School can be tough when you’re a teen and it only gets harder when you’re in danger of becoming the next super-powered villain. The kids of Avengers Academy grapple with understanding superhero morality and figuring out how to live with their powers in Avengers Academy, vol. 2: Will We Use This in the Real World? This volume of Avengers Academy collects issues #7-13 of the 2010 series, and my review is for this volume alone, as I didn’t read the previous or following ones.
Avengers Academy is a school founded by Dr. Hank Pym (a.k.a. Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Yellowjacket, and Wasp, among others, at various points in his superhero career). The faculty: a handful of mostly less-well-known superheroes, along with occasional more-famous guest instructors such as Dr. Strange. The students: teens with powers who were previously recruited and tortured by Norman Osborn (of Green Goblin fame) in other comics. The teens struggle with understanding the morality and values the Avengers preach, while juggling concerns and self-esteem issues over their “abnormality” and the threats their powers pose to their own bodies.
I found there were both things to like and to dislike in this run of seven issues. Though the volume and the stories stand alone pretty easily, readers will get more out of it having read the previous six issues, and those with a broader knowledge of the Marvel Universe will benefit the most. Aside from Pym and Quicksilver, most of the existing characters included are more obscure and haven’t yet featured in any of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, so it may not be the best place to dive in for fans coming straight from there. Knowing more about the characters can backfire, though. Pym spends a great deal of the comic grieving for and even considering resurrecting his ex-wife Janet van Dyne (the Wasp). Knowing what I do about his past abuse of her, and her choice to no longer be with him, I found it pretty difficult to sympathize, or to wish for their “happy” reunion.
The story takes the teens and adults through a number of pretty serious issues, finding creative ways to address topics like abuse/trauma, self-harm, and body image. While many will find this relatable and will enjoy the exploration of these ideas, I felt they were fairly surface-level in their portrayal and in what the comics ended up saying about them. Most of the stories are wrapped up within a single issue and aren’t afforded much of an in-depth look, and some of the topics, such as self-harm, feel pretty glossed over or brushed off. There are also instances such as a scene where two characters discuss their negative feelings about their own “abnormal” bodies while simultaneously dropping fat-shaming insults about a fellow super teen. Realistic, perhaps, but not a great look.
In terms of inclusivity, the book at least tries tries. The teens are mixed in terms of gender and race, though the adult heroes lean heavily white and male. Dating and sex come up, but there’s not a single non-heterosexual relationship in sight, even in the “Superhero Prom” issue. While some of the teens might consider their superpowers a “disability,” there are no characters depicted with disabilities we would recognize in our world.
The art overall is adequate but not terribly interesting, and at points is even awkward. Through the seven collected issues, three different pencillers (primary artists) are featured, though the art stays fairly consistent. I noticed a number of perspective issues, strange and unnatural angles, over-dramatic expressions, and a fair amount of awkward posing and/or exposure of female bodies. One particular panel sticks in my mind: the young Veil waking up and arching her body in a way no human woman has ever stretched upon awakening. The adult Cat-person hero Tigra also spends the majority of her time in a bikini with a bra that definitely offers zero support. To be fair, this is her usual costume in the comics canon, but she wears other clothes sometimes, even in Avengers Academy, and I wouldn’t mind seeing her outfit changed up more. Her near-nakedness opens the door for a fair amount of male gaze-steeped artwork.
Overall, the book isn’t terrible but isn’t particularly innovative, either, and I believe there’s better stuff out there. The publisher’s age range of 12+ seems appropriate, and younger readers might find more to interest them than older ones will. Pre-teens and teens may enjoy seeing themselves in the young superheroes and the issues they struggle with as they attend this unique school, and the book offers some fun—just not a whole lot beyond that.
Avengers Academy, vol. 2: Will We Use This in the Real World?
by Christos Gage
Art by Mike McKone, Tom Raney, and Sean Chen
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
[Editor’s note: This year (2018) Marvel started releasing Avengers Academy: The Complete Collection which recollects this series. So far two volumes have been published.
- Volume 1 (collecting issues #1-12 plus crossovers): 9781302909468
- Volume 2 (collecting issues #13-20 plus crossovers): 9781302909451
Further volumes may be forthcoming.]