Avengers Academy was the first Avengers title I really enjoyed since West Coast Avengers way back when, and I was a combination of both sad and mad to see it go a few years ago.
What followed Avengers Academy was a risky play by Marvel, but ultimately, one that ended up paying off in a big way.
Writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Kev Walker would combine some of the kids from the Academy with other teen heroes from across the Marvel Universe and place them in a Battle Royale-esque death match set in (X-Men) villain Arcade's, Murder World.
At the onset, that title took on a lot of criticism from both the press and fans alike, myself included. At the time, it seemed like a cheap money-grab from Marvel, using character deaths to make a few quick bucks, and the concept seemed to have a limited shelf life.
To the surprise of many (almost all?), that title, Avengers Arena, ended up being a natural extension of Avengers Academy, and also withheld the high standards that had been set in the previous title. Hopeless and Walker continued to explore these characters (as well as new ones) in the same way that Christos Gauge before them had, and managed to give life to characters that had either been inactive in the Marvel Universe for some time, or never really had much of a platform previously.
What ended up happening was a brilliant title that ended after only 18 issues, though that ending was a natural jumping off point into the new adventure that would become this title, Avengers Undercover.
Here in Undercover we are reunited with the survivors of Murder World as they seek to rescue one of their own who has gone off on a mission to kill Arcade for what he has done to them.
Thus far, none of the characters who were killed in Avengers Arena have resurfaced, lending credibility to what Hopeless and Walker have built so far within this corner of the Avengers universe (though this title is tied to The Avengers in name only).
Channeling some of the success that Nick Spencer has created over in Superior Foes of Spider-Man, this issue is a fun and playful romp through one of the criminal hangouts in the Marvel Universe, and that setting is ultimately where our heroes discover Bloodstone, their missing "teammate", for lack of a better term.
While on this mission the kids discover that being a bad guy really isn't all that bad, maybe, and they even get to hang out with the Son of Satan, Damion Hellstrom!
After a night of partying in the criminal underground, Bloodstone takes his friends to a big get together where all of the villains have gathered to celebrate the arrival of...Arcade. Here it becomes apparent that Bloodstone has been fooling everyone, good and bad, all along; the reason he came here in the first place is the reason he has also stayed, he plans on killing Arcade.
So far, the first two issues of this title have been every bit as engaging as Academy and Arena were for their respective runs, and this feels like the next step in a seamless progression of the story of these kids from around the Marvel Universe. While Avengers Undercover may only be on issue two, it feels like we have been following this story for years, and that is a great achievement from Hopeless and Walker. Not only have they tied their narrative together across multiple titles, but they have managed to steadfastly uphold the quality that was established in Avengers Academy before them.
Fans of either Academy and/or Arena should be reading this, and I would gladly recommend this to all other comic book fans as well. If you let those other two titles slip past you, don't miss out again, this is one that is almost guaranteed to satisfy month after month.