One of the hardest parts about being a comic book fan is trying to make time to read all the great things that are being published, and not let anything slip through the cracks. But man, things do. It’s so easy to have something just not hit your radar, and then when you realize that you’ve missed something great, it’s a little too late to jump on the bandwagon and get caught up. A great example of this would be the second volume of Young Avengers, written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Jamie McKelvie. I had a passing familiarity with the book when it was coming out, but it was comprised of a team that I was largely unfamiliar with, and created by a team that I was also not really aware of, so I let it pass me by. And I’ve recently dived into the series, and man am I glad I did.
I finally gave it a shot after becoming more familiar with Kieron Gillen, and that guy is great. There are still some big gaps in my knowledge on his work, especially Phonograph and his work on Journey into Mystery, which I really feel like I need to read after loving Kid Loki so much in this book. But what I have read of his, I’ve loved. His Iron Man run was great, especially the insane Rings of the Mandarin storyline, his X-Men stuff is great, and the Wicked + the Divine is absolutely fabulous and one of my favorite comics being published right now. But the thing that really got me curious about Gillen was his run on the Darth Vader comic. I want to write a whole article about that series, but right now I’ll just mention that he basically made it a sci fi version of House of Cards while Vader works with an evil Indiana Jones, an assassin C-3P0, and a highly destructive R2-D2. It’s nuts. So after learning that I really like Gillen’s writing, and seeing McKelvie’s amazing artwork in the Wicked + the Divine, I decided to jump into Young Avengers. I quickly realized that I needed some background on the characters, so I checked out the original Allan Heinberg/Jim Cheung run of the characters, and while that comic was fun, I don’t think it really held a candle to the Gillen/McKelvie run.
So since this is a team book, and a team made up of characters who aren’t exactly household names, I figure I should run down the roster. First of all we Have Teddy Altman, the Hulkling. Teddy is a half-Kree, half-Skrull alien who possesses super strength and shape-shifting abilities. He’s great. He’s super loyal to his friends and seemed completely willing to dive into every fight. And when there’s Hulkling, Billy Kaplan, also called Wiccan, isn’t far behind. Billy is a magic user who’s able to use various chants to create all manner of spells. He’s also the reincarnated soul of the Scarlet Witch’s fake babies she had with the Vision, because comics are ridiculous. Oh, and Billy and Teddy are in one of the most believable and relatable relationships I’ve ever seen in comics. They’re an amazing couple, and one of the most positive portrayals of a gay partnership I’ve ever seen. Next up we have the character that I’m most familiar with, Kate Bishop, the female Hawkeye. Now, I mainly know Kate from the amazing Hawkeye series, which now that it’s recently ended I’m planning on writing about more in depth. Kate is awesome. She’s strong, self-reliant, and kicks a lot of ass. During the series Kate gets romantically involved with Noh-Varr, the Kree warrior who called himself Marvel Boy, a roguish space-travellor whose trying to find his way in the universe while finding time to enjoy his vintage records of 60’s girl bands. Then there’s the mysterious but awesome America Chavez, known as Miss America. Now, I feel like I need to read more about her, because I never really understood her in this book, but I enjoyed her quite a bit. She comes from another dimension I guess, but has super-strength, flight, and the ability to punch through dimensions to travel between them. Eventually Billy’s twin brother Tommy shows up, who has super-speed and is simply called Speed. He’s not my favorite. But along with Speed comes David Alleyne, Prodigy, a former mutant who acquired the memories of everyone he ever dealt with when he was a mutant and is now an expert in pretty much everything. I liked Prodigy, but he never clicked as much as the other characters. And then there’s the de facto leader of the group, Kid Loki. Now, as much as I love Thor, he’s a big blind spot in my comic knowledge, one I’m slowly but surely working on clearing up, so I don’t really know the background of Kid Loki. I just know that the Loki that had been terrorizing the world since the 60’s died, and was reincarnated as this precocious child version of himself, and he had the potential to not be evil. Kid Loki is awesome. He’s a total brat, and is constantly conniving against everyone.
