Avengers Academy has always been an interesting read, and it's one of the books I look forward to each month, so chances are their chapter of the Fear Itself madness was going to get a favorable response from me anyway. However, Christos Gage earned his rating in Avengers Academy #15 with one simple exchange that spoke for a lot of us who've been rolling our eyes at some of the main-event malarkey going on with Marvel's big-time summer blockbuster.
As the metahuman prison called the Raft explodes thanks to Juggernaut going apeshit over in Thunderbolts, Henry Pym, Justice and Quicksilver are called in to help contain the escapees, leaving Tigra in charge of the kids in case things get bad enough that the At-Risk Avenger teens will even get pressed into service - which, of course, is the case once Sin and her Nazi war machine launch the blitzkrieg on Washington D.C. When Pym's done with the Raft, he tries to return to help the kids in their war effort, but SHIELD's Maria Hill has to guilt him into going to Dubai instead to try and stop the Absorbing Man and Titania, also hammer-zapped.
That brief moment helps to vent a lot of the frustration some of us are feeling about the heavy-handedness with which Marvel beats us over the head in its attempts at real-world social relevance. Whether it's having a lot of dialog of Midwesterners in diners bitching about the economy and touting their indefatigable blue-collar spirit or this particular bit about America's actual wars, it all just feels so forced and pandering in big event books that even if you admire their intentions, the execution is off-putting. Pym gets it, he knows what he has to do, and he does it.
Gage and Tom Raney handle it better in this issue by showing instead of telling, and it's much more effective an illustration of what they're trying to get across - as summed up in the quote at the end of the issue from Jose Narosky: "In war, there are no unwounded soldiers." We see the self-absorbed Striker overcoming his intense fear of death in order to work together with his teammates to slow the enemy's advance, finding the courage not to panic. We see the laid-back Mettle witness a slaughter, and then be forced to push right through the trauma of actually taking a life for the first time in order to stop it from growing. We see Reptil saving one firefighter from a high-level blaze only to be unable to save another. And we see Tigra, their field commander, struggling to balance her duty to safeguard and guide these kids with the pressing need to force them to risk certain death in order to save as many lives as possible. There's no time to linger and analyze feelings and responses - the job needs to be done, and it's a harsh truth for kids like these to face.
It's in those tense, tragic moments of action where the true-to-life drama comes through, even amidst the backdrop of giant supervillains and Nazi robots. And that's why tie-in stories like this will always be better than the main event - at least until those events stop focusing on the slam-bang to the exclusion of all else.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 9/10