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Avengers Academy: The Unusual Suspects

November 8th, 2011 by | Tags: , ,

Last week started the new status quo for one of my favorite comics going on right now, and maybe my favorite comic coming out of the Big Two, Christos Gage’s Avengers Academy. In a time when new characters get shoved into cancelation only months into creation, it’s good to see that this series has lasted through 21 issues, a Point One, an appearance in Amazing Spider-Man, a giant-sized crossover with the ill-fated Young Allies, a crossover with Thunderbolts and some cameos in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Like with all good comics that don’t feature a marquee figure, there’s always that looming threat of it being canned, but with the new setting and storyline, now’s as good a time as any to get people to jump on.

I figured I’d take a look at our main cast and maybe inform someone out there enough that they’d give the series a try. In this series, it’s not the past that truly matters for the team of six, but the future. You see, this isn’t your regular young generation superhero team. Just because “Avengers” is in the title and our protagonists are teens doesn’t mean that this is your usual Teen Titans knockoff. It’s not so much a book about teenage Avengers as it’s basically the Teen Thunderbolts. Much like the Thunderbolts, the true hook of the series isn’t actually revealed until the very end of the first issue.

The hook? These are all kids who were controlled, captured, experimented on and/or tortured by Norman Osborn when he was in charge. Now that the good guys have the keys to the kingdom again, some of the mainstays from the ended Avengers Initiative take these kids in and offer to train them, insisting that they’ve got the most potential to do the most good. As the kids discover, this is a big lie. According to their psyche profiles, power sets and histories, they’re all most likely to become some of the world’s biggest supervillains. Hank Pym and the rest are using Avengers Academy as an over-elaborate way to nip their dark futures in the bud. It’s not about training the best of the best. It’s about predemption.

The comic becomes an exercise in looking at each member under a magnifying glass. Who is going to turn out good and who is going to fall from grace? At first it seems obvious. Half come off as truly decent folks while the other half seem like ticking time bombs. As it progresses, the lines begin to fade. We’re kept guessing on who’s going to crack and who’s going to stand tall. Over the last couple years, we’ve seen them clash with the faculty, make decisions that split the team down the middle, see their own possible futures, win battles, lose battles and be forced to take part in the Fear Itself war. And let it be said that Avengers Academy was one of the better tie-ins to that miniseries event.

As of #21, things have become very different. One of the members has quit and Pym has moved them all to the old headquarters of the West Coast Avengers. Now they allow more teen heroes to join, such as Power Man, Boulder, Spider-Girl and that kid with the pet Sentinel, among others. They’re all background, mainly, though Lightspeed and White Tiger have joined the main class with X-23 set to join in a couple issues. Hawkeye’s joined the faculty, showing that Wolverine and Spider-Man aren’t the only ones who can be on way too many teams. Most importantly, there’s been a bit of a murder.

Yep. Jocasta is dead. No sign of her consciousness anywhere. Someone got her good. Not only that, but there’s an outside force that’s intent on making sure the original six members walk towards the dark side.

We have a groovy mystery on our hands, which is as good excuse as any to profile our cast.

REPTIL

Real Name: Humberto Lopez

Powers: Can turn his body parts into dinosaur body parts. Later upgraded to being able to turn himself into a full dinosaur.

His Deal: Reptil is different from the rest of the team in that he isn’t quite all that original. He was originally created for the Marvel Superhero Squad cartoon and given his own Avengers Initiative special one-shot debut later. His paleontologist parents discovered a mystical artifact that gave him his powers, which appears to be something he can’t separate from his body. He trained under Tigra in the Initiative until being experimented on by Osborn.

Since the creation of the Avengers Academy, Reptil has been named team leader. He hasn’t had the most success with the role and honestly, he’s the most forgettable guy on the team. The kind of guy you forget is even there until he says something. His big problem has been his control over his powers. Turning into a full-on dinosaur would turn him into a ravenous monster, but a battle against the cosmic powerhouse Korvac ended with Reptil stealing the experience and control of an older version of himself. He’s got romantic connections with both Finesse and Spider-Girl.

Hero or Villain? On the surface, Reptil seems the most likely to remain a hero. Not only because of the kid cartoon aspect, but because there’s little reason given for him to become evil. He’s still one of the more wholesome members of the Academy and acts as a moral compass. If there’s any downfall, it might deal with the pressure of being team leader, the nature of his dinosaur powers biting him on the ass or something we don’t quite know about him yet. It has been brought up once that he used to be about tracking down his missing parents and not resting until he’s found them, but now he’s just hanging around, doing the hero thing.

