Disclaimer: All of the comics reviewed in this column were either comped by the respective creators/companies, or purchased from Dr. Volts Comics in Salt Lake City.
BIFF! BANG!! POW … WOW!!!
YOUNG AVENGERS, #1-15 (monthly comic maxi-series, full color, Marvel Comics, $2.99) (8 out of 10)
WHO’S RESPONSIBLE? Kieron Gillen (writer); Jamie McKelvie, Kate Brown and others (artists); various (letters) and various (colors).
So-called “queer comics” have gone mainstream. Once consigned to the indie companies and their smaller-press titles, gay and lesbian characters are now popping up in many series coming from the Big Two.
One of the more high-profile titles featuring GLBT characters and material is Marvel’s “Young Avengers.” Created by openly gay, television-writer-turned-comics-scribe Allan Heinberg (“Gray’s Anatomy,” “The O.C.”) and artist Jim Cheung, the original maxi-series followed a group of second-, third- and no-generation young heroes who were inspired to do good deeds by the Avengers.
The “Young Avengers” ranks featured a younger, semi-heroic version of Kang the Conqueror (Iron Lad), the daughter of the second Ant-Man (Stature), the twin sons of the Scarlet Witch (Speed and Wiccan), the grandson of the original, African-American Captain America (Patriot) and Hulkling, the son of Captain Marvel. While arguments swirled over whether the half-Skrull heritage of shape shifter Hulkling was strictly male, he and Wiccan were considered one of comics few, committed and monogamous gay couples.
Unfortunately, Heinberg and Cheung’s initially promising run concluded with the muddled, unsatisfying “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade” mini-series, which killed off two members (Stature and the Vision) and scattered the others. Enter writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie, who teamed on the acclaimed, creator-owned series as “Phonogram.” (Gillen was also fresh off a well-regarded run on Marvel’s “Journey Into Mystery.”)
Their Marvel Now! “Young Avengers” maxi-series begins with Asgardian trickster god Loki (the adult version, now residing in his “kid” form) getting the band back together. Well, at least he gathers the remaining members, who include both Wiccan and Hulkling, as well as a new Miss America (from the Joe Casey-written “Vengeance” mini-series), the female Hawkeye and Marvel Boy (the Grant Morrison-created one).
Together, this group has to contend with a threat created by/awakened by the Wiccan’s malfunctioning powers: A mystically conjured “Mother” for the orphaned Hulkling, who promptly seizes control of all adults, including the “real” Avengers and then tries to get our teenaged and twenty something heroes under his spell to boot.
Unlike Heinberg’s version of the book, which almost appeared to be playing it safe at times, this one fully embraces and celebrates its characters various sexualities (Hawkeye and Marvel Boy are also carrying on a relationship … at least a sexual one). Much is made of the characters’ immaturity and emotional turbulence, including attempts by Kid Loki to make Wiccan and Hulkling question their relationship.
It’s also a funnier, fresher take on the characters and concepts. Gillen has a lot of fun with Loki, who might appear to be young but is still every bit as conniving and manipulative as we’ve come to expect.
And he’s aided capably by the underrated McKelvie, who experiments with traditional page layouts and creates one of the best action sequences in recent memory (a two-page spread in issue #4 that shows us just what Marvel Boy can do with his Kree-spawned powers).
Gillen’s plotting can be a little labyrinthine and confusing at times. Later issues in the abruptly-canceled, 15-issue run introduce so many characters and Marvel multiverses that real concentration and re-reads are necessary and encouraged.
And both he and McKelvie, who did most of the art for the 15 issues, were hampered a little by what they could do with some of the characters. Marvel clearly had big plans in store for Loki, who became a breakout star thanks to the hit movies “Marvel’s The Avengers” and “Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World.” Meanwhile, the female Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, also features prominently in Matt Fraction and David Aja’s excellent “Hawkeye” monthly.
This is yet another Marvel Now! book that is ending much too soon. And it’s clear that Gillen was told to wrap up the story as quickly as possible (resulting in some of the more confusing plotting and storytelling), as well as reset the status quo for certain characters. (Loki is eventually restored to adulthood, physically, so he can star in a new “Agent of Asgard” series for a different writer.)
While it’s easy to snipe at Marvel execs for ending the book, at least they did give Gillen, McKelvie and company some liberty to create a unique-looking and feeling title. And the duo has something here with which they can be proud. The characters have never looked or sounded this good, and they’ve actually improved on the earlier, Heinberg-written material, which isn’t an easy thing to do.
In fact, like the earlier maxi-series, this Marvel Now! title is highly recommended, especially for young-adult readers, for GLBT audiences and for those who are looking for something a little different from their super hero books.
Jeff Michael Vice, aka Jerk-bot, can be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (www.thegeekshowpodcast.com), as well as be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (www.facebook.com/BigMovieMouthOff)