Book Of The Week – AVENGERS ACADEMY #13
This is a week in which Marvel have released a great deal of AVENGERS ACADEMY material; the next issue of the regular series shipping two weeks after the last, as well as a giant sized annual style crossover with the canceled YOUNG ALLIES (more on that below). This is in addition to the kids from the Academy guest starring in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #661 and #662. To be honest it was a mighty struggle between this 13th issue and AVENGERS ACADEMY GIANT-SIZE for the title of Book Of The Week; it was even once considered to offer both as a tie. But this is America, where we like our sports to have definite winners and losers, not to end in ties – hockey games no longer can end in a tie, football games almost never, and soccer is still not big here. In the end, this regular issue won out because in it, writer Christos Gage and artist Sean Chen (alongside inker Scott Hanna and colorist Jeromy Cox) manage to accomplish something rare in superhero comics. They manage to have 22 pages of proper character development and culminations from the previous year of comics without one brawl with a villain or a bleak ending. The cover teases a “super hero prom” and that is exactly what happens, and it probably is a more interesting prom than many people have had. There are no rented limo’s or cheap tuxedos, but more than enough characters and banter to go around.
At this point it is worth taking a moment to acknowledge the feat that this comic has accomplished – selling well enough to last past a full calendar year with no official word of cancellation looming. From 2009 to now, Marvel has had several new launches that have not lasted this long, such as S.W.O.R.D., DOCTOR VOODOO, and YOUNG ALLIES. Even some of their relaunches of older franchises, like VENGEANCE OF THE MOON KNIGHT, have not lasted twelve issues, much less more. Considering that AVENGERS ACADEMY is a book that stars mostly a cast of new or newer characters as well as 2nd and 3rd stringers like Hank Pym, Tigra, Speedball, and Justice in a market in which a secondary Iron Man comic can’t even last a year (IRON MAN LEGACY), this is an incredible accomplishment by Gage and his stable of artists. The last issue ended a two issue story in which the Academy cadets had to prove their mettle against Korvac, one of the greatest villains in Avengers’ history (http://icedjamb.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-4-20-11-is-t-rex-wednesday-the-new-casual-friday-review). This issue is a great breath of air after that high octane saga, where the characters can get a chance to stretch their limbs and forget being miserable or in danger for a bit.
Because six teenagers are too few for a proper prom, even with their adult teachers as chaperones, Gage has some left over cast members from AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE show up to fill the dance floor, as well as the cast from the canceled YOUNG ALLIES book (which include Spider-Girl, who got to branch off into her own canceled book). This story takes place directly after the events of AVENGERS ACADEMY GIANT-SIZE, but those who read this first (or at all) should not be terribly confused. Every character from the students to their teachers get at least a page or two’s worth of development. In the case of Justice, a scene between him, his ex, and his current girlfriend is a long time in coming (nearly three years). The dialogue is often crisp and there are many amusing exchanges and snappy one liners such as, “No fighting amongst yourselves. This isn’t the X-Men”. A development for Reptil that emerged in the previous issue has a satisfying conclusion, and in a way this is a satisfying conclusion to the previous year’s worth of stories, and provides a proper book end for the second year’s worth of stories. It is the sort of story that is simple to the point that a review of it without word for word summaries seems lazy, but once it has been read, it’s readily appreciated.
The only downside is the cover by Billy Tan, which reveals the conclusion of one of the issue’s most tender moments and subplots. Comics that treat revealing the scene on the cover as a surprise can be irritating, and many times that is due to a simplistic cover.
Fans of new and young Marvel characters as well as comics that don’t take everything seriously while still having plenty of genuine human moments – serious, romantic, awkward and funny – should enjoy this issue immensely. The next issue promises a battle against the Sinister Six, and that is fine after a break. Between double shipping, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN guest appearances, the .1 issue next month and the GIANT-SIZE issue this month, Marvel is about to readily push the series about as hard as they were pushing AGENTS OF ATLAS. This is good, as it is a seriously underrated comic. Via a FEAR ITSELF tie in, Marvel has committed to this series until issue twenty, and hopefully it will survive beyond that. This issue is one of many examples as to why.
