Young Avengers – The 2015 Weekly Writer Challenge: Kieron Gillen (Part 1)
52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Kieron Gillen is a former computer game and music journalist. His first work with frequent co-collaborator, Jamie McKelvie, came way back in 2003, when the two men provide a comic strip for the Playstation UK Magazine. In 2006, they created the Image Comic series, Phonogram, before creating two sequels for it, one that launched in 2008 and the other launching just a few short months ago. Gillen has found great success writing superhero comics for Marvel, writing the likes of Thor and the Uncanny X-Men before finally landing on Young Avengers. Gillen took the opportunity to provide readers with a truly unique take on the team that garnered much critical and fan acclaim for how progressive it was.
Young Avengers Volume 1: Style > Substance
The Hulking and Wiccan, former members of the Young Avengers, are officially retired from being superheroes following the death of their good friend and teammate, Cassie Lang a.k.a. Stature. Living together with Wiccan’s adopted parents, the two love birds are happy with their new direction in life, or so Wiccan is lead to believe. The Hulking begins to sneak out at night and shape shift into other heroes so that he can fight crime. When Wiccan discovers this, the two lovers have a heartfelt breakdown in which The Hulking confesses to missing his deceased mother. Using his reality altering powers, Wiccan finds a version of The Hulking’s mother and brings her into their reality. At first everything seems great but that quickly gives way to a horrible series of events that threaten to destroy the young teenagers. Meanwhile, Kid Loki is trying to secretly help Wiccan and The Hulking…or is he? The mischievous god appears to be up to his old tricks while also forcing together a new team of Young Avengers. Miss America, a superhero from another reality, is contacted by Kid Loki to kill Wiccan which doesn’t sit well with her. While all this crazy stuff is happening down on Earth, Kate Bishop (a.k.a. Hawkeye) wakes up in Noh-Varr’s (a.k.a. Marvel Boy…but don’t call him that) bed in his spaceship. Then the Skrulls attack and their life gets a little difficult too.
Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are dynamite with this wholly unique take on the Young Avengers, placing style over substance. This specific creative team is well-known for the pop music like influence they have on their work, exploring the mass appeal of things within pop culture. With Young Avengers, Gillen and McKelvie bring a whole new dynamic to a small Avengers roster. But the story sinks its roots deeper the further into it you look, being a rather personal story for a lot of the characters as well. When a spell by Wiccan goes terribly wrong, all adults in proximity of the teenager heroes when it was cast are suddenly walking husks of their former selves. The parents become parasitic, all thanks to the spell cast in which a reality destroying parasite was pulled through into our universe. From there Gillen explores the dynamic of these teenagers without the support of adults, coming into combat with some of the people most closely associated with them. It’s a “the kids are not alright” kind of take on these characters but to a startling degree, as it kicks up plenty of skeletons from within these characters’ closests. For some characters, their parents have been deceased for a while, only to sudden return to life and try to hunt them down. Although it hardly rocks these characters who have already experienced the loss of their parents once, it’s still some heavy conflict for these young characters to handle.
As I stated in the previous paragraph, the whole feel to this Young Avengers series is rather “pop” like, in a way readers have likely never experienced. It’s teenage drama, heartbreak, adventure, excitement, curiosity, and so many other things that teenagers experience but it plays like a pop song. Truthfully, it’s one of those things you need to read to fully internalize as words struggle to do this fascinating take justice. The themes I just mentioned have been tackled a million times in comics when it comes to teenage superheroes but not like this, not like the way Kieron and McKelvie set out to do. What that results in is a story you adore just as much for its content as you do the style in which it undertakes to convey it.
Diversity for the sake of being diverse can feel unnatural and forced, but that’s not something Gillen encounters with the cast of characters he chooses to play with in this volume. Instead, the diverse cast we get with story actually feels essential for the style of story Gillen is trying to tell. You get an African American teenage girl who is in the wrong reality, a childish God of Mischief, a gay couple that consists of a shape shifting alien whose race is hated and a reality shifting magic user, an alien who has no idea what he’s really doing, and a young average white teenage girl with no superpowers. Without all these different, unique characters so many of the beats for the story would just fall flat. The relationship of Wiccan and The Hulking is the backbone for the series, cast into the role of the two “forbidden” lovers who are still young enough to struggle with their sexual identities yet feel comfortable within them. This relationship is just a driving force for the plot, character development, and so many other vital parts of the series. With Miss America you get a sense of mystery, unsure who this character is or what fully motivates her as she has next to nothing tethering her to the current reality she resides in. Loki is equal parts comedic relief and a dramatic device designed specifically to always keep the reader guessing. You can never quite put your finger on what Loki is going to do next, all you know is that you can’t look away. With Noh-Varr and Kate Bishop, readers get the opposite end of the romantic spectrum in contrast to The Hulking and Wiccan. Kate Bishop and Noh-Var are just discovering their feeling for each other when we pick up with them in the story, having not really made much headway in terms of developing the comfort you see in the series’ other couple.
What’s most exciting about the series is that it doesn’t rely on doing the same trick over and over again. Gillen and McKelvie seek to break new ground and do so repeatedly with this story, as they are always looking to move forward. A perfect example of this is the fact that McKelvie’s design work is always trying new things. During action sequences you can see the creative team actively go out of their way to try to do something different. Look at the different fights that take place between Miss America and Loki for a perfect example, or the moment when the Skrulls attack Kate Bishop and Noh-Varr. If that isn’t enough for you, look to scenes like when the team takes on all the adults during the climax of the book or even the brilliant sequence in the second issue where Hulking and Wiccan are trapped within the confines of a comic page with only Kid Loki as their saving grace. This comic experiments within the superhero genre in ways that you’ll be hard sought to find anywhere else. It’s not a redeeming factor for this book, it’s a selling point, as Gillen and McKelvie take pop music sensibilities and blend it up with teenage angst to give you one of the best superhero books from the last few years.
Collects: Young Avengers #1-5
Best Character: Kid Loki
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “Come with me if you want to be awesome.” – Noh-Varr
Best Scene/Moment: A trapped Hulking and Wiccan get help from Kid Loki – Issue 2
Best Issue: Issue 4. The fourth issue of this first collection is everything that Gillen and McKelvie set out to do with this take on the Young Avengers. First, the action sequence in the start of this issue is crazy amounts of fun and hilarious, being styled with some excellent, unique panel layouts. Secondly, all the characters enter the struggle, giving the readers their first full glimpse of the team together. Third, the character moments in this issue are strong, whether they be comedic, deceptive, or even heartbreaking. Lastly, it’s just awesome.
Why You Should Read It: A bold, refreshing take of the superhero genre (and the world’s youth circa 2013), Young Avengers is everything anyone who is in touch with modern pop culture would want to read. It’s progressive and not shy about it, being a book that strongly ties to the LGBT community through the use of it’s diverse and believable characters. An incredible cast, a deceptively powerful story, and more style than you thought possible jammed into one book, Young Avengers is everything you could ask for from a modern superhero book.