As an origin story for the city, Gotham can only become fatalistic as things get worse for the citizens; the downward spiral of the city until it becomes the place in which The Batman must rise. We know corruption in the police force will only worsen. We know the criminals will only become more crazed, more powerful and more dangerous. We know Jim Gordon will keep fighting and we know that he’ll fail. Even when the only good cop Gotham becomes Police Commissioner, he will still be just one good man trying to run a corrupt police force.
The comic series GCPD, undoubtedly an inspiration for the series, followed the city’s police as they investigated crimes that were peripheral or unrelated to Batman and his regular cast of villains. This was a Batman series without a direct superhero presence, just as Gotham is setting up to be, but a strength of that series was that it ran alongside the existing Batman titles. By setting Gotham immediately after Bruce’s parents are killed, Fox are creating a world that can only get worse with no hope of salvation.
‘Gotham Academy‘ is a title that turns away from the domineering presence of The Batman. These are characters who live in the constant shadow of the battles fought across the city. They greet the bat-signal appearing in the sky with delight, dread or indifference. Bruce Wayne is a benefactor of the school, but when he addresses the students he’s just as another boring suit. The Cobblepots are a family long associated with the city who they learn about in history class. One student, Olive Silverlock, is returning to school after a traumatic event that somehow involved The Batman, but it’s something she wants to bury deep in her past.
The things that draw us as readers to Gotham are sideshows for the students. They have their own problems with rumors of a ghost haunting the North Hall, a secret society that meets in the school grounds at night and a librarian you just know you’ve seen somewhere before. And these are just the footnotes to the regular problems of dating, bullying, fitting in and being partnered with the girl you hate for a history assignment.
Gotham Academy has all of the touch points we associate with Batman, and they’re just enough to draw us in and engage with the new story and new characters. This is how narrative universes should be expanded; they should take us tangentially into parallel stories, not back and forth along the same timeline, reworking variants of the same stories.
A version of this article first appeared on Comics and Noir.