It was a really great team that worked great together. And man, the plot of the series is a lot of fun. The impetus of the storyline is the idea that Billy would do anything for Teddy. In the previous story Teddy’s mother (who turned out not to be his mom and actually a Skrull that was tasked with keeping Teddy’s identity safe) was killed by the Super-Skrull. Desperate to help Teddy’s pain, Billy starts using his magic to look for alternate dimensions where Teddy’s mom is still alive. And he finds one. Unfortunately, it turns out that it isn’t actually Teddy’s mom, it’s a weird succubus who’s dead-set on taking over our dimension. Teddy and Billy run away from the evil being, that starts to call itself Mother, eventually getting the team together to help stop the beast. But it turns out that part of the creatures abilities is that it can could the minds of any adult, so when they go to the Avengers for help, they can’t see anything wrong, and attempt to actually help Mother. So for the rest of the series the group goes around smashing through other dimensions, trying to find a way to stop Mother. There’s lots of backstabbing from Loki, who reveals that all along he was trying to trick Billy into giving some of his power to Loki. And in the end it turns out that Billy is some sort of magical messiah who will change the future of magic, and with a little prodding from Loki, he’s able to tap into his ultimate power and fight Mother. They also realize their mistake in trying to contact the Avengers, and end up gathering just about every teenaged superhero that Marvel had running, making an epic team that is finally able to defeat Mother. Then they have a crazy New Years part to celebrate.
But one of the best things about the storyline is the relationships. This book really went to lengths to portray accurate relationships for a group of teenagers. Kate and Marvel Boy’s relationship was pretty interesting, with both of them embarking on a purely physical relationship at first but as time went on, they got more invested in each other, but when things got heavy, Marvel Boy bailed, scared of the commitment. But relationship that really rocked was Billy and Teddy. Their so committed and loving towards each other, but about halfway through the run Teddy gets a pretty alarming thought in his head. Billy’s magical abilities let him change reality, and really, what are the odds that the dorky Billy would just happen to meet Teddy, a handsome gay boy who would love him, and have superpowers so they could fight crime together. Teddy gets worried that his feelings may be altered by Billy’s abilities, and decides that in order to prove that he actually loves him, he needs to leave the group for a while. It all ends up being a ploy by Mother though, and by the end Billy and Teddy realize that no matter what, they love each other. Then there’s just how great the team works together. They all squabble a lot, just like a group of teenagers would. But by the end, they’re a happy little dysfunctional family. The tease each other constantly, but when the chips are down, they all fight for each other, ready to lay down their lives for the mission. I also love the end when every character but Kate reveals that they’re either gay or have had homosexual encounters in the past, leading Kate to ask if she was the only straight person on the team, and America to quip back with one of the best lines I’ve ever read in comics “Princess, I’ve seen the way you look at me, you’re not that straight.”
The last thing I want to talk about is just how gorgeous the art is. I really love Jamie McKelvie’s art style, but the thing that really blew me away about this book was the way he designed it. There’s some amazing page designs, especially when characters are messing around in the multiverse. They’ll rip themselves out of panels and run around in the gutters. There was also a point near the end when the omnipotent Billy sees all of time and sees every page of the comic spread out before him. The comic also really embraced the idea of social media on the characters. The recap pages were set up like a Tumblr page, they Tweeted, and there was even a great joke of Loki taking Instagram pictures of the team, and them all getting sick of it. This was just an amazing series, taking a bunch of great characters, and letting them play out a great story. They’re literally a bunch of teenagers who are struggling to create their own identities, and they fight a monster who smothers people called Mother. The metaphor may be pretty superficial, but it’s still a lot of fun. Everyone should read this run. It’s the bomb.
Young Avengers was written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Jamie McKelvie.
Categories: Back Issues