We're five issues into "Gotham Academy," and what strikes me the most about this series is how Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Msassyk and Serge Lapointe have created a series that simultaneously covers ground that nothing else at DC Comics currently does while still remaining an integrated part of their DC Universe line. The end result is a book that appeals to those looking for something new, while still having a hook to keep it from being far afield and unable to build an audience.
For example, "Gotham Academy" #5 continues the overall storyline of Olive and her best friend Maps as they learn more of the North Hall's secrets, as well as what's really going on with Tristan. There are threads that move from "Gotham Academy" to the rest of the DC Universe -- with Gotham-centric characters, conditions and institutions in particular -- that firmly plant "Gotham Academy" within a shared universe. That's important because, if you're going to title your comic "Gotham Academy," then it needs to feel like a school that really is set in or near Gotham City. There's no way that the madness that swirls around the city streets wouldn't occasionally spill onto the grounds of the school, and Cloonan and Fletcher have shown that they get all that entails. Even within its walls, Gotham Academy is not immune to the dangers of Gotham City.
All the while, though, "Gotham Academy" #5 goes its own way. Its mixture of teen social interactions, geeky callouts and adventure isn't quite like anything else that DC publishes these days. Cloonan and Fletcher's new characters are not only likable but intriguing; every time we learn a little more about someone's background -- and not just our leads, but all of the secondary characters too -- it makes me want to see that much more of them. The cast of "Gotham Academy" act their proper age, and they have real lives; it's what helps make the title stand out from the others. These aren't superheroes or occult investigators; they're students, and Cloonan and Fletcher give us all that entails.
The art in "Gotham Academy" #5 looks as great as ever. Kerschl, Msassyk and Lapointe's pages remind me of animation cels. Kerschl's lines are crisp and smooth with just the right amount of detail to make each character stand out without adding too much onto any given panel or page, so that it never looks cluttered. From that, Msassyk and Lapointe's colors are vibrant and rich, but they also don't glare off of the page into your eyes. Each page uses a very specific palette to help with that, providing just the right texture so that the entire look works as a unified whole, with Kerschl's strong panel layouts and characters completing the deal. When Olive is shooting down what appears to be a Man-Bat, look at the storytelling on display there: her turning and glancing over her shoulder, the trees in the background between her and the shadow of the figure up in the sky and then the three-panel transition switching from her eyes to her face to her hands before she shoots the crossbow. You can see the emotions and thoughts moving through her head as she shifts from fear to determination. Kerschl has always been an artist who has clearly understood how to draw comics, and this is no exception.
I'm delighted that "Gotham Academy" will continue post-"Convergence," because it really is a great series that deserves time to build an audience. If you haven't checked the series out, you're in luck: this issue may be in the middle of a storyline, but Cloonan, Fletcher and Kerschl continue to keep the comic new-reader-friendly. This is the sort of strong, inventive, fun series that the big publishers should be backing. "Gotham Academy" #5 hits all of those buttons.