Aside from the obvious, I don't usually like to refer to things as being my "favorites." I talk about so much stuff that I love all the time that every time I settle on a favorite, I almost immediately end up contradicting myself when I remember something else that I love, like when I went on and on about how Impulse #3 is my favorite single issue of all time right before I re-read G.I. Joe #21. There's just so much out there that's great that nine times out of ten, settling on a single thing as my favorite ends up being pretty limiting, and if there's one thing I hate, it's having to go back and admit that I might've been wrong about something. For me to actually settle on something as a favorite, it has to be so obvious that it's above and beyond everything else out there that it's self-evident.

So with that in mind, believe me when I say this: Gotham Academy is, without question, my favorite comic on the stands right now, and it just keeps getting better.



Back when the first issue came out, I mentioned that the thing I loved most about Gotham Academy was that it felt like a piece of a larger universe, and that's something that I'm really drawn to as a reader. It feels like a puzzle piece, a section of the universe where Batman and his large-scale battles against supervillains are going on in the background, but over the last four issues, it's become a different kind of puzzle piece, one that's set against a larger backdrop that's not necessarily about Gotham City, but about its own set of mysteries and conflicts. And I love that.

Unsurprisingly, one of the great things about it is how Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, and Karl Kerschl have been using Batman -- and more specifically, Bruce Wayne -- as this mysterious harbinger of a deeper mystery. As mysterious as he's meant to be, we've had 75 years of following his adventures and getting into his head, to the point where we almost always know what's going on in his mind, even when we don't have the luxury of first-person narration to tell us.

But here, it's different. We're seeing bits and pieces of what he's doing from Olive Silverlock's perspective, and from her perspective, Bruce Wayne is this creepy, super-serious rich dude poking around her school for reasons that we're not sure of. Obviously, we have the advantage of knowing that he has ultimately good intentions, but Olive doesn't, and seeing it all play out from her point of view has made him seem sinister.

And in this week's issue, when you finally find out just what Batman's been doing at the school, and just what it was that's been lurking within the walls, it comes together to make Olive seem fearless in a way that the last few issues have only hinted at, and it's great. Kerschl's staging in particular and how it draws your eye -- and Olive's -- to the individual pieces of the scene deserve special recognition for how they build the tension on that last page. I don't want to ruin the surprise, but trust me, it's fantastic.

But while that stuff's great, and while that's the stuff that's there to rope in fans who want to see how Academy ties into the larger world of Gotham City, it's not the best part. The best part is everything else.



I'll admit that I'm a sucker for literally everything that's going on in this comic -- teen drama, romance, ghosts, secret passages -- but it's being done as close to perfect as it can be. Even the structure of the book; the way that each issue ends on a cliffhanger and then picks up next time not at the next moment, but after everything else has been resolved. It ratchets the level of tension back in a way that keeps it from ever actually breaking, and leaves the mysteries of the book intact and vague, making sure that we only really see them the way that Olive and her friends get them, as bits and pieces of something, and we're not quite sure just how they fit together.

And then there are the cameos.



As much as Gotham Academy is succeeding at being an almost perfect gateway comic for new readers, I can't even come close to telling you how delighted I am that the supporting cast is littered with characters from Gotham City's long history. I've already written about how thrilled I was at seeing Aunt Harriet, Professor Milo and Bookworm show up, but having Simon Trent -- better known to Animated Series fans as the actor who played Bruce Wayne's childhood hero, the Gray Ghost -- pop in as the drama teacher was one of those moments where I had to stop reading the comic and go talk to someone about how great it was.

And the thing is, those cameos aren't just fanservice. I mean, they are definitely fanservice, but they also serve to advance the plot, plugging in characters that are appropriate for the roles they serve in the book, while also reinforcing just how weird their situation is. Their librarian isn't just a librarian, he's someone so obsessed with books that he may in fact be an arch-criminal waiting to happen, so a simple trip to the library becomes something that just adds another thread to the tapestry of weirdness that this book is building.

I know I'm gushing, but this book really is that good, and if you haven't checked it out yet, you really owe it to yourself to give it a shot. Cloonan, Fletcher and Kerschl are playing a long game with their mysteries, teasing things out and letting them build, keeping the tension high and showing us the kind of Batman comic that we've never gotten before, with engaging characters in one of the most interesting settings I've seen in a lifetime of reading comics. If this book came out weekly, it still wouldn't be enough.

Plus, Maps can paint the heck out of a Beholder.



Seriously: It's my favorite comic on the stands, for more reasons than I can count.