I'll admit it: I'm late to the "Gotham Academy" party. That said, "Gotham Academy" #4, written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher and drawn by Karl Kerschl, has plenty to enjoy, but even moreso for readers who have been onboard from the beginning.
Cloonan and Fletcher answer some of the questions readers and characters have been formulating since the start of the series, but they don't just spring the answers on us. Pieces of the puzzle drop around the reader while this story rolls forward, truly presenting an immersive event that is unsurprisingly augmented by Kerschl's art.
The story in "Gotham Academy" #4 is filled with mystery, suspense, teen drama and more, as the world of the Academy continues to be built. This issue opens with Olive Silverlock and Pomeline Fritch shell-shocked from the previous issue and trying to compose a story to cover their rule breaking. The two very teenage young ladies are at their collective wits' end and, thanks to Cloonan and Fletcher, the reader is right there with them. Readers are cast with Olive especially as she narrates the tale, but we're hip deep with all of these fresh, organic characters all the same, learning about the cast as the cast figures out who they are. Choice and consequence rock throughout the comic book, defining the characters, making them sympathetic and, most importantly, engaging.
The characters themselves would be just as engaging in prose, onscreen or with another artist handling it as a chore, but Karl Kerschl makes "Gotham Academy" #4 a joyous study in collaboration as he brings everything he can to the art for this story -- manga influences, bold perspective angles, a wide array of expressions and body types and some of the cleanest, smoothest lines in comics today. Confident in the story, Kerschl doesn't have to tease the readers with glimpses of Batman or Easter eggs of Gotham's more famous denizens; he just puts everything he can into the characters at hand, and they become adorably, amazingly believable. The coloring duo of Msassyk and Serge LaPointe help Kerschl's work pop off the page as the panels themselves melt into gorgeous color studies. There's detail in everything on the page, from the faces to the backgrounds to the sharp word balloons from Steve Wands. "Gotham Academy" #4 is simply a gorgeous book, and everything gets bumped up a notch on the second-to-last page.
As for that "Gotham Academy" party? I'm all in. This single issue intrigued me enough for me to go back, buy the batch, read it and re-read #4. After doing that, "Gotham Academy" #4 is so much more enjoyable and so much more recommendable. In the span of thirty-six hours, it evolved from "Just another book to review. I'll catch up on it later" to "I cannot recommend this enough. But first, I want more. Now. Please."
After all, so many comic book readers call for "something different" or "a strong female lead" or "something I can share with my kids." Well, folks, this is it. A buddy book. A mystery. A story about a blossoming corner of the DC Universe's most prevalent city. A story with a secret passage and a surprise character appearance. Bits of "Scooby-Doo," "Harry Potter," "Goonies," "Runaways" and Claremont "X-Men." In short, this is the comic you didn't know you needed to read. Trust me, I was right there too.