Would you believe me if I said that this series about kids uncovering the history of Gotham’s most prestigious school involved no creepy weirdness, paranormal activity, or Batman? Didn’t think so. It all centers around Olive Silverlock, a student who is beginning her second year with a host of issues. Not only does she wind up being “nanny” to Maps, the little sister of her sort-of ex-boyfriend, but there’s a big part of her summer vacation that’s just a blank to her. Toss in the rumors of a ghost haunting the campus, a secret group exploring the dark arts, an escapee from Arkham Asylum, and the fact that the hole in Olive’s memory could best be described as “Batman-shaped” and there’s enough drama here to last the girl through the rest of her time at the Academy. Even though I’m making it sound piled-on, co-writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher do a good job of spreading everything out over the course of this volume to keep you interested in the various goings-on. This must’ve made for an interesting experience to whoever read this in single-issue form because it reads like it was meant to be a (series of) graphic novel(s). It would’ve been nice, however, for them to wrap things up with some kind of closure rather than leaping towards the next leg of the story.
I will be back for the second volume, that much is certain. While the storytelling works well enough, it’s the characters that really make the book stand out. Even if she is bearing the weight of the world on her shoulders, Olive doesn’t let herself be crushed by it. She’s got a fierce determination to see things through to the end, and stand up for what she believes in -- even if she needs the occasional reminder to not leave her friends behind. Supporting characters like campus “Mean Girl” Pomeline and her boyfriend Heathcliff make an impression by not turning out to be as one-dimensional as they appear, while the squirmy Colton is memorable simply due to his sweaty and ill-at-ease appearance. The breakout character here is Maps, with her infectious nerd glee that energizes every panel that she’s in. It’s a testament to how good Cloonan and Fletcher are with their characterizations that when they depart from how the escapee from Arkham Asylum is depicted (usually as a violent brute with occasional cannibalistic tendencies) that it still makes sense within the context of the story.
The art from Karl Kerschl is also extremely well-suited to this kind of story. He’s great with the character designs and how they act in every panel, with the animation-style coloring making things look extra-vibrant. No, the story being told here isn’t complete, but I’m excited to see where it goes. Wait, scratch that. I’m only interested to see where it goes. “Excited” describes how I’m looking forward to seeing the cast deal with the entrance of one Damian Wayne to the Academy. Right now it is inconceivable in my mind that seeing him interact with Maps (and the rest of the cast) won’t be entertaining!