Yesterday, DC Comics announced through Entertainment Weekly that they'd be releasing two new Batman titles in October: Arkham Manor and Gotham Academy. I admit, even through my usual Bat fervor and Pollyannaish disposition, I shook my head. Part of that is financial; of course I'm going to buy them, and now I have to find somewhere to trim that fat. But part of it is a kneejerk reaction I've seen on Facebook and various threads following articles. The consensus seems to be, "Two more Bat titles! Nice going DC. Very original." But maybe there's more to this.
The descriptions of the two titles, whose covers flank these paragraphs, make them feel like something a little different. Arkham Manor by Gerry Duggan and Shawn Crystal sees the asylum where the worst of the worst moved into Wayne Manor (how and why isn't explained here. Read the comics to find out). And with the death of some inmates, Batman must investigate. We seem to be getting a mystery comic, plus a villain comic in there as well. And anything set around Arkham will have a twinge of horror to it. While I'm sure Batman will feature prominently at leats initially, we might get a book that gets into the heads of some of Arkham's inmates. Duggan has proven a deft hand at getting into the head of some crazy individuals in Deadpool, so it could prove very interesting. And if you've ever read Dan Slott's Arkham Asylum: Living Hell you know that the inmates in Arkham can be compelling even without the Bat looming over them (and if you haven't, it was just reissued in hardcover and is worth checking out).
Gotham Academy, by Becky Cloonan , Brenden Fletcher, and Karl Kerschl, on the other hand, is a teen drama. It's set in Gotham's elite prep school, and it looks like 90210 meets Gotham, with the kids of the school getting mixed up in secrets of Gotham's past. So we get a bit of Scooby Doo mixed in too with that mystery. I think this is great, as long as it is a book accessible by the age group that it's featuring. So much of what DC is publishing is meant for a twenty something audience, and mostly a male one. A book featuring teen female characters that can be read by female teens, a lucrative market, is something that DC could make a lot out of. I've read little by Cloonan as a writer, but what little I have, and Fletcher's Wednesday Comics feature was a lot, and this is being drawn by his partner on that story, Karl Kerschl, who is a great artist who really has just needed that one big project to blow up as a star, and I think this might be it.
Ok, so I've talked about what I think is neat about these two projects, but I can see the points of dissent, "If you want to do a teen drama, why not just do it without having Batman in there? If you want a scary book about crazy guys, you can do that without the trappings." Sure you can, but let's get down to brass tacks here: Batman sells. The last two titles DC tried that featured pretty much exclusively new characters, Green Team and The Movement, died quick deaths, neither lasting more than a year. Part of that was mismarketing, I believe, as playing off the 99%/1% gap debate for marketing made the books seem much more political then they were, but even without that, they were new characters with only a tangential relationship to the DC Universe, and that is the kiss of death. For right or wrong, it's not easy to launch an original concept in mainstream comics. So if you want to try something different, but want a chance that it will settle somewhere near the top 100 sellers of the month, what do you do? You need a hook, and Batman is about the biggest one in comics. And it's not like DC is the only one doing it. And if we can get some quality mainstream superhero comics and the publisher makes enough money that they don't cancel them prematurely, I can't think of anyone who loses.
I'm not saying we shouldn't see some non-Bat titles. I want a Blue Beetle series featuring Ted Kord so bad I can taste it. I think Cyborg needs his own ongoing. And if you try a new character, you've got me guaranteed for the first arc. But before we condemn a new concept just because it's set in Gotham, why don't we read the dang books. They might surprise you. Who would have thought three years ago that Hawkeye would be one of the best books from the Big Two? If we can give that a go, why not Gotham Academy?