I’m going to be up front with you right from the start: I love “Avengers Academy.” It’s such a simple but elegant concept (trainees taken in by the Avengers because the heroes are afraid the kids are going to become villains if left to their own devices), and Christos Gage and Mike McKone are selling it with each new issue.
Normally I would be a little hesitant about the third issue of a new series already jumping into a crossover with another title, but in this case linking up with “Thunderbolts” makes sense, what with it being a team of villains being forced to do good in return for lighter sentences. When Striker early on notes that their “field trip” to the prison feels more like a “scared straight” trip, it’s a moment that makes you not only laugh, but feel like this crossover is showing up exactly when it should.
Gage has wisely spent each issue focusing on one member of the “Avengers Academy” group of students, and while Hazmat’s story is the simplest (her toxic body must be forever contained inside her suit), it’s also a good one to hang this story off of. Her life went from bad to worse thanks to Norman Osborn, so her trying to rally the team to hunt Osborn down inside the prison makes sense; doubly so when you remember that these are the trainees that the Avengers feared might become super-villains without proper guidance.
At the same time, Gage keeps the book from getting too dark with a nice mix of humor, from Valkyrie’s “training session” to Reptil’s request to hear the real deal say, “No one can stop the Juggernaut.” Sure, these kids might all have some serious problems, both physical and mental, but I’m starting to warm to them. (Well, maybe not Finesse.) Launching a team book of brand-new characters isn’t easy under the best of circumstances, but Gage makes it look easy.
Of course it helps that McKone is providing pencils. I’ve been a fan of his smooth, slick art for a long time now; I appreciate that he can draw multiple body types, that his faces all look different, and that the physical body language comes across loud and clear. There’s the occasional moment where things don’t seem to work quite right (Angel’s wings look truly bizarre) but on the whole, he’s a good artist and the right choice for this title. Even something as simple as prison bars are given a great amount of detail and care here, and it makes me wish that more books would look this attractive.
I’ve never been a serious “Avengers” fan; I’ll read the occasional title here and there, but I don’t get super-excited because a new issue of one of them came out. (Well, except for “Young Avengers.” That’s an entirely different beast.) In the case of “Avengers Academy,” though, I’ve found my book to hook me. This is great stuff.