Reading "Gotham Academy" #3, my immediate thought was, "I hope sales are through the roof on this book." I know it's difficult to launch a brand-new series in the current market, after all. But the work that Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl are doing here deserves to be seen by a wide audience -- because this is exactly the sort of comic that should appeal to all sorts of readers.
For those who are long-term comic readers, there's a lot to enjoy. They can enjoy slotting in new pieces of the puzzles that we've been introduced to over the past three issues. Sharp readers will note Olive's comments about her mother and add in recent events from "Batman Eternal" to figure out just what "hospital" she was in, and start guessing on if Olive's mother is a face from the past. Likewise, the hints on Olive's direct connection to Batman -- and her reticence when it comes to the hero -- are expanded on here, as we learn about his presence in the boarded up North Hall. "Gotham Academy" is firmly rooted within the DC Universe, and the Batman titles in particular, and hopefully those connections will please readers who look for that sort of thing.
For those who are looking for something new and unconnected to anything else, though, "Gotham Academy" #3 still fits the bill. The threads mentioned before are in many ways part of the background; those who understand the sly hints are one step ahead of other readers, but not catching the reference does not put you at a disadvantage. You can focus solely on the adventures of Olive, Maps, Kyle, Heathcliff, Pomeline and the rest of the students without worrying about anything but what's in this title. That's in no small part because Cloonan and Fletcher have created a fun, lively setting and group of characters to read about. Trying to capture ghosts of former students, breaking into the mysterious ruined North Hall, learning why Olive broke up with Kyle, Maps' fascination with Colton -- there's a lot of fun here.
And as for the art -- oh, the art. Kerschl just keeps knocking the pages out of the proverbial park. He's able to take such a simple image, like Colton leaning back in his chair with feet up on the desk, and make it look both natural and visually interesting. Olive and Kyle sitting on a dock looks straight out of an animated film; the woods, the dirt trail, and the individual planks of the dock are all carefully drawn in a way that feels natural and gorgeous. The soft, diffuse colors from Geyser, Msassyk and Serge LaPointe make it even more beautiful, with soft sunlight trickling through the branches up above.
Compare those moments to the more intense, action-oriented ones and you quickly see how well Kerschl understands that every moment deserves its own approach. Olive's flashbacks to the burning North Hall with Batman amidst the flames are strong and intense, and the kids staring down into the gaping hole is particularly creepy. I also love how well Kerschl takes a visual tease -- in this case seeing only the spectral feet of the ghost of Millie Jane -- and makes it work as something ominous that you're dying to see more of, rather than irritated at only seeing hovering feet.
"Gotham Academy" #3 is now three for three in terms of strong issues; this series is so fun and inventive that it's hard to not love it. If you haven't picked up "Gotham Academy" yet, this is as good a place as any to begin. Just understand that you'll be buying issues #1-2 almost immediately after. Cloonan, Fletcher and Kerschl understand how to make good -- no, great comics.