Written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher
Art by Karl Kerschl
Colors by Msassk and Serge LaPointe
Published by DC Comics
Over the years, a variety of comics creators (Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins most recently) have developed the setting and history of Gotham to make it a place where stories not involving the Caped Crusader can be told. One of these stories is Gotham Academy, a mix between a high school slice of life story and an old fashioned Gothic mystery. (One of the main characters is even called Heathcliff.) Gotham Academy #4 involves the series’ leads, the enigmatic second-year Olive and the nerdy first-year Maps, trying to decipher an esoteric symbol while trying to find out who the school’s ghostly intruder is.
Writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher continue to create an even balance between ghost hunting and interpersonal relationships in Gotham Academy #4. Olive ,especially, undergoes some key moments in her character arc . Artist Karl Kerschl continues to make Gotham Academy look like a Studio Ghibli film in comic book form with his mastery of light and shadow along with foreground and background. He also gives characters distinctive poses that allow for quick character establishment. Colorists Msassk and Serge LaPointe add to the beauty of Kerschl’s art with touches like a yellow sun reflected through a window on Maps’ art class, or extra layers of dark grey shadow when they are traipsing around the school.
In Gotham Academy #4, Cloonan and Fletcher show they possess the superpower of writing believable teenage dialogue while keeping the story entertaining and even funny at times. Maps continues to be the nerd of nerds with her video game/RPG references and plays off the laconic artist Eric nicely in a humorous “interrogation” scene. Cloonan and Fletcher give readers some answers regarding Olive’s past, but create these reveals organically from her relationships with characters like Heathcliff and the snooty Pomeline, who are both slowly becoming her friends. But these characters wouldn’t work without Kerschl’s intricate panel arrangements and skill at depicting facial expressions from the subtle to the more cartoonish. (Eric’s reaction to Maps’ antics.)
Kerschl uses the architecture of Gotham Academy to give the comic depth showing that Olive and her friends are just a small ripple in the large pool of the school’s history. For example, the background of Headmaster Hammer’s is sumptuously detailed with paintings, leather chairs, and well-placed light emitting objects to illuminate Olive’s feelings as she meets with him early in the comic. Kerschl also uses lots of different panel shapes for a variety of storytelling purposes from almost kisses to jump scares or the usual daring hijinks. The page unit itself hints at the direction the plot is going revealing some smart scripting from Cloonan and Fletcher.
For the most part, Msassk and Sergei LaPointe nail the complex color scheme of Gotham Academy #4, which looks more like hand drawn animation than your typical house style superhero comic. They give the campus of Gotham Academy an otherworldly feel and create the play of light and shadow in several feels. Their one mis-step is a scene where Olive’s white hair looks blonde. But this is a small problem in the most excitingly plotted chapter of Gotham Academy yet. The first three issues laid the foundation for the characters and setting (while throwing in a few scares and twists along the way), but Gotham Academy #4 is where it all pays off. Cloonan, Fletcher, and Kerschl continue to draw on a variety of literary references, both classic and modern, with Shakespeare, turn of the 19th century Gothic novels, and even Batman The Animated Series. They integrate these references with their original, well-drawn characters to create DC Comics’ most unique, thrilling, and relatable comic.