23rd Apr2020

‘Gotham High’ Graphic Novel Review (DC Ink)

by Dean Fuller

Written by Melissa De La Cruz | Art by Thomas Pitilli | Published by DC Ink | Format: Paperback, 208pp

I think it’s fair to say that , rather like the main Batman franchise being DC’s cash cow, Gotham and the associated characters have been the most fruitful area of DC’s recent Young Adults books. Don’t get me wrong, all the books have been pretty good, but it’s no coincidence we have had a young Bruce Wayne (Batman) book, a young Barbara Gordon (Oracle) book, a young Selina Kyle (Catwoman) book, a Harley Quinn one, even a Gotham set young Dinah Lance (Black Canary) book. None are in continuity of course, so we get variations on a theme, familiar characters and places remade in slightly skewed ways. There is very little, if any, overt superheroics, just characters distilled down to their essence, and put into Young Adult themed stories, usually with a little added fisticuffs or action. Gotham, of course, lends itself well to that.

We start off at Arkham Preparatory School for Boys, an elite private school attended by a certain Bruce Wayne, all of 17 years old. Bruce has been attending there since his parents died, after his uncle shipped him off there as the easiest thing to do. Bruce, unfortunately for him, is now out. Expelled for roughing up a few bullies. Go Bruce. Back to the old homestead it is, stately Wayne Manor, which has not seen a lot of use since Bruce’s parent’s death. Full of a lot of bad memories unfortunately, and a lot of dust. This Bruce, incidentally, is half-Asian. His mother was from Hong Kong, and his uncle is a certain Alfred, brother of his dead mother. Alfred has also come back to Gotham, guilty at dumping Bruce in privates school, but perhaps back as Bruce is soon to inherit his trust fund, worth billions.

As familiar names stack up, we also meet Selina Garcia Kyle and Jack Napier, two friends from the less well off side of Gotham. More on them later. A lot more on Selina, Bruce’s old playmate as a kid and a good kid with big problems. Gotham meets Riverdale as we rock up at Gotham High School, sports team the Gotham Bats, where Bruce now has to attend. Selina and Jack also attend, it’s a little more rough and ready than Bruce is used to. Writer De La Cruz does a great job of throwing in a lot of little Bat mythology related Easter eggs, a nice knowing wink to readers who know their stuff. Bruce is not so much settling in at Gotham High, so much as developing a fan club. Wonder what everyone sees in a handsome, soon to be billionaire guy with all the latest cutting edge tech? Hmmm. Another new friend is Harvey Dent. Hope that goes well.

We skirt Archie and Riverdale territory a little more, as we see Jack Napier and Selina’s home life, a soapy look at broken homes and kids who just want a better life, no matter what they have to do to get it. Universal themes. Jack loves Selina, who fancies Bruce, who probably fancies himself. High School love triangle. Back to Bruce. He was knocked out at school, and somebody kidnapped Harvey, who just happened to be wearing Bruce’s fancy coat at the wrong time. Time for our Bruce to dip his toe into some amateur sleuthing, and who better to help analyse the herb compound that knocked him out than a new friend called Ivy.

School life goes on of course, and we meet further semi-familiar faces. Barbie Gordon, daughter of the School Principal, James Gordon. Bruce also gets closer and closer to Selina, genuinely attracted to her but also starting to suspect her involvement in some way with Harvey’s kidnapping. Harvey’s back, by the way, one side of his face suitably scarred. Bruce hits on a great plan. Throw a massive party at Wayne Manor, invite everybody, then sit back and see what happens. Great plan. Until Selina gets kidnapped of course. Bruce eventually finds her, but who kidnapped her? Jack? The Selina, Jack, Bruce love triangle rumbles along as Bruce continues to try and find out who the kidnappers are. Riverdale does indeed have a lot to answer for.

The ending, dare I say it, is a little disappointing. I guessed it pretty much from the start. No big, elaborate master plan, just one character manipulating all the others. Then again, that’s real life I guess. I won’t give away the ending as such, but we get a death that isn’t, a friend who isn’t, a girlfriend who most definitely isn’t (twice), and a plan that works. A nice-ish person does a bad thing for a good reason. We’ll leave it there.

Overall, I enjoyed this and thought it did what it said it would on the Young Adult tin. I did find the changes, though, a little over the top gratuitous. Bruce was half-Asian, fine. Selina was hispanic, ok. Barbara Gordon, now black. Alfred, now Chinese. And gay. It just felt a little bit too much. Change for the sake of it rarely works out. Still, for people unfamiliar with all these characters, not an issue I would assume. Technically, though, no arguments at all. The writing, dialogue and characterisation throughout was very strong, and the artwork by Thomas Pitilli was excellent. Some of the larger page spreads were especially stand out.

Ultimately, for me, the story only just justified its page count, and slightly under-delivered on a decent premise. It probably does enough to satisfy its target audience however, so in that regard a thumbs up from me.

***½  2.5/5


Comments are closed.