My buddy SJ had been telling me about this series for a long time, expressing his love for it whenever I saw him (which isn't enough). Quite often he would say it's his favourite Marvel title on the stands (perhaps even his favourite comic book at one point? I don't quite recall). As we've established, I'm not a Marvel-head. I like a few characters, and I'll read specific writers, but I don't generally just pick up a Marvel book for any other reason... oh, unless I'm reviewing it. Which is what happened with Avenger Arena: Murder World (365 Comics #33), a quasi-Avengers Academy spinoff which I denounced as nothing more than a flagrant Battle Royale/Hunger Games rip-off. That charge hasn't changed at all, but at the same time, it's no longer a denouncement. Writer Dennis Hopeless is matching everything that made Battle Royale (in all its iterations) and Hunger Games so exciting. His characterization has really firmed up along the way, and I've started to get curious about those characters I don't really know already. Which leads us back to Avengers Academy.
The series kicks off at the start of the "Heroic Age" which signalled the end of all the general doom and gloom in the Marvel U following Civil War, Captain America's death, World War Hulk, political figure Norman Osborne, the Skrull invasion, and a whole plethora of events, mini-events, and happenings I largely ignored. The kids of the Academy (almost all-new creations for the book, Super Hero Squad's Reptyl excepted) were brought in under the perception that they're the "next Avengers" but in truth they're more likely "at-risk teens" who teeter the line between good and villainous. All of them were recruited by Norman Osborne for "the Initiative" in the dark days, and many of them were subjected to torture and other offenses that scarred them psychologically. With a complicated past himself, Hank Pym leads training at the academy, which also counts Tigra, a tortured Speedball, ex-con Justice and former evil mutant Quicksilver among the faculty, so it's a damaged group.
It's a very conventional gathering of superpowered teens, very reflective of Xavier's school, but that's what works so well. It's very back-to-basics, with a great hook with the "at-risk" aspect, leaving the reader to wonder if all of these kids will make it out as heroes. Christos Gage purposefully doesn't break any molds here, working with the tropes long-established by teen-focused series like Teen Titans, X-Men, Young Justice and New Warriors. There's a lot of melodrama and teen angst, and it works incredibly well. I'm a few years late (and Mettle, my favourite character immediately, was unceremoniously killed in the first issue of Avengers Arena, which only now I'm getting retroactively angry/sad over) but I'm going to be hunting the remaining volumes of the series because I don't have enough to read/catch up on as is.