AVENGERS ACADEMY GIANT-SIZE #1 – For the record, this massive one shot should be read before AVENGERS ACADEMY #13, as it sets up the “Super Hero Prom” properly. For those who don’t like to see their teenage super heroes dance, this mega-issue has plenty of action for your eight dollars. This is a story that Marvel has attempted to package and sell twice before, to the point of releasing solicitations and paying Chris Samnee for three covers. First, this was meant to be a three part story that would run through the annual issues of Academy, YOUNG ALLIES and SPIDER-GIRL (much as Marvel is currently doing for their annuals for UNCANNY X-MEN, DEADPOOL, and CAPTAIN AMERICA); the dilemma came when the latter two series were canceled before issue nine. Then, it was meant to be sold as a three issue mini series called ARCADE: DEATH GAME which was to have begun in February. Marvel evidently realized that such a title would sell poorly. Thus, they have chosen to sell it as AVENGERS ACADEMY GIANT-SIZE and sell all three issues as one large chunk. Wouldn’t it have been wiser to have simply sold it as AVENGERS ACADEMY: DEATH GAME in February? At any rate, while a $7.99 cover price is oppressive for fans and retailers alike, it does wind up being cheaper in total than three shorter issues would have been – albeit by 98 cents. Despite the cover Ed McGuiness cover, neither Steve Rogers, Spider-Man, and/or Iron Man do not appear in this issue (nor is there 80 pages of story content). The story is written by Paul Tobin, the regular writer of SPIDER-GIRL, and David Baldeon, who was the regular artist on YOUNG ALLIES (alongside Chris Sotomayor, who was the regular colorist of YOUNG ALLIES). Most of the cadets of Avengers Academy – at least the ones who can safely venture outside – have a day off around the same time as 3/5ths of the unofficial team the Young Allies happen to be in the middle of a patrol. As one shuttled title implied, the unifying stimilus is Arcade, the infamous X-MEN villain who has made his living out of trapping heroes in “Murderworld” death traps and vaguely imitating DC’s Joker (at least circa 1977). The gist is that Arcade is supposed to be a professional hit man, and made a very successful career out of killing normal civilians; he simply enjoys the challenge of super heroes, who routinely survive his attacks. Wanting to rebuild his reputation, he decides to take on novice heroes instead of experienced ones like Spider-Man, Human Torch, or the X-Men. This also provides an excuse for the casts from two teenager super hero comics to meet and unite against a common foe. Tobin manages to capture the voices of characters written by Christos Gage and Sean McKeever very well, and portrays an Arcade who is both hilarious and chilling. The art and colors match the tone of the story well, going for over the top action with robots and sharks one moment and showing Arcade looking sinister (via shadows) the next. While there are segments in which it is obvious that this was intended to be released as three separate comics as well as one modestly annoying narration box error on page six, on the whole the product is an entertaining romp of a tale. While there may be characters who Tobin omitted that may be missed, but on the whole he is wise to choose a cast he can reasonably flesh out and play with for 66 pages. Given the high cost at the wholesale level, shops may not order many copies of this; make sure to nab it while you can.
HERC #2 – This issue is running two weeks late, as the title was intended to double-ship in April; whether it will instead do so in May is unknown. Continuing from last issue’s cliffhanger (http://icedjamb.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-4-6-11-will-fear-itself-be-annihilated-review), the titular Hercules, who is no longer immortal or super-powered, must face off against the all new Hobgoblin. In a way, Hobgoblin is becoming one of those villains who is passed around several comics at once like a Canadian penny; he has already shown up in SPIDER-GIRL after being the antagonist of the kick off arc on BIG TIME (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) late last year. Marvel has “spammed” villains in a similar fashion in the recent past, such as Nightmare, Griffen, and the Wrecking Crew, and it can grow irritating for those who read many titles. Beyond that, writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente alongside Neil Edward’s pencils, Scott Hanna’s inks and Jesus Aburtov’s colors helm a great battle sequence between a depowered god and an insane, technologically empowered metahuman. While Herc may lack his godly strength and invulnerability, he has some mystical weapons and centuries of battle experience handy. Pak and Van Lente straddle a fine line between doing “street crime” stories while also doing the mystical demigod stories that INCREDIBLE HERCULES was famous for. So many relaunches of ongoing titles are done simply to spike sales or fiddle with a number, yet this relaunch has managed to capture the idea of having a genuinely new idea or direction with the franchise. Hercules is no longer running with Amadeus Cho and his style of adventure as well as tactics have changed. While super heroes have been doing the “proving oneself without one’s super powers, until they return” stories since the 50’s (or earlier), this take on Herc manages to have more meat on it than it often has with other heroes. It is easy to settle into the idea of Hercules as a drunken brawler with Class 100 strength, and this premise forces both Herc and the reader to change that view. Plus, it is centered in Brooklyn, which does my heart proud. Maybe some local comic book shops can stage a promotional event with some of the artists or writers of this series? At any rate, Pak and Ven Lente continue their exceptional streak of great Hercules comics, and it is good to see Marvel tenaciously support a franchise with endless launches and relaunches besides BLACK PANTHER and MOON KNIGHT.
