Depending on your preferences, modern Marvel Comics is either killing it–pumping out one stellar story after another–or killing the industry with its endless stream of relaunches. Well, in my opinion, one area the House of Ideas is genuinely crushing it is their monthly trade paperback output. In addition to recent comics runs, Marvel is collecting lengthy storylines many readers may have missed when they first hit the racks. Among these series is writer Christos Gage’s Avengers Academy, a product of the Heroic Age.
I had a chance to discover the beginning of this series in the recently released Avengers Academy: The Complete Collection Vol. 1, to which I awarded a perfect score. Terrifically flawed teenage superheroes, their equally damaged teachers and classic Marvel storytelling all wrapped in a colorful package? What’s not to love? So, obviously, I was quite eager to crack open the collection’s second volume, but maybe I should have more been… fearful.
You see, after a few solid Avengers Academy tales, this series crashes into Marvel’s 2011 event Fear Itself and careens off the road into a ditch. OK, I’m being a little dramatic, but Matt Fraction’s Fear Itself has to be one of the worst of Marvel’s many terrible events from the past 10 years. I mean, it was about magic hammers, or some nonsense.
One of my biggest complaints about modern, mainstream comics is when a great series, that’s happily chugging along and doing its own thing, is forced into a crossover event. I just want to keep reading the same stories I already love–not have to sit through several issues about gods with magic hammers.
We’ll return to Fear Itself soon, but first, a recap for those who haven’t read volume 1. Following Dark Reign (hey look, another Marvel event!), the Avengers enrolled a group of superpowered teenagers into the newly created Avengers Academy, overseen by Giant-Man, Tigra, Speedball and other Avengers screw-ups. But these aren’t your average teenagers with attitude–they were experimented on and tortured by none other than Norman Osborn–and, as a result, have the potential to become tomorrow’s greatest villains. It’s a terrific concept, enhanced by Gage’s solid writing and constant character development.That continues in much of volume 2, especially in the collection’s first issue, Avengers Academy #13, in which the cast attends a school dance. This one’s all about blowing off steam and the interactions between various characters and it’s both funny and emotional. Another strong issue is #14.1, which features Jeremy Briggs, a different type of super villain. The teen billionaire is tired of the superhero-super villain status quo that exists in the Marvel Universe, comparing it to what’s wrong with modern politics. It’s that rejection of the established order that highlights the potential of comics focused on young characters (which was certainly true of Mark Waid’s Champions run).
This volume also contains a two-part arc from Amazing Spider-Man, written by Gage, where Spidey fills in as the students’ teacher. It’s fun to watch one of Marvel’s younger heroes getting schooled by even younger characters who pick apart everything he says. Kids these days! No respect!
But despite those high points, I’d be doing you wonderful readers a disservice if I didn’t cover this collection’s low points. And that means revisiting those Fear Itself tie-ins. Any good time I was having reading came to a screeching halt once I hit issues 1-7 of Fear Itself: The Home Front, a grounded semi-sequel to Civil War focused on Speedball and Superhuman Registration Act movement leader Miriam Sharpe.
Now, Fear Itself was released in simpler times, but I’m reading these issues in a very different era–a time when the novelty of exploring the ugliness of the internet and violent mobs is totally lost on me. It’s hard enough to avoid angry comic book fans fuming everywhere from Twitter to the comment space below articles–I don’t really need to see it in the pages of the books I’m reading. Similarly, following so many school shootings, watching Sharpe (who lost her son in the Stamford incident) fight for change just isn’t the type of escapist entertainment I was hoping to find in this collection.Do real-life issues have a place in comics? yes, of course! But I feel the heavy-handed writing on display in this mini-series, combined with the realistic art from Mike Mayhew created a story that really didn’t gel too well with the backdrop, which was about magic hammers. Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ realistic Marvels was an amazing story, but it should have been a one-time thing. The Home Front is one of many examples of Marvel trying to apply the real-world angle to its fantastical stories and it’s just as unnecessary as the larger Fear Itself event.
While I wasn’t a fan of Mayhew’s artwork (it was more the story he was illustrating than his talents as an artist), the rest of the collection features that Marvel style you’d expect from a tertiary Avengers title. Longtime Marvel penciler Sean Chen is the standout, but I may be biased as I grew up loving his pencils on Kurt Busiek’s Heroes Return The Invincible Iron Man run. Chen is joined by Tom Raney, who serves as this volume’s other main artist, and provides the pencils readers have come to expect from him. While he may not be the most exciting artist working in comics, Raney’s always consistent.
Overall, Avengers Academy: The Complete Collection Vol. 2 is definitely a drop in quality from the first volume, largely due to its involvement with Fear Itself. Still, there are enough bright spots to warrant my recommendation–especially for Avengers fans and completists. I’m looking forward to the eventual third collection, but I also know Avengers Vs. X-Men tie-ins are right around the corner, so it may end up being more of the same.