What does one do with a competent yet unremarkable comic? As “Avengers Academy” joins in on the “Fear Itself” fun, it delivers a story that is both obvious and unavoidable: the students helping to defend Washington against Sin’s attack, and the consequences of sending children into such a dangerous situation. There isn’t another way to approach the events of “Fear Itself” and how they would impact the characters in this book and, yet, the execution contains no surprises. Given the premise, the comic plays out exactly how you’d expect. There are no big missteps and no moments of wonder or amazement.
The big problem is that, while this issue appears to be about something, it never actually says anything beyond being a hero is tough and it sucks to send kids into harm’s way. Not exactly the most profound of messages, and not one that excuses the heavyhanded melodrama that tries so hard to elevate this comic above its content. And, yet, all of this seems unavoidable. Beyond throwing in a cliched death to add more ‘meaning,’ it’s hard to see what else Christos Gage could have done with this premise. It’s one that lends itself to false self-importance and melodramatic bluster.
Within that narrow construct, Gage hits the right beats by drawing upon the past experiences of the characters to influence how they react to such a violent situation in Washington. Striker’s ‘death’ at the hands of Korvac, for example, makes him something of a liability on the battlefield until Tigra helps him learn a new use for his powers. Tigra’s presence helps the issue, if only because she’s such an underdeveloped character that putting her as the only adult with the children finally gives her a moment to shine.
Tom Raney’s art is suited to melodrama; his faces are so overwrought and distorted that trying to imagine anything less than extreme emotions drawn by him is impossible. The perpetual look on characters’ faces that their dog just died is appropriate here, but no less distracting. When the comic shifts to Washington, the action suits Raney’s style and he draws a chaotic scene well without making things too crowded. That ability to pull off chaos and clarity at the same time is an underrated one, and Raney does it here.
There are some good moments peppered throughout “Avengers Academy” #15 that try to rise above the melodrama and cliches inherent to the premise of young superheroes ‘going off to war.’ It’s an entirely appropriate plot for a “Fear Itself” tie-in, but Gage’s writing can’t escape the inherent limitations. Like I said at the beginning of this review: competent yet unremarkable.