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ASH Review: Avengers Assembly

Superheroes are a genre staple that go hand in hand with comic books, and they were arguably the true birth of the medium. While they’ve been around since The Adventures of Mr Obadiah Oldbuck in 1842, the creation of Superman in 1938 heralded the beginning of what many refer to as The Golden Age of Comics and the start of huge sales and superhero dominance.

Why the history lesson, you might wonder. Well, because Scotland based Sloth Comic’s title ASH or, Academy of Superheroes has bravely – or foolishly, as the case may be – decided to wade into the world of the most over saturated genre in comics. It would be like making a first person shooter video game or a film about… well superheroes, right?

We start off at the titular academy, introduced to a roster of young, adolescents with powers. Their abilities, may be super, but they certainly ain’t. We’ve an invisible nerd, a gecko boy, a purple hulk powered by embarrassment, a water girl, a vaguely gothic girl with killer hair, and a troll kid who seems to speak in emoticons and symbols. It’s an eclectic bunch, a mix of worn stereotypes and interesting spins on established formulae.

Story

The kids aren’t all right: struggling at the ‘school’ built to teach them how to control their strange powers and become model citizens, heroes, or weapons in the fight against evil — whichever comes first. Everything tends to end in disaster and the devious Colonel uses this to his advantage when a routine visit ends in absolute disaster. He whisks the kids away to a military academy, where crawling under barbed wire and being yelled at by a Full Metal Jacket homage does nothing to stop their wayward ways.

They manage to get into a scrap with a giant robot, are sent back to the Academy, and then proceed to destroy most of it in a series of poorly conceived attempts to win favor with the head mistress, who happens to be an ex hero herself. From there, aliens attack, they’re whisked away into space, and must escape captivity, with the implication that their parents were abducted and implanted by these aliens to give them superpowers.

In a comic aimed squarely at kids, it seems funny to think that the characters essentially got their groovy abilities because their parents unwillingly bumped uglies with space monsters. It’s typical of most of ASH‘s plot. The story seems to stumble through superhero cliché to cliché, without any really direction other than the kids wandering off and bringing disaster and ruin to everything. The strange thing is, this is the best thing about it. We’re not seeing a green around the gills young superhero team learn to work as a unit. This isn’t an origin story. This is just pre-adolescent kids with powers they barely understand or can control, who are more interested in not getting grounded, sneaking out to see movies, and avoiding cooties, than saving the world. There are nods to other superhero comics and worlds abound, and the kids are taught the ethics of superheroics in class, with a homework assignment centered on that Spider-Man quote.

There are some signs of character development throughout, but the dialogue tends to batter you over the head with these. Even if the comic is meant for children, some of it feels patronizing. In such a visual medium, there’s a distinct lack of visual storytelling. Tatum hulks out when she’s embarrassed, and it becomes pretty clear that she has feelings for Leon, the lizard boy. These feelings seem to sprout out of nowhere, which is fair enough, that’s how love works.

A moment when he comforts her and she hulks out when he touches her shoulder is a clear indicator of her feelings. It’s just a shame the next five panels or so beat the reader, and Leon over the head with this information. In the same way when Tatum hulks out to save Leon, without being embarrassed, he literally asks her how she did it because she wasn’t blushing this time. The reader would pick on this by themselves, but ASH seems so worried that you might miss something that it makes sure there’s no way in hell that you ever could.

Art

The art style is more Saturday morning cartoon than golden age of comics, and it looks like it could have been ripped straight from a children’s TV show and turned into a serialized comic book. It’s simple and vibrant, with bright colors and distinct character designs being the order of the day. Most of the characters have different eye designs, or lack any sort of expression in their eyes at all, which can make it tough to identify with them. It’s nitpicking, but it’s a minor issue for me, nonetheless.

Panel conventions are nicely messed with at different moments. A crowd scene spread across five panels, is really just the one scene, neatly showing a conversation flowing through a crowd of nerds queuing for a film premiere. When a character is upside down, their dialogue appears upside down, and troll boy Victor communicates exclusively in symbols and signs which often need a moment’s decoding. It’s a nice tough that helps you identify with a character through art rather than reams of dialogue, it’s just a shame the rest of ASH isn’t so reserved with its speech bubbles.

The final third of the book takes us to an alien space ship where generic robot designs give way to pink aliens that are just the right mix of cute and scary, and an arena battle against monsters that are just plain scary. There’s a real eye for putting together a great fight scene in ASH, and there are a range of epic showdowns that are a pleasure to feast your eyes on. The bright colors and distinct character designs come together into a thrilling explosion of superpowers and satisfying sound effects that really takes you along for a ride.

Atom Girl

The post script story of Atom Girl is better addressed on its own, as it’s style is so distinctly different from ASH that it’s hard to believe it’s been collected in the same book. The art style is entirely different, going for a noir, B-Movie body horror type feel to the affair. There’s a mad German scientist, zombies, and Atom Girl kicking ass all over the place in her younger incarnation.

As it stands, it’s an excellent edition to the comic book and gives a sense of a wider universe that seems like it would have been better served slipped into the middle of ASH. There are clear breaks in the collected volume where the story would stop if it was being released piece meal in a comic book, and these beats often feel off kilter when you’re reading it full speed, engrossed in the story and fight scenes. It feels like Atom Girl should have came before the revelation about the Academy’s head mistress.

There would have been a little more weight in story surprise if we had of had more time and more context to linger over it. It would have had the added benefit of breaking up ASH‘s bright, bubblegum taste. It feels like a palate cleanser that comes following the meal rather than between courses. Still, it’s an excellent edition to the burgeoning universe.

Overall

ASH is a decent addition to the most crowded of all genres, but it doesn’t do enough new or wildly different to really stand out on its own. It’s a Saturday morning cartoon that you’ll enjoy until you finish your Froot Loops, but by the time you washed your bowl you’ll have forgotten the name of it at all.

It’s a shame, because there’s clear storytelling talent and artistic flair found within these technicolor pages. There’s edge that makes it too good for kids, and an over reliance on basic dialogue that makes it a little too simple for kids. ASH wants you to love it, and by the end of it, you’ll wish that you could. The young team of heroes have a lot to do to prove themselves, but judging by their guts and gusto within the comic, they’ll have no trouble doing just that next time they enter the spotlight.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars

Cover image via

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Categories: Comic Reviews

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