"Avengers Academy" recently added two new main characters (Lightspeed and White Tiger), so a third character showing up this month seems a little odd at first. But then again, if you had the chance of introducing X-23 in issue #21 or #23, I bet you'd pick the latter, too.
Christos Gage does a good job right off the bat of drawing parallels between X-23's origin and that of the Avengers Academy kids; after all, if anyone's going to understand being twisted by villains into a killing machine, it's these characters, right? I'd actually go so far as to say that Gage has already done a better job of moving X-23 into the book than Lightspeed or White Tiger so far; she has an instant purpose of sounding board when it comes to dealing with the other characters, and she stands out far more than the largely personality free White Tiger.
Gage is juggling three plots here, though, and the other two have their own merits, as well. Striker's coming out to Lightspeed is handled well (even if editorial spilled the beans a few weeks ago) and comes across as quite sincere, although I probably could have done without the molestation portion of the back story. (I understand that a lot of gay kids are targeted because of the perpetrator choosing kids less likely to talk because of their own hidden guilt over being gay, but it's become such a cliché and is so often misunderstood as "molestation = becoming gay" that I'd rather not see it used so often in fiction.) If nothing else it gives a slight character hook for Lightspeed, whose purpose up until now has felt a bit vague, and I'd like to see where Gage is going to move from here with both Lightspeed and Striker.
As for the bigger plotline of Evil Future Reptil, this month's installment definitely is kicking up the pace. We're starting to see his scheme playing out, and his actions are some strong hooks for the months to come, as we start learning how other members of the Academy are being considered expendable. It's good short- and long-term plotting, and it also hammers out a firm direction for the title to move in.
Tom Raney and Scott Hanna do a good job here; that early splash of Tigra and X-23 sparring is beautifully drawn without being exploitative, and the startled looks on the faces of the rest of the cast on the next page is classic Raney. It's funny, a tiny bit cartoonish, and quite expressive. Every now and then some of the staging looks a little awkward (like Giant-Man looming over the Quinjet) but the scene with Reptil and Jimmy in Jimmy's room is so grotesquely wonderful that I'm more than willing to forgive the occasional odd moment.
"Avengers Academy" has, post-"Fear Itself," picked up the pace and become a strong, tightly focused book. (It was good before, but this feels like a real shot in the arm.) Hopefully it will get the attention it deserves; Gage, Raney, and Hanna are turning out a fun and consistent comic here. I'm more than happy to stay enrolled with them as the deans of the school, thank you very much.