When "Avengers Academy" launched, it instantly distinguished itself as a book to watch by having a fresh cast and a clear conceptual center: Hank Pym training super-teens - who, without guidance, might one day become villains -- to be the next generation of Avengers instead. In the wake of "Fear Itself," this issue revisits the central idea, while reshuffling (and expanding) the cast, making it something of a rolling relaunch. In many ways, it could easily be a new issue #1.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the reshuffle is the Avengers Academy's new status as a repository for the various teenage heroes in Marvel's canon who are currently without their own book. It's great to see the likes of Justin (from "Sentinel") and the Loners given a home, but at the same time, their presence is oddly downplayed. There are two major additions to the cast of kids, and they get a formal introduction so that we know that they're important -- but the rest seem to be there mainly as background material, which is a little disappointing. For better or worse, the focus remains on Mettle, Hazmat, Reptil, et al.
As well as an expanded student body, the faculty also gets some new members. Preview material has already revealed that Hawkeye is joining as a full-time instructor, and there are other changes too, though perhaps the most major and unexpected of these comes during the final pages.
It's hard to talk about the final pages without spoiling them, but suffice to say those who have been following the book from the start will appreciate the gravity of the final page a little more than new readers. Although it's an intriguing direction for the story (and one that practically begs you to pick up the next issue) the execution of the twist was a little dampened by some dialogue confusion on the penultimate page which required me to go back and re-read the sequence. It might not be a problem for everyone, but it's safe to say I won't be the only person confused, if only because it transpires that the protagonist of that scene is talking with their mouth visibly closed. Not ideal.
Aside from that one disconnect, the book's artwork is good, and Sean Chen has exactly the right skills for this series, pulling off both big action scenes and small moments of melodrama with equal confidence. A lot of the storytelling requires you to take note of the characters' faces and expressions, and while some artists struggle in this area, Chen succeeds in conveying the right emotion at the right time, and never misses an opportunity to give a character a stake in the on-panel events. No-one is ever left to stare blankly, even if they're just standing near the margins.
As a jumping-on point, this certainly works. It's kicking off a major storyline, it's settling the cast into a new status quo, and it's bringing in both old favorites and new characters. "Avengers Academy" is one of Marvel's most consistently enjoyable titles, and if this issue is anything to go by, it's going to stay that way well into the future.