It is a truth universally acknowledged that a well-written and well-drawn comic book about a team of teenage superheroes will have a short but critically acclaimed run and will, in no time at all, develop into a cult classic. Runaways, Avengers Academy, and Young Avengers at Marvel are the most immediate examples that come to mind, though DC Comics, who has launched multiple successful runs on Teen Titans that have varied wildly in quality, has had similar issues (pun intended, very sorry) with books such as Gail Simone’s The Movement. What is it about the teenage superhero comic that fans love so much, but not enough to make Batman numbers? I’ve recently been enjoying Avengers Academy by Christos Gage, which led me to contemplate why such series don’t enjoy longer, ongoing runs despite their rabid fanbase.
Launched as a part of Marvel’s Heroic Age initiative, which put the focus back on… well, heroes being heroes instead of fighting each other. However, Avengers Academy subverted that in a very interesting way. During the Dark Reign, Norman Osborn was in charge of H.A.M.M.E.R., which allowed him to exploit teenagers with superpowers to fight for his side. He mentally, emotionally, and at times physically abused those he was training… and then he was ousted and exposed as a criminal. However, he made his mark on the lives of these teens, which is where the Avengers Academy comes into play. Henry Pym, Tigra, Quicksilver, Justice, and Speedball make up the faculty, and their duty is to mold the minds that Norman Osborn has corrupted into heroes. It’s no mistake that the adult cast of this series is also in much need of redemption for their various sins.
The cast of teens, when the book first kicks off, are as follows:
VEIL (Madeline Berry): A girl whose body is slowly dissipating into nothingness. This allows her to become a gaseous entity to fight villains but, if the process is not slowed, her power will eventually kill her. She is portrayed as nervous and impulsive, until she decides to take it upon herself to solidify her future. So to speak.
STRIKER (Brandon Sharpe): Capable of harnessing the power of electricity, Striker is a brash and seemingly arrogant child actor with a tragic past before he even met Osborn.
REPTIL (Humberto Lopez): Reptil has an extreme case of hero worship when he thinks of the awesome things the folks of the Marvel Universe have done, which inspires him to follow in their footsteps… what’s helpful in his fight against evil is that he can turn parts of his body into dinosaur limbs. He is, however, the first to discover that the reason they are being held in the Avengers Academy is that they are believed the most likely to become supervillains in the future.
METTLE (Ken Mack): He’s… well, despite being a hulking mass of red iridium with a face that looks like a skull, he’s basically what you’d expect from a surfer. He’s just a chill, nice guy. However, he’s also a powerhouse of brute strength that has become depressed by his transformation into something that he considers ugly, especially at a time when his interest in girls is flaring up.
HAZMAT (Jennifer Takeda): There is never a good time to discover that your body secrets radiation, but Hazmat discovering that about herself during an intimate moment with her boyfriend left her traumatized. Exploited by Norman Osborn, Hazmat put on a full body suit and cut herself off from bonding with others, out of fear of hurting them… and herself. However, when she and Mettle discover that he is unharmed by her radiation, they begin to grow close due to their shared pain.
FINESSE (Jeanne Foucault): Finesse is a polymath to a supernatural degree. She is able to observe anything being done and learn that skillset instantly. The fact that she had been honing her ability since a very young age has robbed her of her emotions, leaving her basically clueless during her interactions with the other students. She walks the tightrope between villain and hero far more precariously than the rest, as she has expressed that she fails to see the distinction.
In reading these characters’ interactions, as they figure out who they want to be, it became clear why these books are loved so hard but sell so little. While Batman and Superman are huge ideas, these books – specially this one, Young Avengers, and Runaways – speak to a specific and often marginalized audience. It would be too simple to say that these run on teen angst, though. No, these run on the same fuel that empowered Buffy. With characters like Striker, who comes out as homosexual without that defining his character, and women like Veil, who look to older men for answers that she then finds within herself, Avengers Academy touches a very specific audience that may not relate to the adventures of a Captain America as well as they relate to a story about a growing boy who thinks he’s ugly. These are the tales of teenage woe blown up on a grand scale with a superheroic metaphor, telling stories about teens for teens that adults can enjoy every bit as much as any of Marvel and DC’s main titles, should they give them a try.
PAT SHAND is a writer and editor for Zenescope Entertainment. He can be found in your local comic shop, ordering hundreds of copies of Avengers Academy trades in hopes that Marvel brings this series back.