Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing Young Avengers 7, originally released July 10th, 2013.
Spencer: Teenagers are a tricky bunch to write. They speak, think, and communicate in their own unique ways, and it’s glaringly obvious when adults try to imitate these patterns without knowing what they’re doing. Fortunately, Kieron Gillen isn’t a writer who falls into these traps. Gillen has a remarkable knack for writing teenagers, and this is more apparent than ever in Young Avengers 7, where he uses these kids’ relationships (and social networking accounts) to show us how the team has progressed since we last saw them.
It’s been three months since the Young Avengers’ climatic fight with the Mother Parasite; in the meantime, they’ve been chasing the Skrulls from waaaaaay back in issue 1. It turns out that they’re imposters, and after sending them home, the kids reconvene to Earth for breakfast (Apparently, the Young Avengers and I both share a deep, intense love for pancakes). Here they’re intercepted by Prodigy, who informs them of Speed’s disappearance. Thanks to Loki and Miss America, the team tracks down Speed’s captor and chases him into the multiversal unknown.
Three months is a long time in comic book time, and it’s a little sad to miss out on so many adventures with the Young Avengers, but the time-skip is worth it for this page alone:
Catching us up on three months’ worth of events through the kids’ social networking accounts is an ingenious idea, not only because sites like Instagram and Facebook appear to be teenagers’ main mode of communication in this day and age, but because it allows us to learn how the various Young Avengers interact with each other in their downtime, thus learning more about their personalities. Even their screennames reveal more of their true character: “BILLYKAPLAN666” reflects Billy’s potential to cause great disaster as well as his intense self-loathing; “KateBishop” is simple and direct, and the only screenname not in all-caps, reflecting Kate’s role as “the grown up one”; there simply isn’t a more fitting screenname for Noh-Varr than “INTERGALATICPLANETARY”; and America doesn’t have an Instagram, reflecting the fact that she’s still a relative outsider on the team.
The time-skip also allows us to skip over the team’s growing pains. Last time we saw the Young Avengers they had banded together out of necessity, but after three months together they’re working like a well-oiled machine. I was impressed by how well planned and executed their attack on the “Skrulls” was. Wiccan and Loki have put aside their differences, combining Loki’s skill and Wiccan’s power to great effect, and the rest of the team knows their parts and plays them flawlessly.
That’s great teamwork there. Noh-Varr and Hawkeye provide cover fire while Hulkling and Miss America block incoming attacks; not only is it an impressive use of their unique abilities, but its evident that these kids have put in a lot of practice and earned a lot of trust to pull off a maneuver like this.
Of course, we don’t just get to see how the Young Avengers have come together as a team; we also get to see how close they’ve gotten as individuals. The Post-Skifflefuffles scene on Noh-Varr’s ship allows us to see couples interacting that, up until this point, have had little chance to.
First we’ve got Loki and Billy practicing their spells. I already mentioned that these two seem to have put aside their differences, but here (and throughout the issue, really) we see that the whole team seems to have (for better or for worse) come to trust Loki, which is certainly a huge difference from the first arc.
Then there’s Teddy and Noh-Varr. As this scene progresses these two have a surprisingly tender conversation about Billy’s possible manipulation of his and Teddy’s romance, and not only does it imply that Teddy has already told Noh-Varr about this theory, but it shows them honestly connecting despite only exchanging a few words in the first arc.
Then there’s Kate and America in the back. America seems to be practicing the deflecting techniques she used back when fighting the Skifflefuffles, which is interesting in and of itself, but I’m also pleased to see these two working together peacefully. I got the impression from their brief interactions in the first arc that Kate and America don’t quite get along, and even later in this issue, when America opens the multiversal rift, Kate seems a little leery of America and her new ability. Yet, the two still seem to trust each other enough to train together, and that’s always a good first step.
Of course, Gillen isn’t the only one putting in killer work this issue. The Young Avengers art team is so consistently exceptional that it gets hard to find new ways to compliment them, but they always give me a reason to try. I was particularly impressed by colorist Matthew Wilson’s contributions. He’s given a variety of backgrounds and effects to color this time around and knocks each one out of the park, but his shining moment of triumph has to be the filters he applies to Loki’s Instagram photos. They’re spot on.
