Avengers Academy #34: Briggstown

Hazmat and Mettle find their humanity restored, but what cost will Jeremy Briggs ask of them?

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Avengers Academy #34

The fact that the new story arc that starts in Avengers Academy #34 not only explores the biggest and longest-simmering subplot of the series, but is entitled "Final Exam" would lead us to believe that this book won't survive in its current incarnation once the Marvel NOW wave of "HEY REVAMP EVERYTHING AT ONCE!" hits this October. The top of the letters page promises us "that when this arc is over, things will not just go back to the way they were before!" So we might speculate on how this book will change – Uncanny Avengers Academy? Super-School? Gifted Youngsters 2 The Streetz? – but it's much more interesting to just read this book.

Writer Christos Gage has made AA a consistently heady and daring read, and the condescending enigma named Jeremy Briggs, aka The Alchemist, is a case in point. He's always been a smug prick, but he's also offered a lot of interesting ideas about the future – moving away from the failures of the 'hero-villain model' of superhuman activity and channeling their amazing abilities towards societal advancement and real-world problems. He's been a fairly unlikable sociopath, which has made most of AA not trust him, but he's said enough of the right things that some of their number have already jumped ship from the superhero school to get out of the rat race that results in things like Avengers vs. X-Men. That particular madness has included Colossus closing down AA, leaving the students to find their own separate ways.

The fact that there's a giant superhero slapfight going on that most of the students feel is ridiculous and stupid plays right into Briggs' hands and general anti-old-paradigm rhetoric, and it proves that all the digs Gage has taken at the concept aren't just quick meta gags – they're serving a story purpose, building to a final showdown between the school they've all become a part of and the common sense talk of the Briggs Foundation.

One one hand, you've got the people that have dedicated themselves to caring for these at-risk kids after they'd been tortured and mistreated by Norman Osborn, who took a personal interest in their well-being and have brought them all together to become close-knit friends, and who have proven to be open-minded and flexible caretakers.

On the other hand, you've got the deep pockets of the radical genius who can actually help cure those students whose powers have cursed them – like Hazmat, who can master radiation but has to wear a containment suit at all times, or Mettle, whose skin peeled away and left him a burly red skull-faced man, or Veil, the girl whose ability to turn to gas was going to completely discorporate her in a couple of years. The kid who makes a hell of a lot of sense in his advocation of applying superhuman abilities to the world's problems rather than to some bad guy's face. The guy who can point to the world around them, engulfed in a crazy battle between god-powered authoritarian X-Men and the angry and scrambling forces of the Avengers over things they should've just sat down and talked about like adults, and he doesn't even have to explain that they are all making his point for him.

It's a risky play Gage is making, introducing a plotline that could sort of invalidate superhero comics as a genre, although he has laid these arguments out before back in AA #26, including an impassioned defense of the Avengers' relevance from one Henry Pym. These ideas of Briggs' have weight and merit, which makes him all the more compelling as the irritatingly friendly bro offering new ways of thinking that sound very legit, while feeling wrong in the gut. His masterstroke, however, is called "Clean Slate," and he plans to take M-Day to the next level, and depower every superhuman on the planet, then make them prove they can use their abilities responsibly before giving them back. This is where he crosses the line – and his ally Jocasta turning on him at that revelation signals that much – but, much like Ozymandias in Watchmen, he doesn't really explain this until after it's seemingly too late, and he's already taken away all the Academy members' powers.

We should've seen that coming when Briggs said he was using nanobots to cure Hazmat and Mettle. You just can't trust morally ambiguous supergeniuses with nanites. The initial hope is that this won't completely invalidate Briggs' good ideas, and Gage has proven himself time and time again with Avengers Academy that he won't take the cheap out.

This is a great book. I recommend it to everybody.

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