There was a recent quote from Gail SImone explaining why DC took her signature book Birds of Prey away from her, has been troubling me ever since I read it.
"For publishers," she said, "it’s not great when one writer is too closely affiliated with a title – it makes it harder for them to continue that title when that writer leaves, for example, and I think some people had that connection with my name and Birds of Prey. So they wanted to move the characters from being thought of too much with one name. It’s understandable, but it’s also kind of a drag."
That's an unsettling thought, that even if a writer really clicks with a book at Marvel or DC, there's a chance they'll be taken off of it anyway just to preserve later profitability – or, more disturbingly, interchangeability. That certainly fits in with Greg Rucka's statements about how the Big Two do business these days, saying "You are seeing a grotesque Hollywoodisation of the two main companies. There was at least a period where I felt that the way they wanted to make money was by telling the best story they could; now the quality of the work matters less than that the book comes out. There is far less a desire to see good work be done."
"Despite what the publishers say," Rucka adds "their interest in the talent is minimal now, the interest is only in promoting the financial worth of their properties." That feels sad. Even when Dan DiDio made a big stink about getting the best creators possible for the Before Watchmen thing, it was only because he was looking to maximize the financial worth of the Watchmen property.
One might not think that Marvel's the same way, considering Brian Michael Bendis is wrapping up about a decade on Avengers comics, but that's the thing – he's wrapping it up. It sure seems like this is a lot of what Marvel NOW is about. It's making a point, even a gimmick, out of shuffling around creative teams – and that's not to mention shoe-horning a black Nick Fury and a new Agent Coulson into the main Marvel universe just to make it more movie-like. Now, this same sort of thing seems to be happening to Christos Gage and his wonderful Avengers Academy book.
Gage has crafted these fantastic new teenage characters with a great premise – they were the kids who were the most at risk of becoming supervillains due to their traumatic experiences under the Norman Osborn regime of awfulness that was Dark Reign. Oft-troubled founding Avenger Hank Pym founds a school to try and give them positive attention and train them in the use of their powers and help them see another way, despite the horrors they've endured. Hazmat, the girl with the radiation powers who has to spend her life in a containment suit; Mettle, the surfer guy whose skin melted off and left him a red skull-faced brute; Striker, the electric-powered kid with a Hollywood mom trying to make him a reality star; Veil, the gaseous girl who can't find a way to remain corporeal; Finesse, the pseudo-sociopath with photographic reflexes who can't quite relate to normal human emotion; and Reptil, the shape-shifting dinosaur kid with a magic burden.
It's been a highly compelling journey through the foibles of growing up in the Marvel Universe, often times satirizing the biggest silly "event" books while utilizing their premises to the best extent they can be. Fear Itself sucked, but Gage made it a watershed moment for these kids. Avengers vs. X-Men was mocked, but it also made for some really interesting drama for new members X-23 and Juston Seyfert with his pet Sentinel. The current "Final Exam" story arc is definitely an ultimate test for the team, because they're being presented with a shiny and daring alternative to the standard hero/villain dynamic by alchemy-powered hyper-genius and complete sociopath manipulator Jeremy Briggs, whose plan is to remove the super powers of everybody in the world – people who've clearly abused them, given the chaos of AvX – and force them to earn their abilities back by proving they won't be a destructive force. He's been able to cure the more afflicted members, he's talked an amazingly good game, and he's even recruited Veil and Pym's confidant Jocasta to his cause.
In Avengers Academy #37, it all comes to a head, as the kids realize that Briggs' endgame leaves him in charge of all superpowers, and his deceitful arrogance is too much to bear. Hazmat and Mettle once again take on the burdens of their powers/curses in order to help their friends and stop Briggs' master plan. It's a great bunch of action that's been a long time in coming, and it leads to a very powerful moment where Finesse, who has related to Quicksilver as a mentor and has a weird anti-social bond with the equally emotionally-challenged born killing machine X-23, has the choice between saving Briggs and perpetuating his goals or letting him die, and that original at-risk nature comes back. Say hello to the bad guy.
I really want to see how this new development, where the kids seem relatively unfazed by Briggs' death given how much of a weasel he was, would play out under Gage's watch. There is a hell of a lot to work with here, and it's so depressing to think that all of that's falling by the wayside because Marvel wants to shove all their teenage characters on a murder island and ape The Hunger Games. Claim Battle Royale all you want, but that's just an attempt at street cred for Avengers Arena. It's the goddamned Hunger Games. "Grotesque Hollywoodisation" is right, Mr. Rucka, and Mr. Gage deserves better than that for all the amazing work he's put into this series.
It's entirely possible that Dennis Hopeless will honor what Gage has done in his new series, but the premise seems so cheap and hacky that it's hard to have faith. There's no reason for Gage's AA run to end other than this forced Marvel NOW stunt, and I'm quite afeared that the same fate will befall Dan Slott's fantastic Amazing Spider-Man run. Talent and quality shoved aside for publicity stunts and multimedia cash-ins. It's a hard time for the print industry, but when the former is eclipsed by the latter, it's hard to find the inclination to save it.
Read Avengers Academy while it lasts. It is great.