Meanwhile, Jamie McKelvie continues to pencil faces that can tell entire stories in a single expression.
Loki’s hiding behind the innocent smirk of that adorable body he’s hijacked, but Prodigy isn’t buying it. He may have lost his mutant ability to learn everything about a person just by meeting them, but he’s still intuitive—and smart—enough to see straight through Loki’s façade immediately (and judging from how Loki’s frowning in the next panel, he realizes it too). It’s impressive that McKelvie can convey so much information in two wordless panels.
There was one brief interaction I didn’t quite understand, though, and maybe you can help me with it, Patrick. After catching the Skifflefuffles, Teddy calls them “juvenile wannabes”, and Loki relays the old “people in glass houses” expression. I don’t understand what Loki’s implying here—that the Young Avengers are wannabes? I wouldn’t call them that. I dunno, Patrick, any theories?
Patrick: Oh, I kinda read that as another victim of Gillen’s free-wheeling way with words. Gillen plays fast n’ sloppy with language, and the effect is sometimes enchanting and sometimes just sort of confounding. I struggle with the smartassery in this series – it’s more or less relentless. And I can’t tell if it means I’m annoyed by Gillen’s writing or his characters, who are just being true to themselves. The Tumblr-esque montage catching us up on the last three months might have been a clever way to show us a few snapshots of their adventures, but the running “smooch” jokes and the many references to the functionality of social media seem like shitty little ways to nudge the audience and say “see, I’m cool too.” The alternative is that Loki’s friends actually are unfriending him and/or reporting him as spam – and that’s depressing too.
There are a few other weird hiccups throughout that don’t ring particular honest for me. For all the lengths Gillen goes to to disguise his 30-something year old man sensibilities as youthful, his cultural reference points are oddly dated. Our heroes refer to two songs in this issue: The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” and Nina Simone’s “Young, Gifted & Black,” released on 1966 and 1970 respectively. Even Noh-Varr’s Yamblr handle refers to a Beastie Boys song that would have come out when these guys were in preschool. (That’s right: Hello Nasty came out 15 years ago – who feels old?) I don’t want to harp too much on these details, but it does betray an over-all ironic detachment that’s required to both write and read these characters.
Don’t get me wrong: that detachment allows for near-constant Neat Shit. Take the title page of this issue – it appears to be a menu from Joe’s Diner, and the members of the creative team are all dishes with descriptions that sorta work for people, but also sorta work for greasy-spoon entrees (except for the execs… guess you can’t be cutesy with everything).
The only other series I’m reading right now that approaches this level of post-modern glee is Deadpool. It’s perhaps the best way to present a story about six teenage superheroes – it’s hard not to roll your eyes at teen relationships. Okay guys, you’re in love: let me know how that’s going after a semester of college. But as long as they’re fighting alien races with stupid names or literally escaping panels from one reality in order to visit another reality, I’ll probably be able to stomach it. It’s an experimental series, so not every gamble is going to pay off. That two-page spread where Prodigy details how he came to discover this diner is all staged within panels that make up the shape of his head. McKelvie throws innovative layouts at us frequently enough that I think we’re trained to see something like this and see it as special or meaningful in some way. But it’s just sort of hollow cleverness – suggesting a character’s head is not the same as evoking his intelligence, which is what I suspect McKelvie was trying to demonstrate.
But hey, if we can all connect to this thing on some superficial level, what does it matter if one abstract layout experiment didn’t work? And even if the music selection doesn’t sound like what a kid would be listening to, the choice of hangout — a diner — totally hits home for me. When I was in high school, my favorite all-night diner was a place called Sunshine Family Restaurant, we would go there after band practice and order the Fluffy Delicious French Toast with a side of marinara sauce. They once served me mashed potatoes with whipped cream and a candle in it on my birthday. It was a silly, surreal place where we could hide from our parents and where the rules didn’t seem to apply. That’s the kind of space Gillen is cultivating for these characters.
The building that Sunshine was in is currently half-Starbucks, half-Payday Loans…
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?