Gotham Academy proves DC Comics don’t hate women

Why DC’s new Gotham Academy is a step in the right direction for women in comics

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Entertainment Weekly have announced two new Batman monthlies, Arkham Manor and Gotham Academy, due to hit the shelves in October 2014.

Arkham Manor comes from the creative team of writer Gerry Duggan and artist Shawn Crystal, but it’s Gotham Academy that excites us the most.

Written by indie icon Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher and drawn by Karl Kerschl, it’s described as “a new monthly teen drama set at Gotham City’s most prestigious prep school. (Bruce Wayne is a benefactor; other familiar characters may pop up in Academy‘s twisted, teenybopping universe.)”

Since DC Comics rolled out their line-wide New 52 reboot in 2011, the company hasn’t had the best time when it comes to its depiction of women.

With controversies so far including the cheesecake depiction of Starfire and Catwoman, the return of Barbra Gordon’s legs, the Arkham Asylum-inspired redesign of Harley Quinn, the supermodel weight redistribution of Amanda Waller, the ban on Batwoman’s gay marriage and, perhaps most importantly, the lack of representation when it comes to female creators and female-led books, Marvel have been allowed to occupy the moral and creative high ground with a far more diverse range of talent and storytelling styles.

Starfire as she appears in DC's New 52
Starfire as she appears in DC’s New 52

Marvel in particular have carved out a niche in their nuanced depiction of young people, from the much-missed Young Avengers and the troubled Avengers Undercover to the recent relaunch of Ms Marvel, and the prominent role of the teen X-Men and X-Women in All-New X-Men and Wolverine & The X-Men.

All of this is reflective of the the growing gender balance in comic-book consumption. Comixology reported in October 2013 that 20% of their new customers were women aged 17-26, while Publishers Weekly observed more recently, in May 2014, that women aged 17-33 are comics’ fasted growing demographic.

Marvel’s success just what you’d expect from the company whose most iconic character is dork next door who got his superpowers on a school trip, and DC’s lamentable failure to catch-on is just what you’d expect from a company whose most iconic character is an emotionally malnourished trust-fund brat with no meaningful human relationships.

Even on the big screen, Marvel are represented by Avenger: Age Of Ultron director Joss Whedon, who talks up the need for more women at every turn, and DC are represented by Batman V Superman writer David S Goyer who thinks She-Hulk is a big green sex aid for Bruce Banner.

Three years on and Gotham Academy looks like DC are finally catching up. Finally taking on board the lessons that Buffy The Vampire Slayer left to storytelling, and The Hunger Games reinforced with sheer money-making clout.

Marvel's Kamala Khan, the new Ms Marvel
Marvel’s Kamala Khan, the new Ms Marvel

Against a backdrop of alleged Batman over-franchising (pfft, whatever, come back when you remember 1994), this is the first new book DC since the New 52 to be explicitly aimed at young women. It features teenage girls that look like teenage girls, instead of teenage girls as imagined by teenage boys, and places them in a setting they will recognised, with situations they will instantly feel invested in.

It’s the first time in since the New 52 that DC have used their most powerful brand to reach out to a marginalised group of comic readers – young women, belittled by the insidiously enduring Fake Geek Girl meme or bullied into silence by rape threats through social media.

Gotham Academy proves that DC Comics don’t hate young women. It proves that they’re not hellbent on accommodating only adolescent males and building a culture where girls are mere objects of lust or storytelling devices, to be ignored or humiliated or crammed into fridges.

With the knockout creative team that it has, Gotham Academy could well be one of the best new comics of 2014.

Right now, for intent alone, it’s already one of the most important.