Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artists: Jamie McKelvie with Mike Norton
When Young Avengers was announced a few years back it was met with even more apathy and eye-rolling than most titles from a mainstream comics company (what’s that, you ask, comic fans judging a book before they read a single panel? Shocking I know). Yet, when the book (by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung) finally shipped, it was met with love and acceptance. Suddenly, Wiccan, Hulkling, Speed, Iron Lad, Hawkeye, and the Patriot were accepted parts of the mosaic of the Marvel Universe. Heinberg worked at a snail’s pace, and each new issue of Young Avengers was an anticipated, but rare, treat. Fans wanted more; the only problem was that these were Heinberg’s characters. His unique voice led to their popularity and any attempt to stretch the characters narratives past their own book would only serve to water down the franchise, so no other writers really got a chance to play with them. As a result, fans had to be content with each rare issue, until Heinberg concluded his tale, letting Kieron Gillen pick up the shiny, shiny pieces.
Gillen has been killing it on Journey into Mystery. His adventures of Kid Loki were the critical darling of the past few years, and one of the early critiques of Marvel NOW! was that there was no sign of Kid Loki. When this new Young Avengers series was announced, fans were suddenly intrigued by the prospect of Gillen combining his Kid Loki with the surviving members of the Young Avengers. It was a daunting task, no doubt, as no writer since Heinberg has really been able to exploit the potential of any of the beloved YA members. Despite this shred of doubt, the combined prospect of Gillen embarking on this journey with his Phonogram partner Jamie McKelvie combined with the revival of the Young Avengers along with Kid Loki, made this book more intriguing by the day. The book has finally arrived, and fans will be happy to hear that Young Avengers is a strong addition to the already well received Marvel NOW! initiative.
Before Young Avengers, DC had a monopoly of the idea of a legacy universe. DC had a multi-generational platform with many of their franchise characters, giving each hero a built in history ripe with story potential. Marvel never really had this until the members of the Young Avengers arrived on the scene. Wiccan carried the tradition first of Thor, then of Scarlet Witch and Magneto. Hulking carried the legacy of the Hulk but also embodied the history of the Skrulls in the Marvel Universe. Speed carried the legacy of Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Magneto. The Patriot carried the legacy of Captain America and his grandfather, Isaiah Bradley. With these legacies, Heinberg was able to tap into each character’s complex pasts while capably crafting his creations into unique characters in their own right. Ironically, as Heinberg’s Young Avengers was wrapping up, DC jettisoned their legacy-verse in favor for the New 52. Suddenly, Young Avengers stands alone as the only legacy comic left in mainstream comics. Because of Young Avengers, there are new and unique perspectives in which to explore and exploit the Marvel Universe. Gillen inherits this narrative legacy, and utilizes it masterfully.
Looking at each character individually gives a prospective reader an idea of what Gillen has in store for his legacy ride:
Wiccan: Wiccan was the central character of Heinberg’s book. The conflicts surrounding the character were wrapped up when Heinberg exited. With the past behind him, what does the future hold for Wiccan? Gillen handled Wiccan’s sexuality with the same narrative dexterity that Heinberg did, and his relationship with Hulking is still one of the most moving and inspiring romantic pairings in the Marvel Universe. Gillen has said his mission statement is to make the book about being eighteen; the same way Heinberg’s run was about being sixteen. If that’s the case, he succeeds with Wiccan, who has a sense of maturity and growth since readers have last seen him.
Hulkling: With Wiccan’s dark past faced and overcome, Hulkling is taking center stage as the tragic figure of the relationship. Seeing Wiccan react to Hulkling’s pain is a great moment of growth for both characters. This relationship will clearly take center stage in the new book, and it is clear that Gillen understands the elements that made it work in the first place.
Marvel Boy: Not an original Young Avenger, No-Varr was just exiled from Earth during Brian Michael Bendis’ last few issues of Avengers. Marvel Boy kind of got lost in Avengers, but he gets a chance to shine here as a brash, handsome, cosmic sexpot. He carries the legacy of Captain Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers, and he seems to be cast in the role of the guy every eighteen year old wants to be friends with. The cooler than cool ladies’ man who listens to the best music and drives the best car. Except in this case, the car is a star cruiser. Marvel Boy’s story seems to center on him finding purpose now that he is been exiled from both Earth and the Kree Empire. This is the best handling of the character since Grant Morrison introduced him years ago.
Hawkeye (Kate Bishop): the brightest light in Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye continues to shine in Young Avengers. Her story begins with her shacking up with Marvel Boy. If this book is about growth and exploration, she is certainly doing just that as she is bedding down with an alien. Gillen captures the awkward but potential earth shattering energy of an eighteen year old booty call, adding the extra edge of said booty call taking place in space instead of a dorm room. Kate seems to have the potential to be the human center of the book, as she discovers her own path through her encounters with the more fantastic members of the group.
Kid Loki: The X-Factor. Loki doesn’t have a lot of face time in the inaugural issue, but he does add an aura of unpredictability to the proceedings. Kid Loki stands out because he is his own legacy. Everyone expects him to turn evil, it’s his destiny to turn evil, and he knows he has to, one day, turn evil. But he’s Loki, so, of course, he tries to do the opposite. Gillen shines the brightest through this character’s voice. Loki is fun, unpredictable, and inspiring. He knows his past could not be darker, yet he still has a heroic center and a need to help a world that knows he will be a monster.
Miss America: A name that stretches back to the Golden Age of Marvel and the Invaders, Miss America is the legacy character with the least amount of past established development. Only appearing in Joe Casey’s Vengeance mini, there is great character potential for a Latina carrying the legacy of a golden age great. She seems to be of fiery temperament which promises a great future dynamic with Loki.
So, those are the players. As for the book itself? It’s hip. It’s unique. It justifies its existence in a marketplace crowded with Avengers titles by standing out as not just another adventure, but a thematic exploration on what it means to be eighteen. It’s a great parking spot for characters like Marvel Boy and Miss America, characters who are ripe with potential but in danger of getting lost amongst the heavy hitters of the modern Marvel Universe. The dialogue is snappy and engaging, the characterization is spot on and fresh. And the art, oh, man the art. McKelvie would seem out of place on a regular Avengers title, as his heroes are human and vulnerable but still larger than life. They are not gods, but young people saddled with the powers of gods. The art handles a huge punch-up with the same style and panache as a kiss shared between Wiccan and Hulkling. As readers of Phonogram already know, McKelvie and Gillen have a perfect synergy, and the Marvel Universe is certainly lucky to have them.
So, if you’re one of those readers who complain that they have seen it all before and that mainstream comics have become predictable, you owe it to yourself to experience Young Avengers. This is the book that will define the craft for generations to come, and Marvel deserves credit for seeing the potential the creative team has with these characters. Gillen and McKelvie are clearly worthy of the legacy that is Young Avengers.