Ruby Nation

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Avengers Academy #1: Arkham Asylum Youth Outreach Program

Mental illness tends not to be treated well in popular culture. Crazy and evil are synonymous; heroes may have their problems, but serious, debilitating mental problems tend to be the province of villains-- characters who are simply irredeemable. One need only look at how " mad scientist " is used to see this problem-- being emotionally unbalanced translates well into carving up people for fun and profit. In truth, many of the worst actions in human history were justified with perfectly rational ( if hideously unsympathetic ) thoughts, but it's easier to accept an evil figure who wears it on their sleeve.

And nobody knows this better than the Avengers themselves, since not only do they fight crazy evils on a regular basis, but many amongst their members have been crazy in an evil fashion on more than one occasion. This informs the premise of Avengers Academy, the new teen superhero team by Christos Gage and Mike McKone. Six teenage heroes assembled by a faculty of veteran Avengers are told that they're being groomed to be the next generation of heroes. By the end of the issue, they find out that they were picked because they were the most psychologically troubling of superhumans, and the adults are playing damage control lest these kids become a new pack of Norman Osborns.

It's a really strong start, because unlike most teams of teenagers, they don't have typical kid problems. These are the most damaged goods you can get, and most of them suffer from the same conditions that give them superhuman abilities. The POV character, Maddy " Veil " Berry, is gradually turning into gas. Another girl, Haz-Mat, has to live her life in a radiation suit lest she poison everyone around her. The boy Mettle is a giant crimson metal humanoid with a skull face. And while we don't know as much about the other two's respective baggages, the girl Finesse-- the one who appears normal on the surface-- is a hypercompetent polymath with no social graces or basic empathy, described as " Rain Man meets Ninja Assassin ".*

At the same time, they're more sympathetic than the adults, who could be set up as the antagonists. Note that these are Avengers with specific histories of trauma and failure-- of them, Justice is the only character who appears sympathetic to the class**. The cast is round out with promiscuous running joke Tigra, former S&M angst master Speedball, Magneto's bastard son Quicksilver, and Hank Pym ( who is currently calling himself the Wasp after his dead ex-wife's hero name, and needs no introduction beyond that ). They're trying to keep the truth from the new Avengers, and maintain the illusion that these kids can become great heroes. And it's ultimately set up to fail, because if there's one thing teenagers don't like, it's being patronized. However, what we don't know is if learning about how the adult Avengers are treating them as literal time bombs is going to galvanize the kids' resolve-- or be the incident that finally drives them over the edge.

Needless to say, I'm very interested in where this series is headed, because not only is it well-written and well-drawn, but it sets up one of the best premises I've seen from a Marvel book in many years.

* ( If she's actually autistic isn't stated, but hopefully if an actual diagnosis is given, it won't be attached to her being portrayed as a complete sociopath. )
** ( It helps that Justice is one of the two adults in the book actually close to the kids' age, but Maddy goes so far as to describe him as Dr. Phil with Robert Pattinson's looks. I swear, between this and his apperances in the Initiative, the guy could get a crowd of girls to swoon over him even if he was picking his nose and eating the boogers. )


  1. nice review. Again, this isn't my forte, superheros and super madness but I am wondering if maybe it should be. I am drawn to characters whose "disability" or "difference" or "challenge" is inexplicable and then I can spin my head around how to help them feel better.

  2. justice should become a playboy!
    but justice has some experience dealing with these kind of people. after all he dated a girl who was poisoning herself due to her own powers. dont know if firestar will ever gueststar in this comic because she really is similar to the new heroes..

  3. Not only is the idea behind the Academy doomed to fail because of who is running the program, but because their cover story is that they're trying to form a super-hero team. You have a group of kids who have various emotional issues, and your solution is to put them on a super-hero team? That sounds like exactly the sort of calm, stable atmosphere that would be conducive to recovery.

    (And although it's not a fault of the premise itself, I find it ironic that this type of program wouldn't have done a darn thing to prevent the rise of a Norman Osborn or Victor Von Doom or Magneto, villains who didn't become set in their evil ways until their adult years.)

  4. Osborn, Doom, and Magnus may not have truly become set in their ways until they were adults, but they all had very traumatic childhoods, and if not for that they may not have made the same choices as adults. Remember, we're talking about a guy who's father beat him and locked him away for being "too weak," an orphaned gypsy who had to survive on his own since his father died sheltering him from the cold, and a holocaust survivor- not exactly the most well-adjusted individuals, even long before they became outright monsters.

  5. E,

    Note that most of these kids can't pass for normal, and thus wouldn't be suited to other professions. At least as superheroes, they could be like the Thing or the Beast, become known as heroes despite their physical and emotional scars, and find an accepting community. But I don't see Haz-Mat being a waitress or Mettle holding a desk job.

  6. Ironically, prior to House of M, you could totally see stuff like that happening. Wasn't there a whole book about very obvious mutants who weren't part of the X-Men, and all lived in a borough of NYC together?