In issue #7, "Gotham Academy" keeps its crown as DC's most endearing Bat title. This Maps-centric issue picks up an undisclosed time after the end of issue #6, and something mysterious is keeping Olive away from the Academy. In her absence, Maps has to deal with the newly arrived Damian Wayne and yet another strange supernatural happening. Artist Mingjue Helen Chen takes over from Karl Kerschl with a softer style that feels so right for Maps, and the script from Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher offers plenty of all-ages fun. This is something of a filler issue but, by centering it on such a loveable character, the creative team makes it a winner.
Chen's style really is perfect for a Maps-centric issue. Her softer, wide-eyed faces and textured brushes make this world feel younger, almost like paper art, and -- as a result -- the issue slides easily into its more surreal panels (such as Maps marrying a grapple gun). The more textured look also calls to mind Kerschl's treatment of the Gotham Academy plaid, creating a nice spot of visual continuity. Chen also captures Maps' hyperbolic expressions, from her wonder to her determination to her exasperation.
The graveyard scene makes perhaps the best use of Chen's talents. She washes the panels in blues and blacks, like a classic Victorian ghost story, but the shading and textures are still soft. As a result, the scene rides the line between scary and cute that "Gotham Academy" does so well. It's spooky, yes, but knowable and conquerable -- a great environment for the ever-plucky Ms. Mizoguchi.
As far as the script, Cloonan and Fletcher have given Maps a worthy foil in Damian Wayne. Serious and a little too cool for school, he refuses to believe that there is anything supernatural involved here. Olive is usually indulgent of Maps, appreciating her enthusiasm and trying to shield her, so it was great to switch that dynamic up by offering a character who finds Maps less loveable.
The switch in narrators also freshened things up, and Maps is a fun narrator to follow. However, Cloonan and Fletcher could have made better use of the device. Maps doesn't display too much interiority; what she reveals in her narration is often already evident on the page. Narration that reveals the obvious can sometimes feel unnecessary, and there were a few "No way! No way! No way!" exclamations that didn't add much to their scenes. My favorite captions came from the first few pages, when the reader gets to see Maps silently scheming about her team as class goes on around her. A touch more of that could have made this issue more rewarding. If we get a chance to see into Maps' mind, I really want to see it.
However, the fact that I wanted more of this character really says it all. Every month, "Gotham Academy" reminds me why it's such a great addition to the Batverse, and issue #7 is fun even if it's filler. With a great cast and lovely artwork, this series is set up for a stellar second arc.