Gotham Academy #4 “The Secret of the Symbol”
Written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher
Art by Karl Kerschl

Have I told you how much I enjoy this little book? For me, this is one of the biggest surprises to come out of last year’s wave of Gotham’s new front. If I’m being honest, I didn’t have extremely high hopes concerning this title at first. I was convinced it was going to be strongly intended for a younger female audience. Even after reading the first issue – while I was pleasantly surprised at how well it was written – I still considered Gotham Academy to be a book for a younger female audience. Well, I’m happy to tell you that I’ve lost those “for a young, female audience” feelings, and I’ve moved on to “this is a damn good book!”

Last month, Olive, Pomeline, and Maps snuck into an abandoned wing of the Academy searching for clues that connect to Millie Jane Cobblepot. The group got more than they bargained for when they encountered the monster though. While they managed to get away without getting caught, it did create rumblings around the school, and put the teachers on high alert. Olive is sent to meet Hammerhead, and while waiting, notices a symbol etched above the window outside his office. She recognizes that it’s the same symbol that a kid was sketching in the cafeteria in a previous issue… Shortly after that, she discovers that same symbol in Millie Jane Cobblepot’s diary, and drags Maps into the equation to investigate. Their investigation leads Olive to discover a secret passage throughout the school, places her on a crash course with the legend that is Millie Jane Cobblepot’s ghost, as well as the creature that’s been seen in the school.

There are concepts and themes in this book that could be considered “hokey” since they relate to folklore (ghosts and monsters specifically), but it’s all been based on perception. By that, I mean the perception that you, the reader, have based on the knowledge you’ve been given, as well as the characters’ perception based on their beliefs and knowledge. Up to this point, you could’ve believed that there actually is a ghost and a monster on school grounds, or you could’ve approached this as nothing more than a fairy tale that has become a legend in the halls of Gotham Academy.

I was honestly preparing myself for both outcomes. The realist in me automatically said, “Nope. There is no ghost. Monsters aren’t real. This is all made up.” But then again, this is a comic book, and that can allow you to stretch the boundaries of what is believable. The ghost of Millie Jane Cobblepot, has been rumored, discussed, or appeared in every issue so far. And we’ve seen the green skinned monster twice now. While I had realistic answers for the monster guy, I was beginning to sway on my realistic beliefs concerning the ghost of Millie Jane. I ultimately decided to embrace my youthful side, and just believe in ghosts.

Why am I focusing so much attention on this aspect of the story? Because you get answers in this issue. Solid answers. So is it really a ghost and a monster, or not? I’m not telling… you’ll have to read the issue for yourself. What I will tell you, is that the answers only continue to ground this book and its characters. Which is where this book really shines: with its characters. They may be teenagers, but these teenagers are incredibly charming and reveal more depth with each issue. A depth that comes out in Olive when she connects certain characters to her mother, and the trauma of the previous summer.

 

Be warned, there are spoilers below.


The Art:
Kerschl has left his mark on this book. I dread the day that art duties are passed on to another artist, because Kerschl’s art defines so much of this title. His work is so distinct and consistent, that it’s aided the tone and narrative of this book every step of the way. And along with Kerschl, Msassyk and LaPointe deserve credit for their amazing colors as well… Clearly, I’m a fan! As always, I’ve added some internal art in the spoiler tags below.

Spoiler

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The Good:
 There were a lot of elements that I liked in this issue. The relationships between these characters is fantastic as always, and it really adds quite a bit of charm. But what this issue really deserves a gold star for, is plot progression. We learn that the ghost of Millie Jane that’s been seen around campus is, in fact, a hoax. This could’ve been written as a bunch of kids playing a prank, but it’s not. There’s a slight sweetness in why the student behind the ghost of Millie Jane is doing this.

As for additional revelations, learning that the mysterious, blond haired kid that Olive has taken an interest in is connected to her summer tragedy was a little unexpected. I’m curious to know more based on their interactions, so hopefully we’ll get more of that next week. But the biggest reveal, was that the green monster is actually Killer Croc… and he’s somehow connected to Olive’s mother. Now, in all fairness, when I read the first issue and the green monster was shown at the end looking through the eye-hole, I immediately thought, “It’s probably just Croc.” Considering that, you’d think that I’d be slightly annoyed that this is staged as such a big reveal, but I can’t help but eat it up due to Olive’s reaction. There is so much empathy in her when she sees Croc and makes the connection between her mother and him. It was pretty spectacular.


The Bad:
Sometimes this book gets a little too caught up in trying to feature it’s faculty in my opinion. I know it’s a fun element, but I hope these characters end up serving more of a purpose than to just be a “fun feature.” These adults have to know more about what’s actually going on than they let on, so I really hope we get to start seeing some of that come into play.


Recommended if:

  • You’ve been wanting answers on the ghost of Millie Jane Cobblepot.
  • The mystery of what happened to Olive and her mother have held your interest throughout this series.
  • You just love this book because its charming and entertaining.


Overall:
If you’re looking for an entertaining book that is fun, good for all ages, and contains quite a bit of heart, then this is a book you should be reading. If you haven’t given this title a shot, then you should. Each issue gets better, and if given the time, Gotham Academy could grow to be one of the best books in DC’s lineup.

 

SCORE: 8.5/10