REVIEW: Avengers Academy #39 (of 39)

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Or – “I Am Going To Miss This Book…”

Of all the things to launch out of Dark Reign, I think Avengers Academy was my favorite, featuring an interesting array of characters (albeit all with really boring costumes) and a premise that worked.  Even the use of Avengers with their own history of problems (Giant-Man, Tigra, Justice, Speedball and Quicksilver are like a laundry list of bad decisions) was compelling, but things in the Marvel Universe change with speed and ferocity, with a new day dawning on the Avengers Academy.  Your Major Spoilers review awaits!

AVENGERS ACADEMY #39
Writer: Christos Gage
Penciler: Tom Grummett
Inker: Cory Hamscher
Colorist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Editor: Bill Rosemann
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously, in Avengers Academy:  The short and terrible reign of Norman Osborn over all things superhuman in the Marvel Universe had quite a bit of fallout (albeit mostly swept under the rug by now.)  One of the most heart-wrenching was the realization that he had taken half a dozen superhumans and done his level-best to destroy them emotionally and psychologically, making them into massive threats to all humanity.  The Avengers gathered those kids (Hazmat, Mettle, Striker, Veil, Finesse and Reptil), screwed it up, gathered more kids, screwed that up, then went into an all-out war against the X-Men and the power of the Phoenix.  I don’t expect that this ‘graduation’ is going to be entirely fully of proud moments…

THE OTHER SHOE HAS FINALLY DROPPED…

The first page of the issue opens with the children of the Academy angrily confronting their teachers about the truth, with the fiery Hazmat snarling to Hank “Giant-Man” Pym that they all know the truth about why they’re in the Academy.  There’s a moment of awkward silence as we cut backward in time to find out what happened to lead us up to that big reveal.  I was worried, thinking I’d missed an issue, but the story deftly shows us the fallout from the big battle against Jeremy Briggs (the rich kid who turned out to be a jerk, and tried to depower all of Marvel’s heroes).  X-23 and Finesse have a tense confrontation about Finesse killing Briggs, and it’s emotionally satisfying, if somewhat brief.  The problem comes in the limitations of Tom Grummett’s art, as both girls have his signature round face and apple-cheeked features and look to be roughly 12, even as the story has portrayed them as around 17.  After that duo has their moment, another duo gets their time in the sun, as Hazmat and Mettle, the Academy’s unlikely power couple, come to terms with having their abilities back.  Their realization that, even if they’re radioactive and/or monstrous, they have one another, is truly touching.  Also touching?  Hazmat and Mettle, as they consummate their teenage relationship, as the “camera” pulls out to a discretion shot of her green-glowing window…

TOM GRUMMETT’S ART CAN BE PROBLEMATIC.

This issue turns out to be all character moments, which is a good thing, but Grummett’s art (which, to my mind, has never been right for this series) continues to flummox me.  Reptil and the new White Tiger bond over their magical origins and have a cute kiss, while write Gage enrages fans of ‘Runaways’ AND ‘Power Pack’ by giving Julie Power and Caroline Dean a romantic moment of their own.  (Did I miss what happened to Xavin?)  Even the mostly emotionless Finesse gets a bit of human interaction, as Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff reminds her that her life will get better.  I’m glad that there’s not a trace of sexual tension in that moment, as well, instead giving us a convincing teacher/student relationship.  After Striker gets a moment (eschewing his celebrity for a night and agreeing to take a young man to his prom), we circle back around to the opening moments, with the heroes confronting their teachers…

…and the swerve.  Gage does a good job of playing with the reader’s expectations, and wraps things up for our heroes without smashing all the cool concepts and characters, and making it possible for the Academy kids to have a happy ending (at least until they start getting murdered in Avengers Arena next month.)

THE BOTTOM LINE: IS IT REALLY THE END?

The biggest criticism that I’ve heard about this book is that the superhero side of things is a bit lacking, focusing more attention on the characters and their emotions.  While that is true, I’m not entirely sure that it’s a failing, as that very dichotomy is what made the book work for me.  Unfortunately, the ending of this issue, with a de-powered Veil going back to high school as a normal girl and learning to stand up for herself, fell flat for me, for an important reason:  She beats the hell out of the school’s Alpha Bitch and her dumb jock boyfriend.  The implication of this is that, to stand up for one’s self, you will respond to insults with swift and blinding violence, something I’m not entirely comfortable with.  In any case, though, this one is a satisfying resolution for our characters, giving them each something that they have been seeking throughout the book (Striker: humanity, Mettle: love, Hazmat: self-acceptance, Finesse: perspective, Reptil: confidence and Veil: confidence with a side of jujitsu) and ending things on a mostly positive note.  Avengers Academy #39 is ending before it wore out it’s welcome, and has outlasted nearly every other artifact of Dark Reign, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  I’ll be interested to see what happens with Avengers: Battle Hunger Royale and the Academy characters appearing therein…

Rating: ★★★½☆

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