Book Of The Week – AVENGERS ACADEMY #19
Two weeks late, but better than never, this issue concludes the five issue crossover tie in with FEAR ITSELF. As the lowest selling of the four Avengers titles, AVENGERS ACADEMY needed the potential sales boost from this crossover the most. It did see a modest one, but perhaps not to what editorial wanted. The bigger story is that crossover tie-in’s have ceased to boost sales for most Marvel titles for the past two years – mostly because retailers and readers have caught on that little of consequence to the event itself happens in said tie-in’s. And in terms of FEAR ITSELF, nothing in these five issues has vastly mattered to the plot. However, writer Christos Gage is too wise to make such issues feel meaningless. A pro with handling crossover tie-in’s from his years writing and co-writing AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE, Gage knows to continue to focus the story on advancing characters and long term subplots. That is exactly what happens here. The cadets face their darkest hour (picking up from last issue’s cliffhanger:http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-8-17-11-where-s-speedball-when-you-need-him-review), they are forced to come up with the better of several terrible solutions to their problem, and at the end, one of them can no longer handle the strain.
Tom Raney returns on art, and is up to his usual high form alongside Scott Hanna on inks and Jeromy Cox on colors. He gets a lot of action as well as emotional beats to play with, as well as far-out locations from the Infinite Mansion to the Microverse to an aircraft carrier. This is also the first issue in a while in which the entire team – aside for Jocasta and Speedball, who are busy in FEAR ITSELF: THE HOME FRONT – assemble. Virtually every character gets a moment to shine, or at least a couple of good lines. Finesse continues on her path to seeming like more than a standard “emotionless” character, which is good; the issue also focuses on it’s two couples heavily. The adult Avengers save the day to a degree, but by this point the reader is not disappointed, because they don’t want anyone to die. If there is one major downer to the plot, it is that neither of the two “Worthy” villains here – Absorbing Man and Titania – can be defeated because they are required by contractual obligation to appear in FEAR ITSELF #7; they all bit literally say that in dialogue. Thus, one can see why the tie-in’s didn’t attract much fire; Marvel made a beat deal about “The Worthy” fighting other heroes in other books, but a battle in which a conclusion cannot be reached is aimless – just look at America’s wars in the Middle East. Still, Gage has used this arc to put his young heroes through the worst situation they’d ever been in – which itself was a challenge – and see who rose to the challenge and who crumbled.
It is difficult to review this comic without giving away a spoiler, but here goes. One of the cadets leaves the team; not to death, but due to no longer believing in the cause. Without giving much away, it is one of the female members and it isn’t Finesse. It is a character that has been predicted as leaving several times in this column in reaction to news stories (such as two weeks ago:http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/marvel-comics-news-9-13-11-cable-returns-again-x-23-joins-academy-more). According to solicitations, X-23 will replace this cadet, and according to the letter column, some of the teachers may also leave. The book will see a change of scenery, and thus this arc was hardly a waste of time. In fairness, at least one of the cadets had to wash out and possibly meet a dark path; if not, the Avengers’ premise of wishing to prevent these kids from becoming menaces would have seemed paranoid. It will be interesting to see if the corporate antagonists Jeremy Briggs from the 14.1 issue will become involved in this subplot (http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-6-1-11-decimal-issues-can-be-fun-and-educational-review).
As always, AVENGERS ACADEMY is the top of the heap due to several things that are usually always consistent in every issue. There is great art, a lot of action, good dialogue and solid characterization with both old and new characters. It’s the most underappreciated Avengers title and it’s a pleasure to read every month.
Honorable Mentions: Spider-Island Edition!
