Christos Gage's "Avengers Academy" #35 brings a blissful moment to a small handful of his characters, one that only serves to make the ending all the more heart wrenching.
Gage has found such a great moment for these characters as he pits them both against one another and against their own hearts and desires. It's the kind of issue that this series has been building to and it pays off nicely even though we're only in part 2 of 4. With the team split, half buried in rubble and fighting for their lives after refusing Jeremy's offer and cure, and the others on Jeremy's side and reaping the "rewards" of his cure, our heroes are left with tough choices and harsh realities.
In this issue Veil, Mettle and especially Hazmat get an opportunity to shine and not just in a heroic sense. We get to see the heart (and unguarded joy) beneath both Mettle and Hazmat as they experience happiness, then almost immediately the fear and disappointment as that happiness is torn away as a result of their own heroic choices, which makes the story all the more compelling (and mournful). It's a pivotal moment in these characters lives, as we've been led to believe all along that these are the heroes that might not make the "right" choices. Here they are, defying expectation as the Avengers had hoped they would. To see them make the heroic stand to save their friends over the selfish one that would bring them what they most desire is truly rewarding and it's to Gage's credit that this feels well earned from a character standpoint.
Di Vito's art in general is a nice fit for this book -- clean and sharp, easy to follow and with a good variety of character faces. Backgrounds are too thin but the strong and consistent character representation makes up for it in most instances.
My biggest complaint (other than backgrounds needing more attention) is that Big Zero has a far more interesting character design than anyone else in the book (save perhaps Mettle and Hazmat when powered up). It's a small nitpick, but a reminder of how much fun comics can be and how safe the designs for much of Avengers Academy are in general. It makes me want to see Gage really take the kid gloves off when it comes to some re-design. We're 35 issues in -- maybe it's time for new looks after the "Final Exam" is over.