Gotham High recasts the many of the characters we know and love from Batman’s side of the DCU as teenagers. The resulting story mixes the soap operatic drama of something like Gossip Girl or Riverdale with the occasionally misguided heroics of a young Bruce Wayne — with wonderful results.
Sure, there are a few moments in the story that play as big reveals, but could probably be seen coming by anyone remotely familiar with Batman lore. However, the majority of the character beats play wonderfully against expectations. Even longtime fans who think they know what to expect from a Gotham City story should find themselves delighted by the choices made by Melissa de la Cruz in her script.
Even the beats that we are mostly familiar with have changed, beyond the aging down of the characters. Alfred has been reimagined as Bruce’s uncle, who is no less protective and supportive than the main universe’s faithful butler. Even the murder of the Waynes has been altered in some ways that make the present day predicaments of Bruce’s kidnapped classmates hit even closer to home. It’s a great way to tie the book’s central mystery to Bruce’s own traumas without feeling entirely too obvious.
When the book does directly reference moments or recurring elements within the Batman mythos, they’re done in a very tasteful manner. One of my favorite sequences in the book is when Bruce and Selina reveal their different memories of their childhood together. This is not only a sweet moment, but it reads as a lovely callback to Tom King’s Batman run, in which Bruce and Selina can never seem to agree on the finer points of their past together.
Selina is perfectly reimagined as the romantic lead of the story, with two men vying for her affection. It would have been so easy to make things perfectly cut and dry, positioning one romantic foil over the other and leading to the classic trope of everything going wrong because of a woman.
Instead, Gotham High treats its characters like real people, who are never quite as simple as we’ve come to expect in our teen fiction. It also begs the question of why we’re so cool with Archie Andrews juggling multiple girls. How is Selina Kyle any different? (Answer: she’s bloody brilliant, that’s how). Selina Kyle is hands down the most compelling character in the book, so it’s no wonder she gets to act as the story’s narrator.
The character designs from Thomas Pitilli are fantastic. The entire creative team seems to relish the fact that this is an alternate take on familiar characters and they take full advantage of that. Not only is there a multicultural cast, but the little visual cues that tip us off to some of the characters’ main universe counterparts are done exceptionally well. While action isn’t exactly a focus of the book, the high stakes scenes we do get feel very fluid, with every punch feeling like it has real weight. These aren’t super humans, after all; they’re kids with heightened emotions and the weight of the world on their shoulders.
Miguel Muerto’s colors really bring it all to life, as well. The party scene in the middle of the book is a kaleidoscope of color, while the washed out palette during flashback sequences set a perfect divider between then and now.
While it tells its own full story, Gotham High feels like the start of something very special. By the end of the story, there are still several characters who have yet to have their futures laid out for them. This is the kind of book that I can see leading into a whole series (and I hope that’s the case).