Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Young Avengers 1-3, originally released January 23rd, 2013, February 27th, 2013, and March 27th, 2013.
Shelby: My sister used to work at Barnes and Noble, in the Young Adult section. It’s been a long time since I was what the publishing world considers a “young adult” so I didn’t have super high hopes when she told me I absolutely had to read The Hunger Games. Like Harry Potter before it, however, Suzanne Collins’ dystopian trilogy transcended the age of the “intended” audience to deliver strong and sympathetic characters and an engrossing plot line. I feel similarly about Young Avengers. It may not be billed as a book for teens, but Kieron Gillen has taken the concept of “teen versions of characters you already know” and crafted something much more meaningful than I initially expected.
This title reads like a Who’s Who of Marvel mythology. Kate Bishop (identified as “Hawkeye, not Hawkguy”) is orbiting Earth after hooking up with hunky Kree prince Marvel Boy when Skrulls attack. Meanwhile, Teddy, a.k.a. Hulkling (half-Kree, half-Skrull shapeshifter) is stopping crime at night despite promising his boyfriend Billy, otherwise known as Wiccan (reincarnated son of Scarlet Witch) that his crime-fighting days were behind him. The two fight, and Billy feels bad about it, so he decides to look into every possible reality, and happens to find the moment right before Teddy’s mom was killed; naturally, Billy brings her back. Unfortunately, she’s actually an inter-dimensional parasite who immediately possesses the rest of the adults. The boys reluctantly team up with precocious Kid Loki, who claims he only wants to “borrow” Wiccan’s powers to defeat the alien. They are also aided by Miss America Chavez, who appears to be both a tough-as-nails Latina and super-strong, super-fast intergalactic being. As the kids face off against possessed living parents and parasite copies of dead ones, it looks like they are heading towards having their souls eaten.
I did not like this book after I read issue one. Of all the things I have very little patience for, angsty teen bullshit is pretty high on the list, and that is what I feared this title would be. I’m happy I stuck with it, because there is a lot more going on here than angst. Gillen has managed to capture a believable voice for these teens without relying on the teenaged tropes that irritate me so. These are kids who understand the immense power they have (Wiccan, especially), but still make the sort of impulsive mistakes any teen would make. I’m also a big fan of Gillen’s style. I put him in the same category as Matt Fraction, Mark Waid, and Gail Simone; he has a very natural sense of humor to his writing. His characters are funny in the same way my friends are funny; despite the fact they’ve been dealing with magic and interdimensional parasites, they are people I feel I could hang out with in real life. Billy and Teddy are possibly the cutest couple, just, ever.
That is maybe the cutest thing. I’m also really impressed with the diversity in this title. Billy and Teddy are gay teens whose sexuality informs their characters in realistic ways. They aren’t behaving like flaming queens, or talking about their dead lovers; they’re just kids in love, who happen to both be dudes. Billy also has some awesomely progressive foster parents who not only are cool with their young ward’s sexuality, are cool with his boyfriend moving in with them when times are tough for him. On top of that, Miss America not white, a rarity in and of itself, and she apparently has (had) two moms?
Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the first time I’ve encountered a character with same-sex parents in a comic book (not counting Maggie’s daughter, because I don’t think we’ve actually met her). Granted, I think they’re dead, and also aliens so the whole “lesbian mom” thing might not be quite as meaningful as I think it is, but it’s still something I haven’t seen before and a step in the right direction.
I feel like this title serves as some sort of linchpin in the Marvel universe. It touches on so many parts of the world: there are ties to FF and Fantastic Four (through their involvement in the Children’s Crusade which led to Cassie Lang’s death), Hawkeye (through Kate), the X-Men (through Wiccan’s connection to Scarlet Witch), and of course the rest of the Avengers. Despite carrying the baggage of every other Marvel team, Gillen gives us a fun read. I didn’t even go into Jamie McKelvie’s art, which is just as delightful and dynamic as Gillen’s writing. This title is a great example, I think, of the ways that Marvel doesn’t take itself quite as seriously as DC, and why sometimes that is an asset. What do you think of this title, Drew? Are you equally enchanted?
Drew: It’s interesting that you should bring up Young Adult novels. I certainly read my share when I was what nobody would consider an adult of any kind (it’s strange that anyone embraced the label “Young Adult,” as it is both inaccurate and a little condescending), so I’m quite familiar with their tropes and trappings. The biggest one — something that essentially all Young Adult fiction has to deal with — is explain why these kids are on their own in the first place. Whether the kids are whisked off to a magical world, consigned to mortal combat or super-soldierdom in some kind of dystopian future, or just orphans on the run, all Young Adult stories need to make it believable that their problems wouldn’t just be solved by some kind of caring grown-up. My girlfriend sees that as icky wish fulfillment, but I think it’s more a matter of course — unless the story is about watching adults solve problems, they need to somehow be removed from the equation.
This arc does a great job of addressing that issue upfront, making the parents the very problem that the kids need to address. It works for the narrative, but I’m more interested in the notion that parents are teens biggest problems. The big, evil thing that Teddy’s “mom” does to tip the boys off to the fact that something is wrong? She enforces some strict rules around the breakfast table. Sure, by this point we know that she’s some kind of trans-dimensional monster, but Billy attempts to send her back because she thinks her son is too young to date. Maybe turning strict parents into evil monsters that must be stopped is a kind of teen wish fulfillment, but I think it’s one that’s universally relatable.
Gillen does a beautiful job expanding on this theme, bringing in the Avengers as hapless adults who just assume parents know best. Ultimately, the blind eye they turn to the weird shit going on must be part of that weird shit, but the thought that adults would automatically take the side of the other adults in this situation is totally believable. Teens tend towards feeling oppressed and alone against the world, and Gillen has simply legitimized those feelings by making the problems manifest as some kind of monstrous parasite.
My favorite piece of this might be the sequence where Teddy’s “mom” punishes the boys by sending them to their “room” — some kind of other dimension. The punishment here has a magical twist, but it’s ultimately effective for the same reasons as being sent to your actual room — being alone and bored. Of course, the specific nature of this dimension gives McKelvie and Mike Norton an opportunity to have some fun.
It’s simple, graphic, and has some postmodern fun with the page (which I’m always a sucker for). The art in this series in general is quite good, but I’m most impressed with the acting throughout. Young Adult fiction is notorious for high emotion, but McKelvie sells every beat of it.
I’m really enjoying this series. It’s doing a remarkable job of taking me back to my own teenage years, which I think is a testament to how well Gillen is writing these characters. If even I — a grown-ass man — can relate to them, then surely actual teenagers will, too.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?