Then again, Runaways had its most uninteresting hero make the turn to evil, so who knows?

VEIL

Real Name: Madeline Barry

Powers: Can turn herself into gas.

Her Deal: Like others in the Academy, Veil is one of those Marvel characters who is really just a mutant, only they can’t call them a mutant because that would infringe on whatever stories they’re trying to tell in the X-Men comics. But she’s pretty much a mutant. A humiliating situation in high school led to her turning into gas. Osborn got her permission to help her figure out what the hell and instead just tortured her for months on end until getting her powers to reappear. Doing so has caused some major damage to her biology (not to mention her psychology). She has better control of her powers, but at a tremendous cost. Her body is slowly breaking apart and within a couple years, she’ll dissipate completely.

Pym started working on ways to fix this, though it was up in the air if he’d ever succeed. Like in most comic book stories such as this, the overly specific problem that nobody else can fix is done away with due to the unique actions of a random adventure. The battle with Korvac caused something where Veil was able to stabilize herself a bit. She won’t fade into nothingness in the near future, but the years will make her more ghost-like I guess.

The events of Fear Itself had a strongly negative effect on Veil. Forced to take part in war, Veil’s failure to save a young girl’s mother led to her angrily killing the Nazi responsible in front of the little girl. The story included several of her teammates preparing to sacrifice themselves to save her, which didn’t ultimately happen, but the situation itself drove Veil to her breaking point. Between those events and her slow understanding that all these heroes are flawed individuals who may be more trouble than their worth, she quit the team. Now she works for Jeremy Briggs, another victim of Osborn’s handiwork, who is trying to use his molecule-controlling powers and vast fortune to help the world, but is also a ruthless manipulator who has orchestrated murder just to coax the Academy students into following him.

Hero or Villain? Veil almost appears to be the main character of the book and comes off as the sweetest and purest of the six. That said, the series feels like a slow burn that strips away all of that over time to gradually change her into what Pym and company are trying to prevent. While she’s yet to do anything truly evil, a lot of her bad decisions have been impulsive and based on what she thinks is best without consulting anyone wiser. The superhero concept has lost its flavor with her and the working relationship with Briggs only brings up more questions for the future. Briggs represents the path that Veil’s been taking and it makes you wonder if Briggs’ style will mold her into a villain or if she’s really just trying to take him down from the inside.

Since Veil is no longer part of the team and wasn’t at the campus (as far as we know), I wouldn’t put money on her being behind the murder. Briggs, on the other hand… he’s suspect.

HAZMAT

Real Name: Jennifer Takeda

Powers: Body constantly produces radiation. While she can’t stop herself, she is able to expel it as gas, light, blasts and even EMPs.

Her Deal: Hazmat is the Rogue of the team. Even her origin is similar. When getting busy with her boyfriend, her powers kicked in for the first time and she put him in a coma. Osborn did mad scientist stuff to her and even after Osborn’s downfall, Hazmat had to deal with spending the rest of her life in a containment suit or else she’d poison everyone around her. She’s another one of Pym’s projects, though the closest he’s come to making any real progress is the quick fix of having Hazmat spend time with power-siphoner Leech.

Hazmat lost a lot of hope due to how her potential future self from the Korvac episode still wore a containment suit, but lightened up after taking the advice of her teammates and starting dating Mettle. Due to his powers, he’s able to enjoy her company without the suit, while she understands the feeling of being trapped in one’s own body.

Hero or Villain? A betting man would say that Hazmat is on a dark road. She has a huge chip on her shoulder due to how her powers have removed any possibility of having a normal life. Her attitude, mixed with possible disappointment in the future doesn’t bode well for her chances. On the other hand, we have seen that she can be caring and she does take the heroism seriously. She put an end to the idea of using Leech to temporarily remove her powers, simply because if she isn’t going to be completely cured, she at least doesn’t want to fail her friends when it comes time for battle.

