Avengers Academy is a unique series, using the “superhero school” setting that’s often attributed to the X-Men comics but giving it its own twist. These kids aren’t recruited just because they have superpowers — they’re recruited because Hank Pym believes they could become the next big supervillains if they aren’t careful.
The first arc of the trade brings Julie Power of the Power Pack into the fray. While the future Humberto story is the focus, there’s a great subplot early on about Julie and Brandon coming out. Avengers Academy can be very progressive at times, introducing a cast with multiple characters of color and different sexualities, but it can also be outdated in its language when handling these themes. For example, at one point Jenny essentially tells Julie she should just come out because “it’s the 21st century” and no one would judge her — a statement that’s clearly incorrect.
It’s these little moments where one realizes despite the writer’s best intentions, there are some outdated concepts being applied. Jenny and Nico’s conversation about “radioactive Asians” is another example of the story thinking it’s more progressive than it is and failing miserably.
However, Avengers Academy also deals with a lot of these representational issues really well at the same time. Brandon Sharpe’s coming out scene has always stuck with me since I first read it, and it’s one of the best coming out scenes Marvel has ever done. Brandon’s coming out scene is one of the highlights of the comic overall, actually. Having Julie, an out bisexual character around, Brandon feels comfortable coming out to her — a scene that’s probably still really relatable to many LGBT kids who find comfort in each other. Julie confesses that sometimes she’s been told to “pick a side” or that she’s just “confused” — something that is again, really relatable to a lot of bisexual kids in particular.
This issue addresses stereotypes of biphobia and homophobia that many LGBT folks face and it does it surprisingly well for a 2000s comic. It’s a touching scene of queer solidarity and the Julie/Brandon friendship is one of the best in the book because of it. There’s also a bit where Brandon confides in Julie about the sexual abuse he faced as a child, to which Julie tells him that he shouldn’t blame himself as he was a child and it was an adult’s fault for taking advantage of him. It’s a pretty heavy topic, but the comic makes all the right moves in addressing it, never victim-blaming Brandon.
This is the series where Julie finally ends up getting a girlfriend too, and it’s cute to see her hook up with the Runaways’ Karolina Dean.
Interesting bonds don’t end with Julie and Brandon, though, because Finesse and Quicksilver are also a strange highlight of this title. Keep in mind, this is a Pietro post-House of M who is still lying about his actions being that of a skrull. Finesse serves as an interesting redemption arc of sorts for him, proving the complexities of Pietro’s character and that he still does have a heart. Finesse originally wants Pietro to teach her to be like Magneto, but because of the bond they develop, she later asks Pietro to be more like her. It’s an interesting dynamic between two schemers who have an admittedly touching father/daughter-like relationship. Pietro’s character truly thrived in this series.
The X-Men’s cameos in this title are mostly great — Emma Frost is a delight as always and has some great zingers. But the book peters off a bit steam-wise during the AvX tie-in chapters. Certain aspects are interesting, such as the Sebastian Shaw plot (and a callback to that famous Wolverine image from the original Dark Phoenix Saga). But, for the most part, the AvX bits are the weakest of the title. The bits of the X-Men kids interacting with the Avengers Academy kids are a highlight of these chapters, however, as the two teams interact very seamlessly with one another.
Like Julie, Laura Kinney also becomes a great addition to the book this volume. Laura fits in surprisingly well and Gage does great work examining her character. She particularly shines during the Final Exam arc, in which she gets some emotionally charged scenes with Finesse.
Ken and Jenny also shine in this arc, being two of the more tragic characters who finally get a chance to be free of their powers. Like Brandon’s coming out scene, Ken and Jenny taking the serum to re-power themselves in order to save their friends is one of the most emotional scenes in the book. It’s really great stuff character-wise.
Avengers Academy is a great series filled with lovable and complex characters. The cameos from the X-Men and the Runaways in this volume are great, there’s some wonderful emotionally charged scenes, and the book often handles its heavier issues quite well.
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