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Young Avengers

BY AARON BLOCK

 

Who Made It? Kieron Gillen (w), Jamie McKelvie & Mike Norton (a), Matthew Wilson (c), and Clayton Cowles (l)

What Is It?: One of the most beloved comics of the 2000s, relaunched under the Marvel Now! banner by friends/frequent collaborators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, with the excellent Mike Norton on inks. Young Avengers follows teenaged heroes Wiccan, Hulkling, Hawkeye (Kate Bishop, the young, female Hawkeye), Noh-Varr, Miss America Chavez, and Kid Loki as they try to stop an alien parasite from using them as bio-batteries.

Why Aren’t You Reading It?:

  • You hate “teen” books
  • Like my personal podcast pals, you laughed at my description of Gillen and McKelvie’s excellent Phonogram and its sequel, Phonogram: the Singles Club
  • You’re too cool or grown-up for superhero comics
  • You’re a jerk

I can’t help you with that last one; you’ll have to work it out on your own. Probably it’s best to begin with therapy, or a support group for jerks, something like that. Your other objections, however, are much easier to address.

While Young Avengers does follow the exploits of teenaged heroes (or not-quite teenaged, in Loki’s case) who are grappling with romantic relationships, the awkward balance of fun and responsibility, and disapproving parents, it’s no more a “teen” book than Avengers is an “adult” book. In fact the first issue of Young Avengers addresses sex with a maturity and humor that many comics, mainstream or otherwise, can’t manage. Yes, Gillen is unabashedly writing about the experience of being young, but he takes that experience seriously. Which isn’t to suggest that the book is a grim trudge through “realistic” problems – far from it. Young Avengers is thick with the writer’s dry wit and obsession with pop music, and is on the whole a fun read every month. But underneath the humor is a genuine interest in the lives of young people.

I came to the book at a time when I’m doing everything I can to avoid stories about teenagers having fun; they just end up reminding me that my own youth was underwhelming and dull, spent fearing life instead of embracing it. Much as I enjoyed it, I had a hard time reading The Singles Club for that exact reason. Young Avengers is easier to take because it feels much less plausible (the magic in the Phonogram books is all just meant to be figurative anyway, isn’t it?) but I still feel that pang of regret when I read it. No amount of vivid superhero action can cover up the consistency and clarity of the characters’ voices.

A strong, emotionally honest narrative is crucial in making a superhero comic cool. But design consciousness is in, and no superhero comic can be cool without a distinctive style. Look at Hawkeye: the striking covers, the palette heavy on purple, the minimalist title page – all provocative design decisions, and all frequently cited as reasons why readers and critics love the title. Young Avengers isn’t as overtly against the current as Hawkguy, but Jaime McKelvie’s attention to fashion and the expressiveness of his and Mike Norton’s clean lines aren’t commonly seen in superhero comics. For example, the schematic/splash page of Noh-Varr’s fight scene (complete with key to identify important moments in the choreography) is not only a novel depiction of action – maybe the only thing that comes close is Frank Quitely’s and Chris Burnham’s depictions of Damian Wayne’s acrobatics in Batman and Robin and Batman, Inc. – but also a neat bit of pop art. That’s probably not everyone’s idea of cool, but it’s aimed at the young and hip – the rest of us get to congratulate ourselves for being savvy enough to catch on.

Finally, Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley implicitly endorsed the book by providing a great alternate cover for the first issue – if nothing else convinces you to try it out, that should.

Where You Should Start: There’ve only been four issues so far, and a number of reprintings, so you should be able to pick up the entire run so far from your local comic shop. And if you don’t have a local comic shop or just prefer to read digitally, every issue is available through Comixology. There’s also a trade paperback collecting the first five issues scheduled for release this September, but why wait that long?