After the Siege event, two books in the Avengers line ended: Mighty Avengers, following a quirky team led by Hank Pym to oppose the Dark Avengers, and Avengers: The Initiative, chronicling a group of heroes-in-training. When the new title designed to replace them was announced, one question emerged: “Why do we need another book about teenage Avengers?” It’s an understandable concern, as Young Avengers has recently completed its epic “Children’s Crusade” story.
However, Avengers Academy owes less to Young Avengers than to the original X-Men and the New Mutants. They’re not even officially a team until the end of this first collection, Avengers Academy: Permanent Record. Instead, the six students of the Academy are being trained by Hank Pym to be the next generation of superheroes. You can see how this book replaced its predecessors, and it takes the initial concept to new dimensions. It helps that Christos Gage was also the writer for Avengers: The Initiative, and some plotlines from that book continue through here.
One of the best moves in creating Avengers Academy was staffing it with well-established instructors but new students. Avengers: The Initiative had to work with continuity-rich characters like Thor Girl and Batwing, but the only pre-established student character here is Reptil. He was introduced last year to tie in with The Superhero Squad Show, and reading the book, one gets the feeling that Gage was forced by the editor to have Reptil in the roster. He’s a somewhat flat character, especially in comparison to his classmates. His ability to manifest parts of dinosaurs is also just strange and was clearly designed to appeal to kids first [dare we call him Beast Boy? -- ed].
The six teens are all united by Norman Osborn’s attempts to turn them into villains, and we get brief looks into their histories and how they were manipulated. Gage has each character narrate an issue, an effective way to get the information across. Veil is a shy but cheerful girl who can turn into gas and is dying from her enhanced powers. Hazmat constantly produces volatile materials and is stuck wearing a secure suit, significantly souring her attitude. The final female member is Finesse, with photo-reflexes similar to the Taskmaster . . . because she might be his daughter.
For me, the two other male characters are the most interesting. The lightning-manipulating Striker is the son of a would-be celebrity who extended her fifteen minutes of fame through him. At the end of issue #5, the issue he narrates, his mother drops a bomb which changes the tone of the series completely; it’s actually subtle enough that it took me a second read to catch it. Mettle, the huge, red character, has the most tragic origin, being a laid-back surfer dude who hit a wave and found his skin peeling off to reveal a metal skeleton. Gage makes him very relatable and sympathetic, even when things change toward the end.
Marvel knew going in that the kids weren’t going to get people to read the book, so they gave the Academy a strong faculty, albeit one with its own issues. Hank Pym, in his guise as the Wasp, is still reeling from Siege and his wife’s death, but he’s surprisingly capable of holding himself together. Having one of the original five Avengers in the book grants it legitimacy. At his side is Tigra, who has gone through hell herself thanks to an assault at the hands of the Hood and an unexpected pregnancy. Jocasta, Ultron’s “mate,” flits in and out of the book. Justice, a former New Warrior and reluctant killer, has divorced from Firestar and is doing his best to help to the kids. Also there for the kids is Speedball, who has returned from his Civil War-era Penance identity . . . at least outwardly.
The last permanent faculty member is Quicksilver in a very uncomfortable role as instructor. I say “permanent” because any Avenger can drop in to teach a class. Steve Rogers and Iron Fist do some sparring practice, while Valkyrie has “the talk” with the girls, much to the dismay of Tigra. Issues #4-5 form the “Scared Straight” crossover as discussed in my review of Thunderbolts: Cage. The two titles connect nicely, apart from some wonky continuity with the Juggernaut, and an unlikely trio gets revenge on Osborn . . . or at least they try to. The Ghost’s paranoid rambling speech is a highlight. As much as they want to make these kids into heroes, it’s clear that the faculty have to work hard to keep them from turning into the next Masters of Evil, as Moonstone predicts they might.
Along with teenage superhero angst, Avengers Academy shares something else with Teen Titans: Mike McKone. On some of his other books, I’ve felt a bit disconcerted by McKone’s tendency to draw identical faces. That doesn’t happen too often here (and certainly not to the degree that Tom Grummett or Rags Morales do it), but McKone does occasionally lapse into “dull surprise.” Some characters have their mouths hanging open far too often. McKone designed some very good costumes, and I have to think that Mettle’s uniform of a black shirt and jeans is a reference to Superboy. He unfortunately can’t make Hank Pym’s Wasp costume look any less garish, however. (He’s since changed back to Giant-Man.)
I applaud Avengers Academy: Permanent Record for doing something new, at least when it comes to the Avengers. Student superheroes have been a constant for the X-Men, and I can only imagine how this school will interact with the Jean Grey School in Wolverine and the X-Men. Christos Gage is adept at writing both teens and superheroes, and he and Mike McKone are putting together a solid tale of old and new heroes in an unsteady Marvel Universe. It’s definitely not your average teen book.
Next time . . . look upon Rob Liefeld’s works, ye mighty Avengers, and despair.