Avengers Academy Vol. 1: Permanent Record

In a rare moment of weakness coupled with opportunity, I went ahead and purchased the entire run of Avengers Academy at a fantastic price. It seems only fair I should cover the task of reading it here on Novelly Graphic. Even though I bought them in single (digital) issues, I am going to cheat and cover them as if they were trades — predominately because the trade contents are how I’m personally segmenting up my reading. This, and the many round-ups to follow, aren’t actual reviews of the trade, but rather the issues which are contained in their respective trades.

Got it? Cool. Let’s talk about Avengers Academy #1-#6.

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I guess you could say I have a lot of reasons for deciding to read Christos Gage et al.’s series about a group of superpowered teenagers rescued from the clutches of a lately deposed Norman Osborn and fostered into a pseudo-“scared straight” program. Foremost on my mind when I first added it to a wishlist was the involvement of X-23 in the series, though she wasn’t introduced until more than halfway through the series. Likewise, the students at Pym’s academy crossed paths and powers with the Runaways, but that brief encounter happened even later in the book’s run. And from the blood-soaked opening pages of Avengers Arena, I heard the cries of fans who loved the friendly red skeletal whose death was devastating in the wake of how they’d come to love him, and as they turned to fear for his surviving girlfriend I couldn’t help but wonder if Mettle, Hazmat, and the rest of the kids in Avengers Academy would find their way into my hearts the way so many other young heroes had before. So when the first issue became free, and subsequent issues a mere dollar apiece, I decided it was time to find out for myself.

The inaugural class of Hank Pym’s so-called “Avengers Academy” consists of six kids salvaged from the ruins of Osborne’s Dark Reign. Each of the six issues is told from the perspective of one of the kids (Veil, Finesse, Hazmat, Mettle, Striker, and Reptil, respectively), which allows for backstory exposition and greater insight into all the characters’ minds and motivations than a typical team-driven book might permit. We learn quite early on — early enough that I’d call this a premise rather than a spoiler — that our cast is comprised not of good eggs but rather of those most likely to go rotten. It serves as a good twist on both the typical teen hero recipe and the rehabilitated villain recipe, because what we have here is neither good nor bad but unrealized potential for either resting in an incubator with as-yet unproven efficacy.

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Of course, Academy wastes no time making its inspirations clear. An early visit to The Raft — a high-security prison/rehabilitation center handled by the Thunderbolts (who are, in case you’re new to the Marvel universe, a team of rehabilitated villains) — is outright described by some of the kids as the Avengers version of “Scared Straight,” the program in which problem children are shown the dark end of the crime tunnel in the hopes they’ll turn and flee toward light. Therein lies one of the more intriguing tensions of the arc and of the book in general: while the readers and the kids know the true purpose of the Academy, the kids aren’t supposed to know, and the poker faces of pupils and faculty as they hide their respective hands from one another are fun to watch.

For the most part, Gage has crafted incredible and instantly memorable characters. We’re not just told that these kids are dangerous; we feel it, and we feel the stakes against which Pym, Tigra, Quicksilver, and the rest of the staff are fighting. Traumatic childhoods coupled with (in several cases) enforced, devastating levels of isolation from their peers (Hazmat can’t touch; Mettle can’t feel) set the students (some more than others) on a precarious, frightening edge, and although the book maintains a largely easygoing tone it never quite loses the sense that something dire is just around the corner. If, or more likely when, one or more of these kids snaps, the outcome is guaranteed to be terrible.

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As with any teen book, there’s a great deal of drama and hormones and hormone-driven drama. When it comes to sex (or lack thereof) Hazmat’s the new Rogue (even down to almost killing her boyfriend when her powers manifested during an attempted roll in the sheets), Finesse treats it like a weapon, and Striker looks so miserable when surrounded by girls that he’s almost guaranteed to be gay. Meanwhile parents run the gamut: proud, missing, mysterious, dead; while some kids are wary about the Academy and ponder running home, others shudder under the weight of having no home left to run to.

Six issues, six characters, and a whole lot of fun and drama between them. One arc in, it’s pretty clear to me why this book became so popular among its readers. Perhaps the angsty teen team book isn’t your cup of tea, but if it is — if it even might be — then Avengers Academy is absolutely worth giving a try.