STRIKER

Real Name: Brandon Sharpe

Powers: Manipulation over electricity

His Deal: Striker is like Booster Gold, only more of a dick because he’s a teenager. He grew up with famous parents and was forced into being a child actor. His powers started up when his creepy manager tried to molest him in a limo. He tried to become a superhero, but couldn’t make it work and simply used his powers for entertainment purposes. Rather than capture and torture, Striker was taken under Osborn’s wing via money and women. Striker grew bored with it, but took to the Academy concept due to how it could definitely make him a big star.

Striker has a strong grasp on publicity and knows how to play situations. It runs in his family, since his mother hired out Whirlwind to publicly fight the Academy and lose to Striker himself. Striker feels like he doesn’t get the respect he deserves, yet at the same time understands that others see him as the most likely to become the next big bad guy.

Hero or Villain? Striker is a headstrong jackass with a gigantic ego, but at the same time, he’s easily the most likely to be a hero at the end of the day. Sure, he’s got some anger management issues and is a major womanizer, but there’s not much in it for him to be a bad guy. He has something of a relationship with Veil, which has brought out some of his better qualities, though he rarely lets the others see this. His most heinous acts have saving graces to them. He led the mission to track down the Hood, beat the piss out of him on camera and make the video viral, but he genuinely felt it would make Tigra feel better about being tormented by the Hood (and in a creepy moment, we’re shown that in secret it did) and that it was easily the right thing to do. Then after his older self got killed during the Korvac battle, Striker turned back to normal and cheesed it. It wasn’t so much cowardice as it was him just not wanting to die for something as lame as two cosmic people who don’t concern him having a slap fight. When it comes to innocents and his friends, he’s more than ready to lay his electric gonads on the line.

FINESSE

Real Name: Jeanne Foucault

Powers: Photogenic reflexes (ie. Taskmaster and Echo’s powers) and brilliant detective skills

Her Deal: The Audrey Hepburn lookalike is in the same boat as Striker when it comes to her lack of trauma. Due to her abilities, she’s been a renaissance girl growing up and has easily won piles and piles of trophies. Finesse was taken in by Osborn due to his promise of giving her more interesting things to learn. With Osborn’s rule transferring into the creation of the Academy, the reasons for Finesse sticking around remain about the same. She wants to watch and learn, though to what ends, even she isn’t sure.

Despite her physical perfection and incredible mind, Finesse’s weakness is that she’s completely socially retarded. She seems completely incapable of showing any emotion whatsoever nor is she able to hold back in a conversation in regards to the feelings of others. Even she feels confused and just a little disturbed by this, giving me a pet theory that she is an android and doesn’t know it. The origin of her abilities intrigue her and she believes that her mother had an affair with the Taskmaster at some point, but due to Taskmaster’s faulty memory and refusal to give up his DNA for testing, that mystery will have to wait.

Seriously, though. The Finesse vs. Taskmaster issue is fantastic and totally heartbreaking. You should check it out.

Finesse has blackmailed Quicksilver into being her mentor, allowing her to study the mindset of a supervillain. Though there doesn’t seem to be too much expression in her reaction, the realization that Quicksilver is now mentoring fellow speedster Lightspeed appears to have wounded her just a little bit. She’s paired up with Reptil, though it hasn’t gone too well due to her social inabilities and brutal honesty.

Hero or Villain? Finesse is a tough nut to crack. She’s a major enigma who can go either way. She appears to be self-serving and cold, but at times her actions have shown her redeeming factors. Most telling is the Fear Itself story where she was fully prepared to die for the safety of the others. She appeared taken aback when Reptil called her a hero and kissed her in response. Even her need to know if Taskmaster is her father shows a well-hidden human touch. It’s also worth pointing out that she was the one who figured out that Jeremy Briggs was up to no good when you could argue that she had little to gain in doing so. Then again, the big murder on campus was done by someone smart and thorough and we just can’t be certain on what makes this girl tick.

METTLE

Real Name: Ken Mack

Powers: Metal body and super strength.

His Deal: Originally set to be called Fortress until I guess there was some kind of copyright cock block, Mettle is a Hawaiian surfer whose skin began to molt off and reveal organic metal underneath. Osborn “improved” him by tearing away off of his flesh to the point that he’s a red Colossus with a creepy skeleton head. Unfortunately, he can’t change back to a more human form. Pym is doing what he can to figure out a way to reverse it, but no luck so far. Although Mettle seems pretty down-to-earth and laid back about things, his situation gets to him more and more over time.

