December: Avengers Academy, by Christos Gage
Avengers Academy is possibly the best book Marvel is currently publishing. Written by Christos Gage and drawn by a number of fantastic artists (including Mike McKone, Sean Chen, Tom Raney, and soon Tom Grummett), Avengers Academy tells the tale of 6 new teenage superhumans who share a history of capture and torture at the hands of H.A.M.M.E.R. director Norman Osborn. In the wake of Norman Osborn’s fall from grace, these troubled teens (Veil, Striker, Mettle, Finesse, Hazmat, and Reptil) have been taken under the Avengers’ wing to become the inaugural class of Avengers Academy. But, as the kids very quickly discover, they weren’t chosen because they have the best potential to become heroes – they were chosen because the Avengers fear that, without guidance, they might turn into villains.
What separates this book from the dozens of other teen superhero books that have passed through comic shop shelves over the years? The answer is Christos Gage, a writer who has rapidly risen to become one of Marvel’s brightest stars. Gage’s work deals with consequences at a level that few other superhero writers are willing to tackle. No canon, no matter how old, is irrelevant for Gage. He expertly weaves the past and the present (without, it should be noted, relying on fans’ assumed knowledge of past stories) to illustrate the ways that past experiences and actions shape the lives and futures of all human beings. The Avengers Academy faculty includes characters like Hank Pym and Pietro Maximoff, characters who have made their fair share of mistakes and want to pass along the lessons they’ve learned to the next generation. The lives of superheroes are difficult and messy, and this book addresses that fact with a rare honesty.
Yet the book is far from glum and gloomy. Ultimately Avengers Academy is a story of hope, of adults trying to help kids and kids trying to help themselves and each other. The kids have their problems, but they’re still very much kids – they even have a prom! – and their interpersonal relationships are bright spots amid the stresses of battle. They have successes to match their failures, and the book is frequently quite funny. I rarely finish an issue without a smile on my face.
For those whose interest has been piqued, I highly recommend picking up all the trade paperbacks of the series so far. But for those looking to dip their toes in, the book’s recent status quo change – moving the school to the old West Coast Avengers headquarters and adding new characters – is a perfect jumping-on point. Pick up last month’s issue 21 and see what the fuss is all about.