Avengers Academy has been one of those really cool books that speak to longtime and young fans alike, and it continues to go about proving that you don't have to completely throw out the old in order to bring in the new. Writer Christos Gage brings that push and pull between the classic inception of the Avengers and the highly cynical and jaded modern scrutiny of old ideas to a head in Avengers Academy #26, an issue with virtually no action which nonetheless remains highly compelling.
The cover is misleading, of course, as the question of 'who killed Jocasta?' was essentially answered last issue – although there is some lingering suspicion that all is not entirely what it seems. For the moment, however, everything's on the up and up. Jocasta has reappeared, claiming she faked her death to devote herself entirely to the question of what is actually the best for the students of Avengers Academy, given all they've gone through recently, without Hank Pym's interference. Her conclusion is that the AA needs to be shut down entirely. Making her motives suspect is that she's also aligned with Jeremy Briggs, the sociopath billionaire kid who gave them trouble before, but who also runs a huge conglomerate ostensibly dedicated to helping people with actual systemic problems like world hunger, disease, climate change, et cetera. On the surface, it sounds like a great, important gig, and he's making a big push to sell the kids of AA on it. Why risk/waste your lives punching jerks in capes when you could be making real-world progress fighting the things that tend to give rise to supervillains in the first place?
It's a great hook and an incredibly relevant question, especially when what's on the line are the futures of teenagers, who are at a crossroads and have to decide what direction to go in their lives. It also makes the most sense for adults concerned for kids – go somewhere safer, live a normal life, stay out of danger and still help the world in your own way. With the growing depiction of the Avengers as just a bunch of power-mokers in tights destroying the world every year in their books, it's easy to see why some kids would leave the AA and go with Team Briggs, and every argument they offer gives us more reason to sigh and start thinking the Avengers are dumb and old. If the AA faculty didn't know Briggs is a liar and suspect him of worse, they might even be inclined to agree. But they know, they suspect, and thus the entire issue is a debate of ideas, and the home run Gage hits is with Pym's impassioned defense of the Avengers as a concept and denial that it's outdated. It's enough to make a longtime comic fan a little misty-eyed.
Briggs has already recruited founding AA member Veil, and now Jocasta's on his side as well making strong objective arguments, although the fact that she "faked her death" may mean Briggs pulled shenanigans, despite the fact that they found nothing tampered with when scanning her. Turns out they've also gathered up a lot of the kids from Avengers Initiative, including Hardball, Prodigy, Komodo and Could Nine, who couldn't wait to stop being a superhero. In the end, they also take Rocket Racer, Machine Teen and possibly the mutated Batwing with them, and leave the new Power Man (really Power Kid, but finally, a teen hero calls himself Man anyway because no teen dude would call themselves Kid or Boy) considering it, too.
It's a great bit of discourse about superheroes vs. real heroes, and it's developed so well that I'm half-hoping that Briggs doesn't turn out to be the supervillain everyone suspects him to be, and that real divide can continue to be explored.
Artist Tom Grummett does a pretty decent job handling this massive group of charaters bandying ideas about, doing what he can to keep things interesting without any action beyond the first couple of pages. There's a point where he does a close-up shot of White Tiger and X-23 right next to each other, and they have the same head, but with different colored eyes, and you wouldn't know who was who if the panels weren't labeled with their names. The 'same-face' issue is something hopefully more artists will work on – the ability to draw faces that actually look like real people with specific features instead of the same perfect button-nose ladies everyone tends to draw. Overall, though, Grummett is solid and at least manages the feat with most of the characters, and it's just a minor nitpick on that one page that sticks in my brain.
What's fun about Avengers Academy is that it's a perfect gateway for old fans who like the classic characters to start getting into the next generation as well, as Gage is really making this series a showcase for just about every young character he can, including obscure ones like the Slingers, who have some tensions between them I never knew about, as Prodigy and Ricochet are now on opposite sides of this AA divide – although the two sides have agreed to work together more readily rather than continue to butt heads. The Initiative kids seem interesting, although I never read their stuff before because of Civil War taint. And then, next issue, we get The Runaways, and maybe I can finally find out what's so great about them.
Also of note is what Gage does in "After School Special," aka the AA letters page. In it, he prints a long and relatively even-tempered letter from a Kentuckian objecting to AA #23 and Striker's coming out, believing that "alternate lifestyles" should not be portrayed in a comic aimed at teens because he feels it to be a political issue rather than a human issue. Gage then writes an equally long and even-tempered rebuttal explaining why he's so very, very wrong. Let's do this kind of thing more often, world. I'm looking at you, 24-hour news channels.
CraveOnline Rating: 9.3/10