Avengers Academy #36
Avengers Academy #36
Writer: Christos Gage
Pencils: Andrea Di Vito
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Avengers Academy #36 may be the most bittersweet issue of the series to date. The Marvel Comics November solicitations revealed that #39 would be the book's finale. That means that the name of this arc, Final Exam, has taken on a new significance as a result. And while it is a travesty that the gem of the Avengers line and perhaps Marvel's catalogue as a whole is coming to an end, the book's numerous loyal fans can take solace in the fact that it looks like Gage and company are going out on a high note.

The previous high point of the series came during the arc that tied into Fear Itself where the young characters proved themselves to be heroes, laying to rest the fears of the Avengers that due to their traumatic origins, they might one day become unstoppable super villains. The characters showed they were willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good. Their trial in Final Exam is all the more trying. Teen super genius Jeremy Briggs wants to depower the world's meta-humans, to make the earth a safer place and remove the powers that have been a curse to many including most of the Academy kids. However with only the Academy kids in a position to stop Jeremy, they have to decide: would the world really be better off without superheroes? Each character is forced to make a choice: are they willing to sacrifice their happiness for what could be the greater good.

It's fitting that it is Striker that turns the tide against antagonist teen super genius Jeremy Briggs. Arguably the most selfish, vain, and insufferable of the group, Striker professed to being a super hero only as an avenue to achieve fame and stardom. Briggs offered Striker everything he ever wanted if he would only toe the company line. But Striker, partly because he is stubborn, but mostly because he is intelligent and far more altruistic than he would ever let on refuses to step in line. It was Striker's plan that lead to him and the others regaining their powers, and for this first betrayal, Briggs made him pay the ultimate price, horribly disfiguring Striker's face. However Striker barely even blinked at this personal tragedy and lead the charge to stop Briggs and help his friends.

Mettle and Hazmat were two young lovers who could barely touch each other, and never touch anyone else as long as they had their powers. Thanks to Jeremy Briggs they shared their first kiss. However their friends were sure to die, and the world would be depowered if these two remained powerless. They chose to take back their burden, meaning they would never truly be together, never truly be able to touch each other, and never truly be able to fit in with normal society. The wrath of Hazmat is palpable as she enters onto the scene. And Mettle's final moments of humanity, the way he chooses to return to his metallic form is the most heartbreaking fist pumping moment I have witnessed in comics in the past decade.

On the lighter side, Gage devotes several pages to White Tiger as she argues with her avatar that she is worthy of regaining her totemistic power. Arguably the most undeveloped member of the cast, it's nice to see Gage finally being able to give the character a real arc even with the series winding down. Many references have been made to magic working like a romantic relationship in this arc, and I think it is one of the best descriptions I've seen to this often maligned and hard to describe deus ex-machina power. Gage's portrayal of the avatar as a jilted and passive aggressive lover is both fitting and hilarious. This sequence takes up a sizable chunk of the book but is a joy to watch play out.

There are so many other great character moments in this comics that it is hard to reference all in this limited space. Reptil comes to terms with his role, Lightspeed bolsters the confidence of the other characters proving herself in her role as TA for the Avengers Academy. This issue is a joy to behold, and if Gage had to rush some of these developments or end character arcs prematurely due to cancellation, you'd never know it.

Avengers Academy has always boasted a very clean, old school art style and Andrea Di Vito's pencils for this issue are no different. Di Vito conveys the action in a manner that is exciting and well choreographed. The visual highlight of the issue comes early on as Mettle and Hazmat are reunited, leading to a breathtaking and heartbreaking splash page. Di Vito draws a lot of characters in the various fight sequences, but spatial geography is maintained throughout and all of the characters look distinct. This book has been fortunate enough to maintain a stable of artists that keep a visual continuity. Yes, the art is a bit old school by modern comparisons, but Di Vito and the others who have worked on this book are some of the best practitioners of that style working in comics.

For the past two years, Avengers Academy has been one of Marvel's best books. If you like new characters, if you like significant character developments for old fan favorites, if you like big stories of heroism and protagonists with feet of clay in the classic Marvel tradition, you owe it to yourself to check out this book. While the current chapter for these characters may be coming to a close, a book this good is sure to be blessed with a rabidly loyal fan following, one not content to just watch as it fades into obscurity. Read the back issues, find out what the buzz is about, and join us as we continue to remind Marvel that we want to see these characters again.

Grade: A

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