Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

03 May 2013

Avengers Academy, v. 4: Second Semester

Collects: Avengers Academy #21-8 (2012)

Released: November 2012 (Marvel)

Format: 176 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785152033

What is this?: The Avengers Academy takes on new students, and the new student body has to deal with the X-Men, a Dire Wraith, the Runaways, and former young Initiative members.

The culprits: Writer Christos Gage and artists Sean Chen, Tom Raney, Tom Grummett, and Karl Moline

The first three volumes of Avengers Academy focused on a tight group of six students whom the Avengers suspected might become supervillains because Norman Osborn tortured them. Occasionally an issue’s focus drifted toward the students’ teachers, most notably longtime Avenger Hank Pym, and that was OK too; readers cared about the teachers because of their relationships to these fresh, young characters.

In Avengers Academy, v. 4: Second Semester, the school founded by Hank Pym opened its doors to new students. In theory, introducing new characters to the cast is a good idea, especially after one of the original six students left during Fear Itself: Avengers Academy. However, writer Christos Gage has included every young Marvel character created in the last fifteen years who wasn’t claimed by another book.

Avengers Academy, v. 4: Second Semester coverWell, it seems that way. The new students include Juston Seyfert and his Sentinel, the new Thundra, Ricochet, Whiz Kid, Spider-Girl, Machine Teen, the old Penance, the new Power Man, Butterball, Rocket Racer, even Batwing from Untold Tales of Spider-Man. I’m not sure what character could show “bottom of the barrel” more comprehensively than Batwing, who appeared in four issues of Kurt Busiek’s Untold Tales series, which was set in early Silver Age continuity, and an issue of Avengers: Initiative. We never learn why these characters are at the Academy or anything about them; they exist to fill out the background art.

However, despite the apparent cast of thousands, Gage focuses on three new characters: Lightspeed (Julie Power of Power Pack), X-23 (the female clone of Wolverine), and the newest White Tiger, Ava Ayala (not the old White Tiger, Hector Ayala, or the not old, not new White Tiger, Angela del Toro). Gage has a solid role for Lightspeed (teacher’s assistant), and X-23 is at the Academy to further her socialization. White Tiger, on the other hand, seems to have arrived to hassle Reptil, an original Academy student, about not being active in the Hispanic community.

Ideally, new characters should find a place to nestle in the cast, establishing their own niche or insinuating themselves inside pre-existing relationships to shake things up. Lightspeed is a great addition to the cast, a former team player, and Gage uses her sexual identity to allow her to relate to one of the established students. X-23 doesn’t get much time to show who she is, but Gage allows her and Mettle to discuss what it’s like to be a killer, and she’s tossed unwillingly into a love triangle. White Tiger does get a lot of time on the page, but Gage is less successful with her; she has a tragic origin and a Hispanic identity, but she’s not much more than that — we don’t even learn how she got her mystic amulet from her niece, Angela del Toro.

The team-vs.-team fights don’t help matters. Marvel Comics have had a template embedded into their DNA since Stan Lee crapped out the first superheroes after the Fantastic Four: heroes meet, fight, and then team up vs. the villain. Unfortunately, there are no villains to fight. The students in Second Semester fight the Avengers, X-Men, and Runaways, and somehow they avoid fighting former Initiative recruits when they show up. But there are no villains for them to team up and fight. The brief battles with other heroes wind down with a discussion by calmer heads, but discussions about the reasonableness of the other side’s point of view is not why I read comics. The lack of villains makes the heroes’ squabbles seem inconsequential.

Second Semester has only one fight with a villain. The entire student body battles a Dire Wraith hybrid; with the Wraith’s mind control, it’s a good fight, but one issue with a villain (two, if you count an issue of barely restrained scheming) out of eight is not enough. Gage tries to get the reader interested in the schemes of the future versions of the Academy’s original six students, but I’m not buying it. The future students are trying to bring about their nefarious (or not nefarious) future for mysterious reasons, but I have no criteria to judge that future on. Admittedly, one of the future versions tries to get Avengers Academy students killed, but that’s because the Wraith killed a lot of students in his timeline.

Gage is more successful with character development and humor. The guest stars get most of the good lines, but fortunately, he hasn’t lost his touch with his old characters. Hazmat and Mettle’s relationship progresses along expected lines, but they are sweet together, and the characters’ reasonableness means stupid misunderstandings are stumbling blocks rather than relationship breakers. Striker makes a big revelation, and even though I can see what Gage is aiming at, I’m not convinced previous characterization backs it up. Finesse and Reptil’s relationship is explored in the future but not much in the present, and Finesse finally meets Magneto, the man whose methods she wanted Quicksilver to teach her.

Second Semester has a ridiculous four pencilers for eight issues: Sean Chen (#21-2), Tom Raney (#23), Tom Grummett (#24-6), and Karl Moline (#27-8). I enjoy Chen’s clear, clean art, but Grummett’s is excellent as well; he has to do the bulk of the close-ups on the background characters, and he manages to differentiate them. Moline’s art has a loose, exaggerated style that looks nothing like the others’, and its incongruity makes it look worse than it actually is.

Although I still like the characters, Second Semester has to be considered a step down in quality. The book has too many characters without enough to do, and the plot puts too little external pressure on the characters to make them react in interesting ways. I hope the title will rebound, but since the extra students aren’t going anywhere, I have my doubts.

Rating: Avengers symbol Avengers symbol (2 of 5)

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