Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review: Avengers Academy #20

I like Veil. I always liked her. I always liked every single character in this book, including ones like Speedball that I've never actually cared about before. (I'm serious—I slogged through that whole Civil War mess without giving a damn, but Gage gets his hands on the guy for a few issues and I just want to know he'll be okay.) But I'm mentioning Veil specifically because I've noticed she's an easy target due to her fear and self doubt. Plus, she does seem to have a slight case of Rachel Leigh Cook in She's All That syndrome.

But I've never subscribed to the notion that the angsty, down-on-herself teenager archetype has to be a bad character. Maybe it's because I, unlike most literary-minded adults, never got over The Catcher in the Rye, but I think it has more to do with Gage's knack for taking super-powered characters and bringing them into the real world. I've always wanted to hang out with Veil and tell her I think it's actually pretty cool that she can turn into smoke, which might be praise along the lines of Holden Caulfield's "do you want to phone the author up and chat" test.

If you don't like Veil, but you do like Avengers Academy (and if you don't like Avengers Academy, I don't like you), then what I'd point out to you is this: the series opened with Veil, and its 20th issue—the one that closes out its old status quo and is an end of sorts—is centered entirely on her. I won't pretend I can say exactly what the reason is for that, but it's as clear as you can get that Maddie's vital to this story. 

This is the kind of issue that, if it were a WB drama, would be advertised something like, "On a very special Avengers Academy, it's a time for new beginnings... and goodbyes to old friends." Avengers books aren't supposed to go like this; you don't spend a whole issue saying goodbye and sorting out social dynamics. But the strength of this book has always been social dynamics, not the super-villains that the team has faced or the cameos or the crossovers. That's why Avengers Academy is such a refreshing super hero book, and why it's allowed to get away with an issue that reads more like a prime time teen drama than a cape adventure.

Of course, there's always a certain amount of apprehension that comes with a shift in status quo on a title you like, and I was feeling that throughout. We all knew that Veil would be saying farewell, but losing Justice and Speedball was unexpected. It's strange that I was just as sad to see them go as Maddie. They were characters that I felt really belonged at the academy, and frankly, it's kind of amazing that in only twenty issues, Gage has been able to take characters with long-running histories and cement them in my brain as faculty.

Emotional content like this can live or die by its art, and Tom Raney, the one-time penciler on this issue, has given us a mixed bag. He's clearly capable of delivering the goods when it comes to expression, but for every clean-lined and believable face there seems to be a total derp one. It's probable that his strong points are not really being played to on an issue like this—if the opening splash page that loosely links back to Fear Itself is any indication, Raney's in his element when drawing battle scenes involving monsters and costumes, which would certainly justify his employ at Marvel. I don't want to wrongly trash him when I say I'll be glad to get another artist on the next issue of Avengers Academy. This just isn't the right book for him.

Gage was recently interviewed about his soon-to-be newest position writing X-Men: Legacy. He said that the big difference between X books and AA is the former have typically focused more on faculty where the latter is really about students. Avengers Academy #20 really drives that point home. We're about to get a big injection in the student body, and as is always the case with change, part of me doesn't want it to happen. But Gage has never disappointed me, and as the issue draws to a close he seems to be trying to reassure through Pym's words: "Our full-time students will continue to be our focus. But why limit ourselves? Why limit them? ...Welcome to a new era for Avengers Academy!"

That's good enough for me. Color me optimistic.

By T.K. Tunstal with No comments


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