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #670 – This is now the midway point of the SPIDER-ISLAND event within AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (not including crossover tie-in’s in HERC or VENOM); the story itself is supposedly six chapters, with a prelude and an epilogue. As such, Dan Slott’s script is very busy and has a lot of things to do, in regards to the general thrust of the story itself as well as setting up scenes to be played out in detail in the tie-in material. Spider-Man himself is barely in half of the 23 pages within this issue (and that’s including a flashback). As the cover indicates, most of the plot of this issue embellishes on the fact that mayor J. Jonah Jameson is now one of the countless New Yorkers who has gained Spider-Man-like powers. Thus, he gets to have a team-up with the web-slinger which is as amusing as it sounds. However, the situation by the Jackal and the Queen has reached a critical juncture; those who have been altered by their plot are no longer simply budding spider-powers, but are becoming giant spiders that are now under the Queen’s control. The Queen herself lays out a couple pages of exposition which recap her origin from 2004 as well as confirming where her minion Spider-King came from. The series also continues along with Mr. Fantastic and the Horizon Lab staff’s attempt to come up with a cure for the “infestation”, while Anti-Venom finds himself finally being embraced as a hero by the populace – and taken seriously by other heroes – because he can cure those infected with his own powers. The ending of the issue brings back elements revolving around the SPIDER-SLAYER arc that was Dan Slott’s second as he went on his “BIG TIME” push on ASM. Thus, long term readers are rewarded with a “mini event” which also settles long term subplots from last year. Humberto Ramos continues on regular art chores, and between Anti-Venom, regular Venom (who guest stars here), and various Spider-Monsters, he gets oodles to play with. Ramos has always been better with characters who are less human looking, and thus monstrous types allow him to go wild. Highlights include Slott using clever use of continuity with Alicia Masters, as well as the subplot with MJ reaching an inevitable conclusion. This isn’t the best issue of the arc, but it still a riveting and suspenseful segment of one of the biggest Spider-Man stories in years. While the climax is telegraphed a little bit here, subsequent issues should provide far more bang. If one wants to catch up, the review to the previous issue is here:http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-9-14-11-everyone-has-spider-powers-but-me-review.
VENOM #7 – As the first successful spin off of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in years, it makes sense that VENOM would be included as part of the SPIDER-ISLAND crossover. Unlike the crossover tie-in’s from FEAR ITSELF, where things that happen in the tie-in’s don’t matter to the bigger “event”, VENOM has proven to be rather key to SPIDER-ISLAND. Specifically, the identity of the Spider-King minion was revealed last month in VENOM #6, while those who skipped that had to wait until ASM #670. Much like Christos Gage, writer Rick Remender manages to keep his story about his main characters and general subplot so that it feels like an organic chunk of story overall. Artist Tom Fowler is in the rotation this round (he and Tony Moore are rotating artists), with John Rauch on colors. Despite the fact that there’s this entire plot about Spider-Monsters plaguing Manhattan, the issue focuses on Flash Thompson and his struggle as the military’s latest Venom. Infiltrating the enemy via the alien symbiote’s camouflage powers, Venom has learned that Eddie Brock – the former host of the symbiote now called Anti-Venom – has the cure to the infestation. He is tasked with bringing Brock in alive, but Flash’s alien once again reacts in ways that Flash cannot predict. Meanwhile, Flash’s abusive, alcoholic father is dying in the background from liver cancer and he has to decide whether to weep or cheer. The Venom vs. Anti-Venom fight was something that was inevitable and is thrilling to see as drawn by Fowler, but as always, Thompson remains the centerpiece of this series. Remender’s success with this series is in establishing Thompson as a viable and interesting lead hero after decades of being a supporting character to another hero. Future issues, according to solicitations, promise more involvement by Brock, and this issue sets that dynamic up brilliantly. This is a book with a bright future ahead of it with a lot of potential, and it’s fitting that this incarnation of Venom has been the most popular (in terms of sales) since the 90’s. It happens to be the best written incarnation of the franchise in years, with a brilliant premise and a deeply interesting main character. If VENOM manages to become a clever legacy hero series like IRON FIST, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and GHOST RIDER have become, then so be it. Whether due to a crossover or through positive word of mouth, this is one bit of VENOM that shouldn’t be skipped.
Also Good Reads: Annihilation: Earthfall #1, FF #9, Herc #8, Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger #2, Spider-Island: Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu #2 & Fantastic Four: 50 Fantastic Years Handbook (Marvel Comics)
Reviews of creator owned DREAM REAVER #1 & CITY OF WALLS – http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/report-review-of-dream-reavers-signing-bullet-proof-comics-and-a-bonus-review
Last Week’s Reviews – http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-9-21-11-the-man-without-fear-or-ben-affleck-review