fancy prep school, he quickly makes his way back into Selina's life and into her best friend Jack's, too. Jack runs with a pretty questionable crowd, but Bruce gets on Jack's good side by showing him that he's not just another rich kid who can easily be duped.
Then, a fellow Gotham High student—Harvey Dent—is kidnapped, and Bruce realizes that someone's out for more than just poker winnings...and both Jack and Selina might be involved.
Let’s Talk Art:
Thomas Pitilli is also the illustrator for comics based on the Riverdale TV show, which explains why his art lends itself so nicely to a dramatic high school tale filled with beautiful people and a mystery to solve. I mean, everyone in the book is pretty. (In one scene, Bruce is lying in his bed wearing a tank top, and his muscles are out in full force. Hence my earlier "very CW" comment.) But they're also impressively diverse, which I thought was really unique for a graphic novel featuring some of the most famous comic characters ever. (And is a great change for the YA demographic.) The rich jewel tones of the colors and the frequently shadowy panels give it a very Batman feel, too, even though Bruce—sorry, spoiler!—never dons the cowl.
Melissa de la Cruz has written a lot YA novels, so she knows how to write teenagers who act like they're much older than their age. She also knows how to dial up the angst, which Gotham High has in spades, and the drama, which the triangle of Bruce, Selina and Jack easily provide. Selina's the narrator for much of the book, and her sass and self-confidence comes out in full force, while Bruce's brooding is apparent from the moment we meet him. No one's quite the same as their comic counterparts, but de la Cruz infuses a lot of their familiar personalities into their thoughts and conversations.
Voted Most Likely:
It’s hard to give this book a single superlative, considering the three main characters are all pretty different folk. But I don't think it would be cheating to say that, as a whole, the book would get voted "Most Likely to Become a Vigilante" in its senior yearbook. Whether it would lean more toward the side of good or the side of evil is a question that kind of depends on the situation...
What Would You Most Like to Ask?:
I'd like to ask Jack what he sees in Selina, what made him like her as much as he did. She seemed pretty cool, sure, but there was a lot we weren't privy to in their relationship, and although we knew that they were best friends, we never got to learn why. Was there some sort of moment in which the two of them banded together against a common foe? Did they bond over the love of a movie or book? Were they partners in bio, and realized that they had the same sense of humor and started hanging out, Gotham High cultural norms be damned? I want to know their backstory! (And I feel like Jack would be more willing to spill the beans than Selina would.)
The Final Word:
Although it's never expressly stated that any of the characters won't turn out to be versions more familiar to people who know them through comics, Gotham High could very well be a contemporary alternative universe (AU) story in which there are no superheroes, supervillains or antiheroes. Rather, the kids are just that, and they grow up to be more "normal" members of Gotham society. As someone who loves a good AU fanfic—I'm all for it! It's fun to read about these characters as though they're just a little more dramatic and prone to gray behavior.
When Mandy Curtis isn’t reading books by Leigh Bardugo or Sarah J. Maas, she’s dreaming of busting bad guys with Wonder Woman—if Steve Trevor’s there, too, she won’t complain—and writing about YA fiction and pop culture at Forever Young Adult. Follow her on Twitter at @mandyannecurtis.
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