Thursday, August 19, 2010

Chronic Review: Avengers Academy # 3!

Avengers Academy # 3
Marvel Comics
Script: Christos Gage
Pencils: Mike McKone
22 pages for $2.99

A lot of cool ideas are born when cool people make smart ass remarks. Wolverine # 75? Nobody could figure out what to do for the "Big Event" at the 1992 X-Writers summit. As a group of perplexed writers tried to hammer out a Magneto/Wolverine slugfest, legend has it Peter David quipped "If I'm Magneto, I don't even bother with Wolverine. I just yank his skeleton out and be done with him."

And that's how holofoil collectibles are born, kids.

So at another writer's conference, a bunch of smart people are wondering what to do with this new Avengers Academy book they're launching about troubled kids being mentored into heroes. And legend has it Ed Brubaker mumbled "You should do a "scared straight" story with them." It's a good hook, right?

It is a good hook. Enter Luke Cage, the king of all time managers. After he's done Shadowlanding, taking care of his newborn, and running about with the New Avengers, Luke likes to run the revamped Thunderbolts program. It's good work if you can get it.

So the Avengers cadets take a trip to The Raft so they can listen to horror stories from Juggernaut, Moonstone, and Ghost. So Ghost rambles about Stark conspiracies, which is within character, but not really compelling. Moonstone is more interested in vexing the tutors than the kids, and Juggernauts speech about letting fear become a prison? Not going to make anyone forget Bluto's rousing oratory in Animal House, much less Patton.

That whole bit falls flat. Maybe because it wasn't Gage's idea?

You may be assuming that Avengers Academy # 3 is a fizzle, and you'd be wrong. There's lots more going on that Gage (and consequently the reader) finds more interesting. We're in the very early stages of this construction, and still getting to know the characters. Last issue Finesse got the spotlight treatment, and this issue we get to know Hazmat a little better.

Pretty much everybody feels a little toxic in their teenage years - Jenny has this problem literally. That situation was made manifest in what Asia would call the "heat of the moment", which makes it doubly tragic. You can understand why Hazmat might be a little rough around the edges. Life is difficult enough without having to wall yourself off in suit and be denied human contact right around the time your hormones start demanding it by the tonnage. I think Avengers Academy is my favorite of the Avengers books because it is a character book, first and foremost.

The beauty of the book's format is that you really have the best of all worlds. You have a group of unknown characters that you can play with and grow without the years of continuity baggage to worry about. You're building your own continuity.

But you also have this huge catalogue of Avengers and former Avengers who can pop in spontaneously, because why not? The kids need to learn how to fist fight, so Iron Fist makes an appearance. Fine. And if the girls need to learn how to be women with powers in a world dominated by men, you bring in Valkyrie to teach them about vibrators.


Yes, Virginia, Valkyrie was about to show our lil' trainees about the finer arts of mechanical companionship until Tigra had to bust in and play Buzz Killington. These are the fun little snibbets that are being laced into each issue, and there could be a million more of these. Granted, it does feel a little weird for an Asgardian warrior to spout academe gibberish - when and where would be she be studying this stuff? On the other hand, she was a founding member of Women's Lib back in the 70s, so I guess its in keeping with her history. The important thing is that everything she says in this issue is really goddamn funny.

I think the most successful Avengers Academy book is going to focus on the actual instruction, and this little Valkyrie session was a pleasantly zany example of what can be done with the concept.

You know I was always disappointed in Marvel's books post Civil War because they set up this rich, fertile playground of good ideas and then never tended the garden. I'll never forget She-Hulk in Civil War # 1 saying:

Great! But how would that work? What would you teach a kid like Mettle about combat that would reduce collateral damage and prevent civilians from getting harmed? It never really got addressed in the books, and to this point hasn't really been addressed at the Academy yet. But here's hoping. If Gage can really get underneath the concept and show us superhero training that rings true - that would be something I'd rush to the stands to read.

And I haven't even gotten to the best part yet. While everyone is busy worrying about schooling these kids, the kids are busy plotting their revenge on Norman. Yeah, he's on the raft, too. Since most if not all of the main characters have been physically tortured by Osborn...he's got some payback coming. Hazmat sets off an EMP blast, the lights go out...and you'll have to read the rest for yourself. And I recommend you do that.

Incidentally, Thunderbolts appears on the cover to be crossing over with Avengers Academy and vice versa. I've read both books, and I can tell you that while this is technically true, if you're only interest is in the Academy kids, you can safely skip the Thunderbolts issue. There is no character interaction between the groups in Thunderbolts # 147 at all. I would say it works the other way as well, for the most part. If your main interest is the Thunderbolts, you get a few uninspired moments with that group, but the book's focus is squarely on the Academy kids, as it should be. Just sayin'.

- Ryan

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