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    Review: Avengers Academy #20

    By | October 28th, 2011
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    Written by Christos Gage
    Penciled by Tom Raney

    Avengers Academy loses one student and teacher — but who? Are they traitors? Did they quit? Did they die?

    Well, they answer the questions in the solicitation copy, at least. (Points off for not noting that it’s an end of an era and everything you know is blah blah blah, but still.) The real question, though, is whether or not we should care. And I’ll cover that one after the jump.

    It’s right there on the opening page: “ENDINGS!” That ominous title is set in front of a huge display of Fear Itself-related carnage and terror. Given that for the past six hundred issues, Avengers Academy has been firmly enmeshed in Marvel’s summer crossover, you’d think that this would end in the way that most Marvel crossover arcs end: with a big fight where lots of people get hurt and one or two die. After all, the promotional material for Avengers Academy has heavily stressed that next issue begins a new era, so why not clear the decks a bit?

    Part of the game Christos Gage has been playing throughout Avengers Academy‘s run has been working against expectations without coming off like a cranky contrarian. It’s what the book has as a leitmotif: setting it up, and then pushing it back down in a different way than expected. (This has only once worked out badly, when Reptil got transformed into an adult — and then transformed back the next issue, in what felt like a wasted opportunity.) Here, Avengers Academy concludes its Fear Itself era quietly and without fanfare. To trot out a completely bizarre and unworkable analogy, it ends the way a Sopranos season might have: with all of the fury and violence in the second-to-last episode, and then the finale devoting itself to picking up the pieces.

    The main problem with Marvel’s mega-event crossovers is that when they try to involve everyone ever, they can’t afford the time to effect really personal changes on a big set of characters that would then have to be spread out around everywhere the characters appear. (Remember how, at the end of Underworld Unleashed, all of the villains who’d made satanic deals for power saw ‘666’ branded on their foreheads like marks of Cain? Yeah — exactly.) There’s a small segment of the population trying to reverse that trend in small degrees: witness Piotr Rasputin as the new Juggernaut in Uncanny X-Men, and the fallout in Avengers Academy here.

    Without spoiling who leaves, one team member does decide to exit. In establishing this, the issue’s format shifts gently back toward the early days of the book, when each issue explored the POV of a separate character. We hear the character’s justifications, and we see the other characters’ reactions. We get deep, meaningful conversations with unexpected consequences. We also get a couple faculty members finding their own reasons for leaving. One of the best aspects of Avengers Academy is that because it’s not one of Marvel’s A-list tentpole franchise-builders (yet, anyway), when things change, they can actually change. The reason that devoting an issue to one character quitting the team works here is that we have no reason to believe that they’ll be back in six months, and we have no precedent for the character to guess where the storyline will actually go.

    Tom Raney draws this issue, and of the book’s two current artists, he’s the right one. I tend to think of Raney as an action artist more than anything else, but his character-acting has always skewed toward melodrama, and his eye for little details is often enough to make even out-of-costume characters interesting to look at. As a satisfying end to the latest leg of Avengers Academy‘s life cycle, this is a good issue. The only thing keeping it from being a great issue was the curious feeling it gave off, where one of the team members leaving didn’t seem to be as huge a deal to the close-knit group as it maybe should have. Then again, that’s what next issue is for, what with its whole new era and all — now that the foundation has been cracked, the only proper places to go are filling them in, or letting them spread.

    Continued below

    Final Verdict: 7.5 / Insert your own “filling in cracks” joke (and put in your own “insert” joke)

    Patrick Tobin

    Patrick Tobin (American) is likely shaming his journalism professors from the University of Glasgow by writing about comic books. Luckily, he's also written about film for The Drouth and The Directory of World Cinema: Great Britain. He can be reached via e-mail right here.