Avengers Academy: Deep Thoughts In a Bubblegum Premise

I always ask the advice of the Comic Book Guys. They are the experts in their fields and if nothing else they should be respected for that expertise. And as I stood in my local, mourning the untimely loss of Young Avengers (nothing new since their Civil War adventures with the Runaways, which has been a part of my collection for years now), I asked for the Younger Avengers, and was handed Avengers Academy, a new Heroic Age title from Marvel.

The premise: five teenage victims of the Dark Reign baddies are to be rescued and retrained by a faculty of minor supes looking for redemption. Even that straightforward thesis is made murky by the frantic level of explication shoehorned into this first volume. It’s groaning with detail.

Let’s start off with the main characters. I like this batch. They’re your pretty standard Omega Company. You know, the ragtag team of misfits brought together by chance and a world turned against them, fighting the odds, etc. Reptil is the only vaguely familiar face, having bit parts in some campy Initiative and Savage Land storylines recently. The rest (Veil, Finesse, Mettle, Striker, and Hazmat) are a good balance of personalities and powers, unique enough to be interesting but not completely out of the Marvel box. Which, considering how big the Marvel roster is, is pretty hard to do.

Unfortunately, the new crop of characters is introduced faster than Quicksilver running out for a pack of smokes. The first student, Maddy and/or Veil, is introduced with sufficient narration, in an ominous pre-title flashback that does what comics in general, and Marvel in particular, manage to do so well: cut to the bedrock of human experience. She is first socially isolated at school, then publicly humiliated by a popular girl, before embarrassing herself in a hormone-fuelled outburst. But as soon as our girl Maddy makes it to the Avengers Academy, she is thrown into a fully formed team of other students.

Okay, this is probably how a first day at a new school would go for someone. But please, give us some third-person omniscience here. There’s a solid chunk of the issue that reads like the draft notes got mixed in with the script and inked. Characters introduce themselves by name, first and last, then by superhero name, before fully explicating their powers and a short background. By the time they started in the totally-not-a-Danger-Room-except-it-totally-is Room, my head was spinning.

And really. In the magical world of Marvel, where supes roam the skies, one needs to have a certain lack of self-consciousness in order to introduce oneself as, say, “Justice” or “Tigra” with a straight face. But I would have liked at least some discomfort from the fifteen and sixteen year old kids who were doing so, probably for the first time. Some small nod to the fact that normal people are not usually referred to as Veil. That would have probably made those unwieldy chunks of dialogue less awkward instead of more.

Oh, while I’m complaining about the writing, one more thing to add. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned. Maybe I like my superheroes like I like my Cap: defrosted from the forties. But the references to Twitter and Robert Pattinson just completely threw me off. Comics don’t need stuff like that to be topical. Plotlines make them topical. Politics make them topical. Namechecking RPatz is just needless, and looks awkward on the page. I think I physically squirmed while reading it.

The whole concept of Avengers Academy may be a hopeful play on the success of boarding school fare like X-Men Evolution and Harry Potter, which could account for the bubblegum pop coating of Maddy’s uncomfortable first-person thought-bubble narration. But I think that approach does a real disservice to the underlying theme. While the students of Avengers Academy may be a newly created roster, more character notes than characters at the moment, the faculty are all known quantities. Speedball, Justice, Tigra, Quicksilver, Wasp, and Dr Henry Pym. They also drop hints about the big guns dropping in for guest teaching stints, so we can expect to see Cap, Thor, Iron Man, and all the rest in the future. Of the regulars, Quicksilver’s had the most facetime out of all of them. He’s been on pretty much every roster in the Marvel universe, good and evil, but Speedball’s enjoyed recent notoriety for being the bonehead that started the Civil War. All of them have something big and bad in their past, and even if Speedball’s done his Penance for his, they’re all in this Academy gig to make up for those big bads.

Redemption and salvation are the underlying currents here. If those are the strands which are actually allowed to flourish in the storyline, Avengers Academy could become interesting. If it gives into the bubblegum and super-powers-as-puberty sight gags, it’ll get real boring real fast.

What did you think of Avengers Academy? Any other new titles you think are worth a read? Am I just nitpicking at details because I miss Asguardian and Hulkling?

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