Mettle hasn’t done much in terms of action outside of being the resident strong dude on the team. His main happening is his love for Hazmat, even though that just hit a big bump. During Fear Itself, Tigra had pushed Mettle into killing a Nazi and then tried her best to make it seem like it was a good thing. Mettle’s had trouble dealing ever since and fears that despite being a pacifist, he’s going to grow into a mass murderer.

Hero or Villain? Mettle’s story feels a lot like Veil’s. Really good person who is slowly pushed into darkness. Over time, we see that despite his care-free attitude, he’s not only depressed about his physical state, but he sees negativity where there is none. When he sees Hazmat badmouthing Boulder and calling him ugly, Mettle misunderstands and thinks she’s talking about him. When she can’t consummate their relationship because it brings back memories of what she did to her previous boyfriend, it seems to make him blame his appearance. This also ties into some deep-seated anger issues that have caused him to break things in spurts of rage while at one time lashing out at someone behind him with punches that would turn a normal person to paste. Luckily, it was Juggernaut, who could shrug it all off. As it is right now, he’s probably the toughest call to make.

As for the faculty, could we get some sinister turns from them? Now that Justice and Speedball are gone, we’re down to Pym, Tigra, Quicksilver, Hawkeye and the recently-departed Jocasta. Hawkeye is out of the question and Pym and Quicksilver are still fresh from having their own villain runs. Plus they’ve been spending the last few decades trying to make up for Pym’s wife-hitting, so that’s not happening. So if any of the teachers is behind it, it would be Tigra. While she’s certainly had her problems with the Academy, her problems have stemmed from her being a rational human being. Unless Brad Meltzer is writing this, I doubt she’ll be the perpetrator.

Looking through the back issues, one thing that jumps out to me in regards to the murder mystery is one of the earlier issues, where we see Striker’s backstory. He spends the issue talking and letting his various secrets loose in front of Jocasta, who appears to be inert due to her consciousness being elsewhere. The final page shows Jocasta’s eyes glowing red, showing that there’s definitely something up. Is this all Jocasta’s doing or is there something even bigger going on than a simple whodunit?

I can’t say with any certainty who will be an angel and who will be a devil at the end of the day. It’s all speculation, but Gage has been doing a great job at keeping me guessing. Even if it had to borrow the Avengers’ name to get a boost, it’s cool to see an original team last as long as it has (already more than double that of the ill-fated Order. I miss those guys). I just hope that the hits keep coming and more people get to reading. It’s worth checking out.

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7 comments to “Avengers Academy: The Unusual Suspects”

  1. This book is the best thing Marvel is currently publishing. It’s got heart, humour, and some of the strongest chracterization in a team book I’ve seen in quite a while.


  2. My favorite current book with the word “Avengers” in it.


  3. I concur with both Rick and Mike and even though it is under the Avengers umbrella, Academy feels like a touchstone book that connects various parts of the Marvel Universe while watching these teens grow up. Like New Mutants, the Original New Warriors, The Order, A:Initiative, Runaways, and The Loners, that growth and learning under fire is enthralling while facing a much more mature Marvel Universe. This quality makes the book work…

    Talking “kayfabe”, Veil is full of bs… “growing up I didn’t have much of a family or many friends”… So of course at this crisis, she runs away from the tightest family and friend unit she knows to go with a murderous manipulator. That decision hurt my heart… but this is also what keeps the book interesting.

    Hazmat and Mettle are just the cutest odd couple that could kill me for calling them that ever! And is it me or is this echoing Young Avengers a little…. Time for a crossover… after the Academy survives Magneto, The X-Men, and the Runaways dropping in that is…

    Keep up the good work Gage and thx for the breakdown Gavok! :smile:


  4. I have to say the whole “they might become villains” thing is the least interesting part of the book for me.


  5. Thanks for tipping me off about this a while back. One thing I really appreciate is how Gage handles the sticky problem of exposition: he makes Hank Pym an awkward TMI sort of guy, to the extent that he casually mentions how his wife left him for Hawkeye – to Hawkeye – who mumbles something about a priority Avengers message and bails rather than hear this nerd embarrass himself.


  6. The problem is that disney comics have less maturation and time passing even than batwarner.

    Academy is doomed to forever loop into teen titans style limbo with only a couple of breakout characters dickgraysonising before they too are rebooted back to being kewl teens.


  7. @Flying Tiger Comics: Wow, you are SO EDGY.

    More like Di$ney, am I right? Fight the power!