|Cover by Billy Tan,|
Avengers Academy #14.1
Writer: Christos Gage
Penciller: Sean Chen, Scott Hanna
Colorist: Jeromy Cox
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
I have actually read a Marvel comic and enjoyed it!
That’s a pretty big deal for me as I have always been a strictly DC fan (as if you couldn’t already presume that) and have always been unimpressed with the Marvel universe. Nothing about it particularly appealed to me though I have been told by more than one source that Marvel’s writing tends to trump DC’s. I was willing to believe that but I was never interested in reading about Spiderman or Iron Man when DC has the holy trinity of heroes: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
But if I am to become more versed in comic books, I need to branch out and try other heroes on for size and that means taking the plunge and reading some Marvel. So with a great deal to pick from, I rather randomly decided to try on Avengers Academy and I am so glad I did!
I figured that these were the Teen Titans of their universe and as such, would not be as steeped in lore and backstory as say, an X-Men or Captain America comic. I was grateful that the beginning of the issue had a cast of characters page and a brief explanation of the Avengers Academy. Though I am familiar with the Avengers (and like anyone else, am looking forward to the film though I can’t help but worry it will be a hot mess), I knew none of these characters or their powers. So yay! to Marvel for providing readers with a solid background into the dynamics of the Avengers Academy.
I was immediately intrigued with the idea that these teenaged superheroes were recruited into the Academy not because of their powers, but because they had the greatest risk of becoming villains. This was an interesting twist to the superhero mythos that I frankly had never thought of before. I have read about plenty of good guys going bad and vice versa but I have never considered the idea of intervention before. I went into this comic, therefore, aware of a tension between good and bad and how easy it could be to cross that line.
Anyway, the comic itself was well-written and easy to follow. It had a simply enough storyline but it was exciting nonetheless and it demonstrated to me that it is possible to write a clear and fun short story in a single issue without it feeling rushed or as if it were missing crucial details. Instead, Gage gives the reader everything they could want in a single issue and yet leaves them excited for the next one. This was particularly impressive to me as these are completely unfamiliar and new characters (and teenagers to boot!), as the Avengers Academy apparently only launched last June.
14.1 opens right in the middle of a fight scene, a narrative method I am unfamiliar with since most of the comics I read start with Batman contemplatively standing on a ledge in the middle of the night. Though the comic opened abruptly, Gage still managed to introduce the characters, their dynamic and tensions quickly and thoroughly, giving me, a completely new reader, a pretty clear understanding of who these people are and their relationship to one another. The storyline follows the students as they attempt to learn more about other young adults who were also considered for the Avengers Academy. These students, especially Mettle (one of those gentle giant figures that seem popular in Marvel), are still wrestling with the knowledge that the Avengers apparently saw something dark and dangerous within them after they were experimented on by Dr. Osborne aka the Green Goblin. Searching for answers, they find the boy billionaire, Jason Briggs, who has the ability to change the chemical make-up of just about anything and who was also rejected from the Avengers Academy.
Briggs, a huge fan of the Avengers, takes the students on a trip to meet the other young adults considered for the Academy. They include a college student trying hard to fit in with regular students, a healer who works in Haiti and a young man desperate to prove his worth as a solo hero. By the end of the comic, it becomes clear that Briggs is not all he appears to be and furthermore, he brings up some interesting points about the entire hero/villain dichotomy in comic book lore.
The crucial question of this issue is: Are superheroes anarchic now? As Briggs points out, superheroes were important years ago, “fighting Nazis and communists and all that noble stuff. But we don’t live in that world anymore.”
I found this to be a challenging question and one I was not expecting in an issue about teenagers. Masked superheroes are an inherently silly and nonsensical idea, and though plenty of writers have wrestled with this issue (Watchmen obviously comes to mind first), I have not really seen it discussed in such a self-aware way in mainstream comics. Do superheroes such as the Avengers even make a difference in this world or do positive changes better occur internally, as Briggs seems to suggest? I am curious to see how the Avengers Academy deals with this along with their own personal issues regarding their apparent dark sides.
The art in the comic was very clear and clean, perfectly reflecting a storyline focused on young adults. As I said, the writing was strong though I did smirk at the use of snarky, “teenage” slang. At one point, Hazmat tells Striker to “get bent” and he accuses Finesse of making “Vulcans look emo.” There were even references to Facebook and reality shows and I often such direct references to real life as potentially dating a comic. Still, Gage did a better job of writing teenaged voices than other comic writers I have seen, though it was still somewhat silly.
Nonetheless, I am now definitely interested in seeing where the Avengers Academy goes next, which, as a huge DC fan, is a very big and exciting deal for me.