Review: Avengers Academy #21

The first class finds their fragile teenage egos threatened by the new kids in school, and it leads them to punch Luke Cage in the face.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Avengers Academy #21

The psychologically-scarring horrors of Fear Itself are now over for the kids of Avengers Academy, but these are impressionable kids, and they can't just cut that cord and move on with their lives like the adult Avengers have learned to do.  Instead, Mettle, Hazmat, Striker, Reptil and Finesse are not only shellshocked at the awful things they were forced to do, but also in losing their friend Veil to who they see as a future enemy.  Add to this a complete upheaval in moving across the country and having a massive influx of new, prettier and more well-adjusted students to the school that was once exclusively about them… and it's understandable that these kids are on edge enough to decide that punching Luke Cage in the face is a good idea.

Avengers Academy #21 is the first issue of the significantly changed direction of Christos Gage's series about young heroes on the tipping point between heroism and villainy.  Mainly, it's that Headmaster Hank Pym and his partner Tigra have given up on the idea that these kids need to be isolated and coddled after they proved themselves during that big Nazi-Asgard fracas, and instead, they're opening the doors of their school to any superhuman who wants the training.  That said, these kids haven't really been kept in the loop on that, and they manage to convince themselves that they're about to get kicked out in favor of shiny happy people like Julie Power, Ricochet, Rocket Racer, Butterball, Lyra, White Tiger, the kid from Sentinel Salvage, the new Spider-Girl (who did come to their prom, actually) and even the new Power Man. 

And, as is inevitable with teenagers sometimes, they are insecure enough that they convince themselves they're right (when they are clearly wrong) and get supremely defensive and snarky when the bigwigs like Captain America, Hawkeye and Cage show up to "have a talk" with them.  Creating the absolute worst impression and reinforcing their own conclusions in the eyes of others who hadn't come to them.  Except for Hawkeye, who had a nasty habit of sassin' Cap from the start, and he decides to come on as a teacher.  He did it once with the Thunderbolts, and it makes perfect sense for him to do now. 

Gage's saga has always been consistently compelling, and even with the shift, the focus so far remains on the same core characters, and he does an excellent job capturing their quirks and hang-ups – particularly in the relationship between Hazmat and Mettle, where she tries to take it to the next level before having a freakout about how she first learned of her powers (think Rogue, but with more disease), forcing her to run away saying 'it's me not you' and leaving the big red faceless guy looking in the mirror and wondering 'how can it NOT be me?'  There's petty jealousy and snark and all the drama you should expect from a book about schoolkids, but it's all done with an engaging style which rides the line between bright superhero fun and dark scary feelings – not to mention great Sean Chen art.

If you haven't been reading Avengers Academy, start now with issue #21.  You won't regret it.  This is coming from a guy who generally shuns books about teen angst, too.  I look forward to finding out just who the hell all these new kids are.