Friday, May 24, 2013

Review # 9: "Fear Itself: Avengers Academy"

Sometimes it's fun in an ensemble comic to take a bunch of combustible characters and throw them together in an environment that could explode - both literally and figuratively - at any time. Born in the wake of Dan Slott's run on "Mighty Avengers" that centred on Hank Pym, we get Christos Gage's "Avengers Academy" where a group of young students are told they have the potential to be first-class Avengers and get instruction from a faculty that only an insane person would put together.

I love Hank, but let's face it: his past is sketchy. Still, he has a history that involves education so why not make him a headmaster? I'll tell you why: his staff choices are a volatile attempt at therapy. You have Quicksilver, the arrogant, bigoted, lying blowhard who could suddenly go insane as a false messiah at anytime. You have Justice, who during his stint with the big team nearly ripped his own body apart making poor decisions. You have his buddy Speedball, who until recently had decided that wearing a suit that stabbed him in dozens of different places was a good idea. You have Tigra, who... well, she's really not a threat to go nuts. However, she had a thing with ol' Hank on the west coast and I'm sure that's just great when the good Doctor has the robot his crackpot cyberson made with an imprint of Hank's dead ex-wife's brain.

Oh, and did I mention that the students aren't actually considered potential heroes? After being practically tortured by Norman Osborn during the events of "Dark Reign," they're considered at risk of becoming villains. And what a piece of work this group is with plenty of severe emotional and physical issues to go around. There's Hazmat who's a walking H-Bomb who has to live in a radiation suit; Veil, who can turn into living gas but has a body that's slowly pulling itself apart; Finesse, a colder, female version of Mr. Spock who can instantaneously learn anything; Striker, a new age Electro with mommy issues; Mettle, who had his skin ripped off; and Reptil, who turns into freakin' dinosaurs.

Oh, and of course they find out that's they're actually potential villains quickly with one of them blackmailing Quicksilver into teaching her what Magneto taught him.

So, clearly there's an element for fun if s*** were to hit the fan. And, sure enough, it does. But not in the way you'd expect in "Fear Itself." See, in the Marvel U at the time these Asgardian-style hammers had fallen to earth and transformed a bunch of villains (and a few heroes) into possessed Thor-level Gods. The students (and a few teachers) are dealing with doubt after getting schooled by the new Sinister Six and receiving a job offer from a manipulative possible-killer multi-billionaire (which we all get to see in this trade.) With earth in crisis, the teachers are called in to help and Hank ends up tangling with the now-overpowering and oversized Absorbing Man who he recently took down. Absorbing Man's rage with Pym is so strong that it overcomes the deity controlling his body and the two personalities combine to leave Pym as a giant, unconscious mess.

Then it's time to go after the students at their other-dimensional headquarters. The book turns into a (spoiler alert) kill-free slasher flick as the kids do their best to fend off the Absorbing Man and his creepily-possessed main-squeeze Titania.

And there really isn't much more to it. The students show some heroic self-sacrifice and make some interesting choices, but nothing that lights the world on fire. There are some good lines courtesy of Pym and Tigra and Quicksilver is always an x-factor (no pun intended,) but I really don't feel invested in the kids to the same degree I was with the Young Avengers. It's a good, fun story but is non-essential.

Rating: 6.5/10

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