This week, Marvel began a series that stars a newly-assembled team of youthful heroes in the classic tradition of super-teams past. I am speaking, of course, about “Avengers Academy” #1. Although I can see why you might be confused.
In fairness to “Young Allies”, the series isn’t quite up the same street as “Avengers Academy”. True, both books star young heroes in their own pseudo-team setup, but that’s where the similarities end. Whether the wider audience can see past that is another question.
Where "Avengers Academy" introduced a host of new characters training to become superheroes in the vein of “Avengers: The Initiative” or “New Mutants,” “Young Allies” is more along the lines of (the original) “New Warriors” -- existing heroes of a similar age banding together to form a team for, well, reasons that we haven’t quite got to yet. Indeed, at the moment, the formation of the “team” seems to be motivated by little more than coincidence and happenstance, which doesn’t particularly bode well for the ongoing premise of the title.
Luckily, Sean McKeever’s writing suggests better things for the future. Although McKeever’s DC work was not well received, his Marvel work has always been strong on characters and superheroic soap opera, and this is no different. McKeever quickly establishes the voice of each cast member and plays them off one another. Almost all of the cast have been around for a while without gaining much prominence, so perhaps by establishing their place in a team dynamic, McKeever can find a more permanent place for them.
Baldeon’s art has a light, cartoonish feel that, under Sotomayor’s colors, fit in well with Marvel’s “Heroic Age” tone. It gives the title a “young adult” feel, but that’s not to say it isn’t in squarely in the Marvel Universe. And it certainly makes a change from the current trend towards over-rendered realism that practically became the Marvel house style over the last few years.
Ultimately, the story feels competent but not outstanding. Of course, it’s fairly hard to mess up a “gathering the team” story, even when it’s a slightly atypical one such as this (in that it doesn’t have someone corralling the individual members and telling them what to do). The characters are fine, but it’s the quality of the dilemmas they face that will decide whether future issues work. To that end, we have the “Bastards of Evil,” a team of villains comprising the illegitimate children of super-villains which promises to be a wry take on the concept –- and possibly a more interesting setup than the heroic leads have!
The only glaring error in the issue concerns its timing; It’s apparently set after the next “Amazing Spider-Man” arc, part of which is spoiled by Arana’s “current” status quo. The story tries to bring us up to date on her situation, but that didn’t stop me feeling a bit wrong-footed by the situation early on. That aside, it’s a straightforward opening issue with a lot to like, though I worry whether the lack of a well-defined setup or conceptual twist (both of which “Avengers Academy” #1 delivered) won’t harm the book’s chances in the long term. It’s good, that much is certain,– but only time will tell whether it’s good enough.