This is the one Marvel book I wish everybody were reading. Christos Gage continues to do some of the most subtle and dramatic character work in comics. The young team of proto-Avengers he has assembled here deserves to thrive. This issue concludes the confrontation, set up in the last outing, between the young team and the imprisoned Norman Osborn. I know there are some who feel that Norman was overexposed during the Dark Reign storyline, but I found his characterization consistently fascinating, and I’m thrilled to get more of it here. Suffice it to say that the confrontation doesn’t go the way anyone expects — except, perhaps, the manipulative Norman. I particularly love how Gage shows how the deception by the Avengers Academy teachers is already backfiring on them, motivating the students to keep secrets of their own. Gage is loading a lot of guns here, and I hope the book can stick around long enough for them to go off.
This series has been incredible since the first issue, and the latest installment of Avengers Academy doesn’t disappoint. I like how this series, more than any other, seems to be focusing on the legacy of Norman Osborn’s time in power. The Academy kids are the human equivalent of unexploded ordnance: weapons that Osborn put into play that must be defused. As much as I’m enjoying Marvel’s Heroic Age, I’m glad this issue has hinted that Osborn’s not one to take defeat lightly. This guy has plans, and he isn’t afraid to use a few kids to get what he wants.
This comic is my pick of the week, and possibly the best Avengers title on the stands right now (New Avengers being its primary competition). Christos Gage has wisely chosen a strategy used to great effect by Matt Fraction in his sadly-canceled The Order, framing each of the first issues with the backstory and point of view of one of the new, original characters. This has given the reader the chance to meet and grow to love these characters without having to wait months for a plot to start, a crucial balance for a book full of unknowns in an over-saturated market. This month we learn more about Mettle, whose Ben Grimm-esque backstory is perhaps the saddest we’ve encountered so far, and delve deeper into the students’ desire to kill Norman Osborn and the moral conflict that creates. Gage, with the very talented Mike McKone on art duties, has crafted a thoughtful, strikingly original book that owes a debt to some of the best teen-team comics of past years, and I sincerely hope it continues through a long and satisfying run.
Avengers Academy is hands-down my favorite book that launched out of The Heroic Age – partly because of its infallible four-color action meets teen pathos formula and partly because it’s a book about training young heroes that actually does what it says on the label instead of immediately going far afield of the pedagogy inherent in the concept. Even in the last part of “Scared Straight,” the book’s crossover with Thunderbolts, Christos Gage and Mike McKone manage to intersperse teachable moments with lots of fighting. And it doesn’t hurt that Gage really writes Norman Osborn well, either.