I graduated with my MFA in Creative Writing a few weeks ago—and that’s where I’ve been the last…three years? Not that I was particularly timely with anything having to do with this space before that—and that’s the worst part about being a writer: sometimes you just can’t write even when you want to write about things.
It’s especially difficult when you’re changing jobs and buying a house and graduating and, and, and. There’s so much going on in the world right now to dig into, but a part of me still just wants to write about comics. Which is really hard to do when you’re not reading comics. That’s something I struggled with during my MFA: reading comics to just read them—and maybe write about them later.
I’ve been collecting the Young Adult graphic novels that DC has been putting out for their new DC Ink line and, for the most part, they’ve just been collecting dust on one of my bookshelves, but I was bored at work the other day and picked up Gotham High. This is the first graphic novel I’ve read of my own volition since I started my MFA program in 2018—and it did not disappoint.
The front cover has a quote from Margaret Stohl on it: “This is Melissa de la Cruz doing what she does best – giving her readers the ultimate binge read.” And, I have to say: Margaret Stohl was not wrong.
Melissa de la Cruz (author of the Alex & Eliza series, among others) envisions a Gotham filled to the brim with people of color. Unless I’m mistaken, the only non-POC characters in the entire book were Harvey Dent, Jack Napier, Pamela Isley, and according to his security badge, Harvey Bullock. And what struck me the most was how this didn’t change the characters and changed them so much, at the same time:
Bruce Wayne is the Asian-American son of Hong Kong wealth under the care of his gay uncle, Alfred Pennyworth. The choice to cast Bruce as Asian American struck notes from Crazy Rich Asians for me. There’s a section where he’s asked if he could read Mandarin and he responds by saying if he couldn’t, his uncle would disown him—that loyalty to cultural lineage reminded me of the scene in Crazy Rich Asians were Peik Lin is talking to our protagonist, Rachel, about how she’s like a banana: “…yellow on the outside but white on the inside.” The book is littered with these moments where the change in Bruce’s cultural lineage comes into play.
But, as Selina Garcia Kyle—our wealthy and Hispanic narrator—points out, Bruce’s guilt is still at the center of who he is because “Bruce Wayne without guilt is like peanut butter without jelly.” One of my best friends is Chinese-American and a Bruce Wayne fan—and it tickled me to see Bruce redone to give this specific group some representation.
Even with this change, however, Bruce Wayne is still the Bruce Wayne we know: he throws punches, he throws the most glamorous high school rager at the mansion, he gets involved in a love triangle with Selina Kyle and Jack Napier, solves the mystery at the heart of Gotham High, struggles to fit in with his peers, and still only really has Alfred to rely on.
Thomas Pitilli’s art is as colorful as the cast and carries this spin on Gotham’s landscapes from Bruce’s mansion to the seedy underbelly corners where Jack Napier’s Pranksters are scamming rich kids out of their money through poker games.
The story moves quick—and I’m not going to spoil anything else because it is a lovely Gotham whodunit available where books are sold. | Catherine Bathe
Click here for a preview of Gotham High, courtesy of DC.