While Secret Avengers may replace yet another adjective-laden title, Avengers Academy fills the gap vacated by Avengers: The Initiative. Trends will tell that this game of Musical Avengers will continue, and though this book will not likely make it to its adolescent years, it’s certainly not treading dollar-bin territory. Maybe just the $1.50 bin.
This decade has seen an Avengers expansion, reminiscent of the vast amount of X-Books and Spider-Man titles rampant in the ‘90s, sporting various qualifiers and apt descriptors. A majority of these books may be difficult to justify, especially during events in which readers are given enough perspectives of the overall story to become historical scholars in the Marvel Universe. Luckily, for Marvel, the talent pool is full of writers like Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction and possibly 20 clones of Brian Michael Bendis to carry the weight.
The clever opening of Avengers Academy provides the plight of Madeline Berry, a high-schooler with a typically low self-esteem who discovers her powers amidst her embarrassment. Framed with her disappearing powers corresponding with her own wish to be invisible, it works well despite the initial conflict ripped straight from the diary of Peter Parker. Berry is then shown being approached and manipulated by Norman Osborne. Apparently, Osborne was even busier than thought as he was doing enough to not only appear in a majority of books in the past couple years but also secured his place as the go-to flashback villain. Today, she is being told by Hank Pym that she is slowly dying, though she is told by Pym that she can trust him to save her. Thank you, guy who created Ultron and inspired comic book’s most famous domestic violence case.
On the surface, it appears like any Avengers-in-training book, with the faculty featuring the likes of Pym, Justice, Quicksilver, Tigra (a character who historically serves as the foil to fun) and Speedball. They have a secret about their students, and give each other enough stern looks to imply that it’s a big one. By the end of the book, readers find a twist that will have everyone talking… mostly about how it’s not as good as the Thunderbolts #1 twist. Scribe Christos Gage and recent Fantastic Four artist Mike McKone did not entirely fail with this issue. Some of the relationships are certainly interesting, and some surprising developments surely inspire fascination. In theory, the issue does exactly what it was supposed to do: set up a new series that differs from other “superhero school” tales.
The main issue is that a majority of the students at Avengers Academy suffer a collective Shakespearean tragic flaw: lameness. For those who possess the better costuming, the personality entry reads “Insert Text Here.” The other aspiring heroes, the ones with any sign of development, are victims of the Hank Pym School for the Aesthetically Deficient. Never trust a guy who would actually revert back to those retro Yellowjacket threads. The cast of students is rounded out by our inner-monologued protagonist Veil (who complains about physical attributes that never made it to the Art Desk), Striker (the typical dude-with-a-‘tude with lightning powers), Mettle (looking like a young Red Skull with a metal body and a T-shirt), Hazmat (the angry middle sister of the group who literally emits radiation and poison), Reptil (the dinosaur changeling who I’m pretty sure I created in third grade) and Finesse (Lady Bullseye with a different set of annoying traits).
Finesse, during a training session, is able to read the lips of their debating instructors enough to know something secretive is up. The group decides to investigate off-panel, ending with the most pulse-pounding finale of any comic called Avengers Academy. It’s a set-up that at least garners intrigue, giving the second issue the chance to secure readership and right the wrongs of the arc’s beginnings. What the book truly succeeds in is at least providing something different for an Avengers tale. Despite the glaring flaws, it does not recycle the formula for the typical coming-of-age, young gun romp. The book’s twist actually saves the story, coercing relevance in the Marvel Universe with blunt and awkward force. Tony Stark may compare the book to a hard liquor, hoping it ages like wine. Readers may be far less cynical, though, considering any new start to be far welcomed after the ominous and trudging “Dark Reign” and “Siege” narratives invited fresh takes.
After all, it is the Heroic Age.