Tuesday, 15 June 2010

New Beginnings - Avengers Academy #1

Avengers Academy is the fourth Avengers launch in as many weeks and the second new teen team book out this week, so it’s not got an easy task in making itself seem distinctive. Its premise as the training ground for the next generation of Avengers doesn’t help much either, being rather old. While that’s certainly not something to hold against Avengers Academy, it presents potential downfall in the shape of “New Mutants Syndrome”.

New Mutants was a similarly pitched book in the 80s, training the next generation of X-Men. While the characters were rather cool, they failed to live up to their potential. Of them, only Cannonball has been a proper member of an X-Men team. The rest were gradually written out of New Mutants, never troubling the main X-Men titles, who were happily brining in other new characters like Gambit and Jubilee over them. Instead, they just seem to get trotted out for nostalgia driven New Mutants revival books. It’s not an encouraging precedent.

So when the instructors of the eponymous Avengers Academy tell their batch of students that they’re the next generation, with the potential to be the Captains America of the future, I responded with a little scepticism. Thankfully, so do the kids and there is indeed more to their recruitment and tutelage that is immediately apparent.

The characters themselves are a mixed bunch. Our narrator Veil is a bit of a cliché, the lonely, nerdy girl who just wants to disappear at school and then does, but she’s a relatively neutral ground from which to see the other recruits.

Striker, Hazmat and Reptil do little for me at the moment. In fact Reptil and Striker seem to acting interchangeably, comparing their actions and their descriptions from the back matter. Mettle is interesting not only because he’s visually a cross between Colossus and the Red Skull, but he’s aware of the potential of they all have for failure. Finesse walks the fine-line between interesting and walking plot device, but is fine at the moment.

The team are trained by a host of old-school Avengers (Henry Pym, Quicksilver, Tigra, Justice) but most interestingly by Speedball, who’s given up being Penance in identity if not yet in personality.

Pencils are provided by Mike McKone, who’s a fairly competent artist, but doesn’t always manage to mask his limitations. The number of faces he can draw is quite limited and at times Reptil and Striker look very similar, as do Speedball and Pym, if you ignore costumes. The colours feel slightly over-saturated in places as well, very heavy on oranges and blues, though neither are massive problems.

Avengers Academy does have the question hanging over it of whether anything it does will matter in the long term, whether its recruits will ever live up to the potential we’re supposed to believe they have. Thankfully, writer Christos Gage is aware of this and is asking the same questions of his characters, which makes this first issue a promising start for the book.

Martin S Smith is an author and blogger. He’s just released his first book, The Redundancy of Flightless Birds, and reviews stuff every week over at The Taste of Rising Bile.

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