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Young Avengers #1

youngavengersseries1“Style > Substance”
Kieron Gillen
Jamie McKelvie
Marvel $2.99

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes…” David Bowie

Finally here it is – the first issue of an ongoing Young Avengers series that has been the once upon a time dream and hope of some readers in the years since the teen group mid-wifed by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung ended its “season two” way back when. A hope that seemed unlikely considering factors that have plagued past appearances. You know
the litany so I’ll pass on more elaboration.

So the creative baton passes to writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie. Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave in Katmandu you know the pair is responsible for the cult and critical hit Phonogram (Rue Brittania) and The Singles Club followup of several years ago under the Image banner. McKelvie has done some odds and ends at Marvel and almost certainly other projects that I can’t find under my present time constraints. Over at Marvel Gillen took on the task of making Loki turned into a teen into an interesting and conniving lead in a run of brother Thor’s original Journey Into Mystery home. Wanting to get a little head up I read the first collection of his Loki. Thank you, public library! My ignorance of events leading up to JiM made some of the plot points confusing but Gillen revealed a far more interesting Loki than the adult version ever seemed to me. I came away with hopeful feels for the series.

The Young Avengers were last seen as a group in The Children’s Crusade. Events happened. Consequences followed and things fell apart. What’s that Bowie song lyric? Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strain). Gillen and McKelvie pick up the pieces with the remaining orginals (Kate, Billy, Teddy), introduce three new ones (Noh-Varr/ Marvel Boy, Miss America, and Loki) and drops us into their lives part way to start shaking things up quite a lot. It’s a hell-Hel-hellity (to borrow a phrase from Loki) of a set up first issue in this dinosaur fanboy’s mind. We find Kate’s become involved with Noh-Varr. At the same time we’re invited to become voyeurs to Kate’s become voyeurs to some post bliss orbital style before a Skrull crew attacks. Hard jump cut to Teddy and Billy in what starts as a lovers’ spat and quickly turns into a heart to heart. Teddy feels for Billy who’s given up using his magicks. Billy feels for Teddy who never really knew and still lost his birth mother. Billy feels so much for Teddy’s aching maternal emptiness he goes and does something to rectify it while Loki uses diner food in a most unusual way and pulls a Loki in the diner to skip out and also during a rooftop confrontation initiated by Miss America that brings it all back to Teddy and Billy. Back up for a sec – Teddy moved in with Billy and his parents. That is, the Kaplans, not Wanda. Yeah, the Kaplans are all great for taking Teddy in so the boys are together a lot. But the P’s (you know – mom and dad Kaplan) have at least one boundary. The boys have separate bedrooms. As if that restriction ever stopped anyone from having any kind of sex. So yeah, but no fuck yeah. So a solitary Billy overwhelmed with feels conjures up something to make Teddy’s life better. It’s an amazingly sweet and touching act he does. And so incredibly stupid it from “aww” to “epic fail” in record time. It makes me wonder if Wiccan is drain bramaged saughty boy now. But hey, there can’t be a cliffhanger without some drama or tension or possibly murder, can there?

At first glance pairing Miss America and Loki for a scene seemed novel. Then again, there was little opportunity otherwise. There’d be fan hell to pay if Billy and Teddy weren’t together panel wise, and Kate is the key for getting Marvel Boy on board. All that’s left to do is make the best of the remaining pages to showcase Miss America’s gutsiness in trying to face down the teen Norse god of mischief. The hint of a tension filled dynamic between Loki and Wiccan is promising though I suspect there’ll be plenty of tension for everyone with Loki taking advantage of situations. Is it wromg that I already want his ass kicked and handed to him? I mean that in a good way which is saying a lot since I have almost zero interest in Thor and company.

Gillen’s take on the original three seems different than Heinberg’s and his style in general most certainly is. How different the character handling is is a question to figure out another time, if at all, as far as I’m concerned because a real critique of stylistic differences is beyond the scope of free time I have right now and the idea doesn’t (yet) appeal to me. Yes, Gillen is bringing stylistic choices related to Phonogram to the series. Even I can tell that despite – and I shouldn’t confess this – ignorance of Phonogram, but these are more enjoyable than not. How well and often the music related theme is incorporated into the plot points or character moments and development from this point on is something at which I’ll be looking. Most efforts by various writers in my comics reading experience who try to include music, especially newly created lyrics fail in the attempt. Gillen’s take is novel for me (see: confession of ignorance) and I hope it won’t wear thin. Maybe Gillen needs to dial back on the feels with Billy and Teddy. When Teddy says “We’re sickening, right” I would only agree with Billy’s “totally” if this kind of scenario becomes an emotional loop played long and frequently. Thankfully they have a good snog right away though hinting at more would be great though maybe a little problematic for Marvel if they’re still under 18. Billy’s lack of good judgment seems off. In this respect I’d have thought a writer might show some character growth in light of the clusterfuck Heinberg made the character responsible for in The Children’s Crusade. Love blinds, eh?  But if Billy keeps making such terrible decisions he’s going to get spanked and I don’t mean playfully.

McKelvie does a good job in my opinion with the art. Sure, his style is flatter than Cheung’s, which in turn demands a complementary coloring style. A flatter art style is not a deal breaker for me. During my college art years at Chicago’s Art Institute I spent a semester eagerly learning about and fascinated by various Ukiyo-e artists whose subjects were always rendered in flat and decorative styles. The opening five page sequence with Kate and Noh-Varr works for me, and not just because I’m looking at him in that way someone my age isn’t supposed to look at much younger guys even if they are a little more than legal age. That double spread of rapid fire video clips style panels on pages four and five comes off as amazing to me in a way that made me remember how I enjoyed the wide screen feel of Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Authority run. Gillen pulls this off a second time toward the end of the chapter. Billy’s physique looks to have slimmed down. In the past he looked more broad, thick, a hairless cub while now he appears more of a muscle jock. Having a variety of body types is important for many readers whose reasons for wanting diversity range from identification to objectification.

But how good is it? My assessment is Gillen and McKelvie are off to a better than average start, but they have a challenge on their hands in that they’re going to be compared to Heinberg and Cheung. For some fans they won’t measure up simply because of this or that reason going back to Heinberg and Cheung and that’s that. There will always be back issues to read and maybe once every other year Heinberg and Cheung  can do a special because let’s be real – that’s all that will probably ever happen. Goddess knows I have my own opinions about some work that’s out of step with others. The first issue isn’t pitch perfect but neither is it auto tuned like many (or all) songs in every episode of Glee. I’ll be back for more each month and hope that Young Avengers escapes editorial and marketing driven crossover events.

YMMV! This is simply a review by an old dinosaur fanboy trying to stay relevant and looking a tad ridiculous.

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