Avengers Academy #21

Written by Christos Gage

Art by Sean Chen, Scott Hanna, Jeromy Cox and Veronica Gandini

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

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New school. New students. New faculty. But does that really mean a new beginning?

With a book as consistent as Avengers Academy, it must be tough trying to drum up new support, to engage readers who have, for whatever reason, missed out on the all-too-human struggles of the inaugural class. Yet think of this issue more as an access point than a brand new status quo — even though the team is getting a few more familiar faces, the focus still is on Reptil, Striker, Finesse, Mettle and Hazmat, as they have just as many opinions on this turn of events as the reader does.

And to at least this reader, that's exactly the right call. There's nothing wrong with Avengers Academy — at least, nothing wrong other than the fact there aren't more people reading it. Here's hoping that this issue can change that.

Whereas many other comics are focused on either building mythology or putting it into application through sprawling fight sequences, Christos Gage is all about character-driven drama. Insecurity has always been a defining characteristic of the original Avengers Academy students, ever since they learned they weren't the standout recruits, but the teens the Avengers felt were most likely to become supervillains. That's drama, right there, and seeing Gage heat that up to a boil is particularly cathartic. You've never lashed out or acted rashly because you thought you were in trouble with someone important? And by having the five originals act as an echo chamber — with the red-skulled, puppy-eyed Mettle wondering if they're "just the part that's not working" — it's a really effective method of dropping exposition. If you want to get invested in these students without the Nazi robots or war stories of Fear Itself, this is the place to go.

Sean Chen, meanwhile, is a fantastic bridge between last issue's artist, Tom Raney. While his linework is stiffer compared to Raney's fluid figures, they both share the same level of breezy expressiveness. Striker smirking at "the new models" (and referring to Grey's Anatomy — "Shut up, my mom likes it," he says) is a gem of a panel, and Mettle continues to steal the show every time he's on the page, with his frozen metallic face still betraying so much emotion it hurts. What's interesting here is that Chen's take on the Avengers themselves seems actually a little bit overdone, as if with Cap, Luke Cage and Hawkeye seeming almost inhumanly big, but I think that's a case of a misstep actually adding to the overall product: It may be called "Avengers Academy," but the squeaky-clean Avengers themselves don't actually belong here. This is a, well, dysfunctional home for dysfunctional kids. The colorwork also deserves some praise here, as Jeromy Cox is paired with Veronica Gandini, with some excellent results. I love the use of aqua blue throughout the book, giving a coolness to the art that's really striking to the eye.

But consistency like Gage's can also be double-edged. No matter who you add to the team, this is not any sort of reimagining of the book's core concept, and if you felt that Avengers Academy wasn't bombastic enough, you probably won't change your mind here. From a pragmatic standpoint, I get why Gage has expanded the team with some other familiar faces, both in terms of students and faculty — more appeal means more eyeballs, and having three Avengers guest star can't hurt your audience — but my gut tells me differently. Part of the appeal this series has generated is that, yes, there are the C-list Avengers faculty (sorry, Hank), but ultimately this book was an exercise in character generation and development. You didn't know who Hazmat was from a hole in the wall, and now you agonize when she and Mettle almost, but not quite, have their first teenage fling. I know Gage is confident in his concept, but there's a part of me that wishes he didn't need to bring in any bigger guns.

With some truly superhuman human drama, some new additions, and a mystery with a twist, you can't say that Gage and Chen aren't bringing every round in their arsenal to bring in new readers to Avengers Academy. But what I'd argue is that even with all these great ideas, this book never needed them in the first place. If you're looking for character, Avengers Academy should be your go-to book. If you're looking for angst, and teenage drama, and that old soap operatic style that's somehow seemingly become passé, Avengers Academy is your book. No matter what you add, what you take away, these kids are flawed, broken, tragic. And that's all they need to stay compelling.


Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes #1

Written by Corinna Beckho and Gabriel Hardman

Art by Gabriel Hardman and Jordie Bellaire

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Comic book adaptations or continuations of movies or television shows are always a gamble.  Too many of them are clumsy and show no or little understanding of the source material. After decades of producing comics about everything from The Honeymooners to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, you would think that comic companies would have a handle now on how to create stories that are faithful to their source without being stiffly slavish to them.

