“Gotham Academy” #6 by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl and Mingue Helen Chen is still playing to type as its first story arc wraps up, but the familiar tropes and predictability are outweighed by how the characters come together as a team and the overall strength of the creative team’s execution.
There are two artists on the issue, but the art is cleverly divided up, with Karl Kerschl handling the bulk of the story while Mingue Helen Chen covers two pages of flashbacks and the very last scene, which is a lead-in to the next arc with different characters and a different mood. Msassyk and Serge LaPointe’s colors cycle between warm and cold palettes. Their attention to light is excellent and they also deserve praise for preserving all the fineness of Kerschl’s art. Chen’s style is gauzier and warmer, with less line tension than the manga-influenced Kerschl. Their styles are too distinctive to blend, but the editors were thankfully cognizant of this. It’s still preferable to have one continuous artist across an issue and throughout an entire story arc, but a thoughtful division of pages like this all but erases the pitfalls of narrative confusion and discontinuity.
In the opening fight scene between Batman and Croc, Kerschl’s perspective angles are inventive and energetic, and there’s even a touch of humor to cut the tension when Croc throws an armchair. The long narrow panels where Olive unleashes her power are suitably dramatic. Croc’s line about how Olive’s “got [her mother’s] fire” is a nice touch, too, because of its double meaning.
Croc’s portrayal in “Gotham Academy” has been very sympathetic, and his recollection of his time in Arkham touches on larger philosophical discussions of the role of mental health in crime and who “belongs” in Arkham or not. Olive questions and opposes Batman on moral grounds. Batman is so established a hero that it’s rare to be reminded that he is, after all, a vigilante allied with law enforcement, and even the good guys can sometimes be wrong. Batman’s moral certainty about his judgment and his focus on punishment and containment is contrasted with Olive’s belief that her mother and Croc need support and understanding. Olive may be proved wrong and her heart broken later with regards to her missing mother, but the act of standing up to Batman highlights her bravery and strength of will. Unfortunately, the dialogue in these action scenes has stale phrasing and rhythms, overused from similar cathartic confrontations in comics and action movies. Kerschl’s art and the inherent tension of Olive defying Batman propel the story forward despite these shortcomings.
“Gotham Academy” #6 is very Olive-centered and tilts more towards Gotham rather than the Academy parts of the plot, but Cloonan and Fletcher don’t ignore the rest of the cast. There are two Hogwarts-like scenes when Olive and Pomeline make their assignment presentation and then follow up with the group in the cafeteria. These “school days” scenes have much stronger dialogue, which Kerschl’s skills with body language enhance. Maps gets some adorable lines, like when she calls Croc a hero. Pomeline sports attitude and snark that is deliciously reminiscent of “Mean Girls” but toned down for a younger age and with less rivalry. However, Kyle still doesn’t have much dimension yet apart from being a handsome, nice guy.
The resolution of the Millie Jane Cobblepot diary subplot feels rushed, and the truth about Olive’s mother is still held back for later in the series. This is a tease, so expectations for the future payoff are now duly raised. The revelation about Arkham was well-timed and fascinating, however, and the teaser scene drawn by Chen at the end is light, bright and full of mischievous promise. In “Gotham Academy” #6, intrigue, mysteries and bonds between friends and enemies all continue to grow in a wonderful new corner of Gotham.