Even after 80 years of Batman comics, movies, and TV series, you've never seen the Caped Crusader like this.
DC Comics' new graphic novel Gotham High reimagines a teenage Bruce Wayne — along with young versions of Catwoman, a.k.a. Selina Kyle, and the Joker, a.k.a. Jack Napier — in a world that feels more on par with Gossip Girl and Crazy Rich Asians than anything that's come before in the canon.
After Bruce, a rich Chinese-American loner, gets kicked out of his boarding school, he returns to Gotham City to find his home and former friends are nothing like he left them. Former girl-next-door Selina is now the queen bee of Gotham High, ruling over everyone with a dark side no one knows about, and class clown Jack will do anything to get the last laugh. And when a string of kidnappings seem to target Bruce, he finds himself embroiled in a dangerous love triangle with the very people he suspects are at the center of it.
EW has your exclusive first look at Gotham High in the book trailer above and an excerpt below, plus author Melissa de la Cruz and illustrator Thomas Pitilli reveal what fans can expect from the new Batman story.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When DC Ink approached you to reinvent YA versions of popular comic book characters, what drew you to Batman?
MELISSA DE LA CRUZ: My husband is a big Batman fan, so when DC called and said, "We want to do a YA line, what character do you want to do?" I wanted to do Batman. It’s such a fun, iconic character that I could put my own spin on.
THOMAS PITILLI: A lot like your husband, I’ve been a Batman fan my whole life. I grew up on the Batman: The Animated Series cartoon back in the '90s, so ever since then I was hooked. As far as superheroes go growing up, he was always my number one, so for me to get to work on any incarnation of Batman, it’s a dream come true. And to do it for a younger audience specifically, it’s so cool because there haven’t been too many young Bruce Wayne stories. That really appealed to me.
What excited you both about debuting new versions of not only Batman, but also the Joker and Catwoman?
DE LA CRUZ: Bruce Wayne is the billionaire. He’s the richest man alive. So I thought, wouldn’t it be fun if his family was Chinese and from Hong Kong? That made it feel real. There’s been a big influx of wealthy Chinese people who moved from Hong Kong to Arcadia in Los Angeles, and that’s where my mom lives, I’m part-Chinese, my brother lives in Hong Kong, so I thought it would be great to put what I know into Bruce Wayne. I just wanted him to be a little bit more representative of my background and giving him an authentic family – Alfred is not just his butler but also his uncle, his gay uncle from Hong Kong. It gives it this fabulous Crazy Rich Asians sheen to it.
PITILLI: That breathes new life into the character, especially in today’s world since we’re living in the most diverse world we’ve probably ever lived in, so it’s more representative of Batman in 2020. And since he’s a teenager, I tried my best to put a little bit of myself into the character as well, channeling those feelings of being an adolescent and feeling like an outsider. I definitely wasn’t a billionaire, but oftentimes I felt very separated from everyone else around me.
What did you use as the inspiration for this new version of Batman?
DE LA CRUZ: I pitched a kind of Gossip Girl Batman, and in my mind I wanted to reinvent Chuck Bass. He’s still Bruce Wayne, it’s not the Great Gatsby, so he’s still brooding, he’s still a loner, he still has all that iconic Batman personality. You can’t mess with that much. But making him Chinese was a no-brainer — everyone was on board from the beginning.
PITILLI: From an artistic standpoint, the history of Bruce Wayne and Batman was essentially wiped clean. I wasn’t held down in any way to one specific thing. It gave me an opportunity to think of this character completely differently than how other artists have drawn this character over the years.
Thomas, how did you go about designing the look of the characters since it was such a clean slate?
PITILLI: There’s so much of that Instagram culture and social media culture with teens today, so I tried to interject that into the style and look of the characters, specifically with the Joker character. He was the hardest character to visualize and design because he’s not your average villain. He’s almost not a villain at all, in a way. He goes back and forth where you sympathize with him sometimes and sometimes you see him as a villain. So I wanted to give him a look that played off both sides of his personality. We kept going back and forth on revisions, and finally it came down to, at the time we were doing Gotham High, I had this haircut and it’s the same haircut we ended up giving the Joker. It became a great reference throughout the process since I just had to look at myself. [Laughs] In a weird way, the Joker character is the most like me.
DE LA CRUZ: And I would send you fashion for Selina, because I had really specific ideas for outfits I wanted her to wear.
PITILLI: And that really helped. That brought more of what you envisioned onto the paper.
Melissa, when you sat down to develop the story of this graphic novel, what was your main goal that you wanted to accomplish?
DE LA CRUZ: I wanted to write about a young Bruce Wayne, so obviously there’s going to be a love story. The Joker’s pretty hot, so he’s got to be in there. That’s where I started. I wanted to write something about how he dealt with his wealth because I’ve always written stories about how things that people think are so great actually don’t turn out to be so great. I just wrote The Queen’s Assassin, about a girl who doesn’t want to be a princess. So I wanted to show how it’s not actually that great to be that rich, it’s actually a barrier between Bruce and everyone around him. It’s almost a burden to be so different. Is he able to have friends? Can he have a relationship? And then I went from there.
Speaking of that love triangle, we’ve always seen Batman, the Joker, and Catwoman at odds with each other, and sometimes Batman and Catwoman in romantic situations. Where did you get the idea to make that a full-on love triangle?
DE LA CRUZ: I always remember this quote from Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, where he’s talking about the killers and he says something like, "We came from the same place, but I walked out the front door and he walked out the back door." There’s this feeling that they’re the same person, just with different circumstances. I wanted to put that in the Batman-Joker dynamic: They’re almost the same person, but Bruce has all this privilege and Jack has nothing. What does that do to who they become? And then there’s a girl in the middle — the hottest girl to ever walk the halls of high school [laughs] — and what does she want? It came out of trying to figure out all their desires. What does Jack bring to Selina that’s different from what Bruce brings to Selina? Ultimately you don’t know who she’s going to pick. You root for both of them, and there’s a surprise in the end.
PITILLI: There’s a Shakespearean aspect to the love triangle, and I was trying to feed off of that with the art by making all the characters almost overact. It was an opportunity to stretch my artistic acting muscles — I could act through my drawings.
Of all the new YA DC graphic novels that have come out so far, Gotham High is the first to really blatantly set up a sequel. Where do you envision this story going in the future?
DE LA CRUZ: I’m a series writer, a franchise writer. I like to create the universe, and playing with the big, iconic characters. It felt like doing the Descendants, but in the DC universe. I would love to play a little more. We have minor characters that we can get to know a bit more, like Poison Ivy and Harvey. And I don’t think it’s the last we’ll see of Selina, Jack, and Bruce either. I’m hoping to do more of Jack’s story in the second book.
PITILLI: I feel like a fan right now hearing that! This is so set up for a sequel. I can’t help thinking about where that can potentially go. I love the idea of building up more of that Poison Ivy character and Harvey character, so hopefully that happens. I’d love to continue drawing these characters.
DE LA CRUZ: And we barely even saw Robin!
PITILLI: There’s so much there to explore further.
Gotham High goes on sale in comic book stores April 1 and everywhere books are sold April 7, but check out an early excerpt: