Christos Gage and Tom Grummett kick off a "Final Exam" storyline in "Avengers Academy" #34, and we've heard the claims before: "Everything changes!" -- but now that I've read the opening chapter, I find myself believing that boast.
With the Avengers Academy closing thanks to the ongoing battle between the Avengers and X-Men (Hazmat's comment, "This Avengers vs. X-Men crap just keeps dragging on" made me laugh on so many levels), a story like "Final Exam" was clearly looming overhead, and Gage delivers on that promise. It builds on everything we've seen over the last year with character relationships and developments, and it's a pleasant feeling to see a book that clearly has a direction that builds naturally instead of coming out of the blue.
The return of untrustworthy genius Jeremy Briggs to the book was inevitable -- after all, Veil and Jocasta had both already gone over to his side -- and Gage plays that moment well. The initial offering of cures seems too good to be true, but the proverbial penny dropping still comes as a surprise once you learn what the real plan involves. The story moves quickly from there, bringing in some forgotten characters from a couple of years ago whose presence fits in quite nicely with "Avengers Academy" in general. It's a strong opening script and I feel like Gage is hitting all the right beats.
Tom Grummett and Cory Hamscher provide a solid look to "Avengers Academy" #34, too. It's not flashy but it doesn't need to be; Grummett's pencils use traditional storytelling techniques in a manner that are easy to follow and are well proportioned. He handles the humorous moments well (like the pull back to where X-23 and Finesse went to see if they could fit in), but the serious and dramatic scenes have just the same amount of heft. Grummett's an artist with whom you know exactly what you're going to get; there's a layer of professionalism always attached to his work that is pleasantly consistent.
"Avengers Academy" #34 feels like it could be the start of the end of the series; if it wasn't for the October solicitations showing at least one more issue beyond the end of "Final Exam," I'd be worried. Still, that's a good sign for us as readers; it says that "Final Exam" genuinely feels like a game changer. Here's to the next three chapters not proving us wrong.