The joy of a great teen superhero team story lies in the high dramatic conflict inherent in teenage stories, the relatability of those situations, and the contrast of that relatability to the batsh*t crazy scenarios inherent to being a superteen. It’s a precarious balance, not because one aspect of the story is more important than any other, but because so much of teenage superhero tropes rely on already recognizable iconography — sidekicks or kid versions of famous characters, the appearance of an odd familiar villain here and there, etc.
It’s taken Strange Academy a while to find the right equilibrium only because of how unique its premise and cast are. Sure, a supernatural school isn’t particularly groundbreaking, but its function within the Marvel universe is, and the creation, whole cloth, of the student body means that the characters aren’t exactly quickly identifiable icons. Sure, we understand that the twins are Asgardians, and this issue reveals they have a very famous mother (and hints at a famous, secret father), and Doyle’s dad is Dormammu (a delightful alliteration to type out), but we don’t really know a lot about most of the other students aside from where, roughly, they fit in to the magic-sphere. A lot of work had to be done in the initial few stories to establish everything from tone to abstract concepts.
This issue, however, has us finally on firm ground. Our romantic tensions have recently been amped up, what with Doyle’s self-sacrifice for our personal human stand-in Emily; the bullyish Asgardian Iric’s clear intentions to shove himself right into the middle of that scenario in this issue gives Young and Ramos a lot of room to develop conflict. The issue, in fact, deals almost exclusively with these stakes, having spent so much of the last issue taking a step away from romance to do some developing work with Doyle and his pal Calvin (who doesn’t appear at all in this issue); sure, we’re on a field trip to Asgard, we see Enchantress, there’s an overly-protective girlfriend-driven dust-up, but all of that is the spectacular window dressing of the superteen framing doing its damnedest to insist to the reader that it’s doing its job. Luckily, Skottie Young is managing to allow these characters their own space, withholding from the urge to clutter the narrative up your Scarlet Witches, Magiks, and Man-Things that might be so very tempting to play with.
Issue #10 provides us with some minor character building, some of which—like Toth and Shaylee’s newfound relationship status—feels somewhat shoehorned in, if only because we’re playing catch-up on the ‘teen drama’ aspect of the narrative after spending so much time developing the batsh*t aspects of our framing.
Humberto Ramos is, as always, a delight, bordering as he does on the full cartoon bubble pop, which really makes our characters delightfully expressive and dynamic—Ramos is an artist that all but refutes static moments, and in a world defined by the chaos that is magic, everything moves. Edgar Delgado does wonders in creating depth and adding highlights to each character, making them feel more substantial than Ramos can sometimes feel—the color hammers home the roundness and weight of the characters, the openness of negative space. It’s a book that feels completely grounded while also managing to be completely unreal.
There are aspects of the book that would have me reading it even if it wasn’t very good (I’ve been a diehard Ramos fan ever since Crimson; the supernatural of the Marvel Universe is nearly the direct center of my heart), so I—and you, dear reader—are lucky that it is, indeed, quite good.
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