You would think that they would know how to tell stories that are comic book stories and not just regurgitated scripts and plots that never made it to the screen. Corrina Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, a guy who knows a thing or two about movies (he was a storyboard artist on both Inception and The Dark Knight Rises), school us on the right way to tell a story in Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes #1, a comic completely easily be the premise for a classic Planet of the Apes movie but that never forgets that it is a comic book story.

Set years before the first Apes movie, this issue focuses on Aleron, a onetime hardline general in the Ape army trying to forcefully control the size and growth of the animalistic human race who in his older years ends up defending his fellow ape's rights to teach and evolve the same human race. Aleron is a character of evolution as Bechko and Hardman show us the two changing sides of him. What they don't tell us is how the young general who was determined to prevent the spread of the dirty humans became the old man, defending the humans and any ape who would try to make the humans a better race.

The trick with Planet of the Apes stories has always been getting us to identify with the apes as much as we care for our fellow humans. As the readers, we have to see ourselves as both the damned, dirty apes and as the suppressed humans, as the oppressed as well as the oppressors. Bechko and Hardman's Aleron is the perfect gateway into this strange but familiar world. In him, we see our own prejudices and compassion in action. Ultimately their story isn't about apes versus humans. Planet of the Apes stories which are simply about ape/man violence miss out on the rich diversity that can be explored through Apes stories. Bechko and Hardman make the lines between apes and humans almost nonexistent and reflect our own general mistrust of anything different back at us.

Hardman tells the story through light and shadow. His artwork vibrates with life and intrigue as his apes act and emote perfectly humanly. They are a marvelous stand in for ourselves because he makes us believe that they can have the same thoughts and emotions that we do.  With a background in movie storyboards, Hardman's figures flow naturally through the panels. He paces the story so that it moves like a movie while creating a classically illustrated comic book. Hardman knows how to tell a story while creating vibrant and wonderful artwork.

Bechko and Hardman know that the way to tell a Planet of the Apes story is to make us realize that we are both the apes and the humans. We need to be able to see and sympathize with both sides of the ape/human conflict. In Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes, we are the dirty apes, capable of doing everything they do, both good and bad. Bechko and Hardman show us that good and bad in the character of Aleron, an ape who is as conflicted as any man or woman can be.


Heart #1

Written by Blair Butler

Art by Kevin Mellon

Lettering by Crank!

Published by Image Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Growing up I was not what one would call "athletic." I am a shameless professional wrestling fan, but I've never gotten into UFC or MMA events. I think reading Heart is the closest I've come to anything like it, and I walked away unscathed.

Being G4's comic book go-to gal, Blair Butler has established herself as quite the connoisseur and is an unabashed UFC fan. Needless to say, it was a matter of time before she crossed over, so to speak. We see inside Oren "Rooster" Redmond's mind here. The actual dialogue is minimal and the story is told through a series of flashbacks that tell Redmond's story. He's grown up idolizing his brother, also a fighter, and needed something in his life. It wasn't an easy transition has his work outs become more and more intense, and we see Redmond take on this transformation from pencil pusher, to face smasher.

Kevin Mellon's art is effective here and a great example of peanut butter meets jelly. There's no inking, as far as I can tell, and hits home with the harshness of Redmond's reality. We see him on top of the world, and at times struggling through the monotony of it all. Just black and white. What is and what isn't. There's nothing pretty about Redmond getting the crap kicked out of him or vomiting in a trashcan. Mellon's art expresses that quite well with the atmosphere he's presented. No gamma bombs or fancy themed gadgets, just simple, old-fashioned fisticuffs.

This isn't really anything that's going to set the comic world on fire. It is, however, poignant and cohesive enough that I'd like to see the second helping. Mainly because I'm not quite sure what the obstacle is. The first issue does a great job of establishing Redmond's character and his surroundings, but nothing really to overcome. There's no suspense. It felt more like a one-shot than an actual series, but here's hoping it picks up gives me something to root for.

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