Obligatory Review – FEAR ITSELF #2
This is the issue in Marvel’s latest annual “event” mini series in which Matt Fraction reveals the minions of his big villain, who are called “the Worthy”. This would be an incredible surprise, had Marvel chosen not to reveal who all of them were two weeks ago across the Internet (http://icedjamb.com/comic-books-in-new-york/marvel-comics-news-for-4-19-11-the-worthy-revealed-namor-canned-1-results). If you have avoided the Internet for the past few weeks, then the revelations of this issue might be a surprise. If not, then the fact that Juggernaut, Hulk, Titania, and Attuma have become “Worthy” alongside Sin/Skadi will be old news. The Thing is set to become “Worthy” in the next issue, and subsequent cross-overs with IRON MAN 2.0 and INVINCIBLE IRON MAN will have Absorbing Man and Grey Gargoyle step into their pre-determined, already-revealed roles. In the effort to promote their big stories, Marvel has decided to reveal critical details to them weeks in advance – therefore asking the reader to invest $3.99 in a story in which they already know the key details, which the issue will treat as a surprise. And Marvel wonder why internet piracy is a scourge? While the last issue offered 44 pages of story for $3.99, this one manages only 23. The ancient Norse adversary – the former Highfather of the gods who Odin calls “the Serpent” – has thrown his hammers around the world to summon his “Worthy”, who just so happen to all be established characters who mostly are either villains or have battled Thor before. Odin has ordered all of the Asgardians to march from Broxton, Oklahoma back to the realm of Asgard, with Thor in chains for disagreeing with abandoning humanity to the Serpent. No longer is Odin a wise and calculating father figure – he is now an aggressive, petty, judging character who seems to have little regard for mortals. In one fell swoop, the premise behind THUNDERBOLTS is ripped from it’s writer (Jeff Parker) as Juggernaut’s hammer causes an explosion that frees all of the criminals from the Raft. The Serpent continues to sow panic among the mortals with it’s evil godly presence, and Fraction displays this by having snippets of news reports give vaguely disturbing sound bites about events – a narrative gimmick that Frank Miller ran into the ground in 1987. Steve Rogers orders the Avengers to split up across the globe to investigate the fallen hammers, but little of that actually happens in this issue. The Future Foundation come across one in New York that Thing is destined to wield. Becoming “Worthy” makes the subject a pawn of the Serpent, although certain figures seem to display more free will than others. Sin, as Skadi, has enough of her old self to assemble an army of Nazi robots (in her continuing quest to duplicate her father the Red Skull), while Hulk, as Nul, tries to warn Betty/Red She-Hulk to flee before his rampage. Juggernaut, as Kuurth, seems to be a slave to the Serpent and no longer needs eye holes to reign destruction. Given that “X-MEN 3” came out in 2006, the fact that Marvel waited at least 4 years to have Juggernaut duplicate his helmet’s design from that film is either a case of sluggish momentum or genius beyond mortal reasoning. The artwork by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger (inks) and Laura Martin (colors) is brilliant, with a sequence in which Odin literally remakes Asgard with every step of himself and the Asgardians being the highlight of the issue. The downfall remains Fraction’s writing; it isn’t that it is exceptionally horrendous, but is absurdly average. The summery is an ancient evil guy has awoken, is throwing down Mjolnir imitation hammers to earth to recruit minions for himself and sow chaos, and the heroes will have to fight him. That is literally it, dragged out to seven issues at $4 a pop. The similarities between this and DC’s “throw Lantern rings around” events is uncanny – perhaps this is FEAR ITSELF because THOREST NIGHT or THOREST DAY would have been too obvious. Marvel’s answer to every franchise that has experienced popularity in either comics, an upcoming film or both is to stretch it to it’s breaking point and beat it flat. This has been done with Venom, Ghost Rider and Punisher in the 90’s and has been done to Wolverine, Deadpool, and the Hulk recently. Is this a sign that it is now Thor’s turn to be Thored out? Perhaps the biggest hurdle is this is a story that is fit for a Saturday morning cartoon that insists it be taken seriously because society is in a paranoid mood lately, thus “paranoid society” signs are stuck atop the script beats. It is akin to Skeletor unleashing a monster on Eternia and the audience of “HE-MAN” having to deal with seven episodes of woe because that made the Eternian stock market crash. The Achilles Heel of all of Marvel’s line wide crossover events of recent years have been dodgy stories drawn by great artists, and so far FEAR ITSELF remains little exception.
Other Good Reads: Batman Beyond #5 (DC Comics); Annihilators #3, Fear Itself: The Home Front #2 & Heroes For Hire #6 (Marvel Comics)
Last Week’s Reviews – http://icedjamb.com/comic-books-in-new-york/comic-book-week-for-4-27-11-this-mace-isn-t-for-spraying-or-rapping-review