School Of Hard Knocks: Reviewing ‘Strange Academy: Finals’ #1

by Scott Redmond

Summary

‘Strange Academy: Finals’ keeps all the magical emotional energy from its predecessor, adding a whole new crop of issues for the divided student body as past actions are beginning to have even more dire consequences. This is a series that captures youthful voices so well and has carved its own space into an under-explored portion of the Marvel Universe, presenting a colorfully gorgeous ever-expanding story month after month. This is the magical youth series that everyone should be reading.

Overall
9/10
9/10

School breaks are always a mixed bag, good for some and bad for others. It’s even worse when said school break isn’t for a vacation, but your student body literally has broken apart. Freshman year at Strange Academy just got a whole lot messier. 

When we last left the students of Doctor Strange’s academy, they were dealing with quite a lot. Strange had been killed (more about that over in his wife Clea’s series Strange), magic coat-wearing Calvin turned to a wish-dealing villain after losing his only magic ability & pushed those wishes on other students, Doctor Voodoo expelled Calvin, our main protagonist Emily took offense and led a walkout, the students who left hid out in the empty Sanctum Santorum before being found, Emily turned to the darker side to take control of the Mindless Ones and ferried many of her followers away to the Dark Dimension to hide.

Oh and way back at the beginning of the school year there was a prophecy about one student being the savior of the school and world and another being its destroyer. Most figured the destroyer was Doyle Dormammu because of the fact that the dreaded Dormammu is his father, but turns out Emily is the threat and Doyle might be the one meant to save everything. Funny how those things work out, something about appearance and judging and all that. 

We’ve had a lot of students’ points of view around Emily being our point person, but the choice to use one of the students we haven’t seen or gotten to know recapping things through a terrified letter to home is such a good touch. We’re becoming detached from Emily more here, as she turns darker & turns against more and more of her people, which Skottie Young does perfectly because it shows us how far she’s fallen. We’re attached to her and her well-being after all this time, but the perspective shift is meant to show us that she’s in the wrong and going too far and we’re not as connected to her anymore. 

It’s always hard to judge correctly hitting a voice that is like actual teenagers, with most creators and reviewers not being teens ourselves, but working with teens daily as a career I can say Young hits it pretty spot on. These characters, the students of course, feel genuinely young in both their voices and their actions here. 

While this is a recap/exposition-heavy issue, naturally so after the large gap between issues #17 and #18 of the previous volume and this being a new volume beginning, Humberto Ramos and Edgar Delgado make it magically gorgeous as usual. Everything has great depth and weight and power to it, making the supernatural as well as the mundane into something otherworldly and moody. Emotions are not only seen clearly upon each and every single face, shifting rapidly as one would expect from teenagers in such a situation, but can be felt all throughout the page. 

Thanks to the shadows and starker colors that Delgado puts into play in many panels or pages, right beside the brighter more magical colorful moments that we can see as well. It’s a great marriage of the tones and keeps the tension and emotional high going for us from page one till the very end. 

Speaking of emotions and tones, Clayton Cowles nails them as well over on the lettering side. Not only do we see the emotions in the visuals but we hear them as Cowles uses all kinds of changes to the font from bolds to dramatically shifting its size in extreme ways when the fighting/yelling goes down in this issue. We can hear the pain and anger that is radiating off these characters, the sadness and pleading as things shrink down to showcase how their tone has moved more towards quietness/a whisper. Cannot forget about the colorful balloons of various shapes that house the dialogue, giving much of it more personality and making clear how different some of these characters from other realms are in their voices. 

Overall this issue was like slipping under a warm comfortable familiar blanket, taking us right back into this world and these characters with ease. I hope it’s a series that keeps going and going in some fashion, becoming a staple of the Marvel Universe, because it’s just that fun and exciting and damn good. 

Strange Academy: Finals #1 is now available from Marvel Comics. 

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