Young Avengers: Style > Substance
by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
2013 • 128 pages • Marvel
Through sheer timing and luck, I have, in my comic book collection, Kieron Gillen’s entire run on Journey Into Mystery in single issues. I don’t mention this as a bragging point; its genius is readily available in trader paperback. I mention this because I really loved getting to follow the story of Kid Loki in weekly installments. In the digital age, it’s very easy to binge on something in days or weeks, so I really value being able to take my time with a series. (I’m doing the same thing right now with Sailor Moon. It’s awesome!) Gillen’s self-contained arc—best described as “a comedy in thirty parts and a tragedy in thirty-one”—is fun, heartwarming, thoughtful, meta, and heartbreaking, all at the same time.
And that’s without Gillen working with long-time collaborator Jamie McKelvie. I don’t mean to imply that Gillen’s writing sparkles less without McKelvie or vice versa, but the narrative and the art walk hand in hand when they’re working together. The two began their working relationship in 2003 at PlayStation Magazine UK on Save Point, a comic about gaming. (This is, to quote John Mulaney, a very old-fashioned sentence. I can practically smell my old GamePro magazines reading it.) Since then, they’ve worked together on Phonogram, the upcoming The Wicked + The Divine, and the short-lived but critically acclaimed and GLAAD Award-winning Young Avengers.
As someone interested in diversity in pop culture and specifically speculative fiction, I had heard about Young Avengers after its untimely cancellation at the beginning of this year. Specifically, the fact that the last issue has Kate Bishop asking everybody else on the team if she’s the only straight person on the team, only for America Chavez to scoff and point out the way Kate looks at her. A pack of queer teen superheroes from Marvel? Sign me up, sister.
Of course, that’s not the only thing that stands out about the title, or even the team. The first issue opens up with a bang, reintroducing America—previously a member of the Teen Brigade—as an angry, justice-minded, and incredibly powerful young woman meeting Kid Loki for Korean barbecue. He asks her to kill Billy Kaplan (otherwise known as the reality-warping teen cape Wiccan); she, of course, refuses, and even turns up to save Billy from Loki. Except that’s exactly what Loki wanted. You see, Billy, in an attempt to prove his love for his boyfriend, Teddy (aka Hulkling), has used his powers to save Teddy’s mother from her hideous fate. Unfortunately, what Billy’s brought back isn’t Teddy’s mom—it’s a hideous alien parasite that can bend adults to its will. Billy, Teddy, America, and Loki made weird enough bedfellows, but help soon comes from Kate Bishop (the other Hawkeye) and Noh-Varr (please do not call him Marvel Boy).
It’s a neat and thematically rich premise, starting with Billy trying to make it up to his boyfriend with his magical powers and ending with the fact that the parasite likes to summon dead parents to distract and attack the team. The kids are, more or less, on their own, no parents or mentors, trying to fix this one mistake. America is the obvious leader, being the most self-sufficient and oldest of them all, but Loki is the only one who knows what’s going on. (While trying to gain Billy and Teddy’s trust, he appeals to their love of Game of Thrones declares that he’s basically Tyrion. The boys are not impressed.)
This makes for fleet, fun, and engaging reading. McKelvie’s muscular, bright art is perfect for this kind of storytelling, especially when his layout work gets creative. Kate and Noh-Varr have a wonderful fight sequence in a two-page spread where Kate revels in being a teenage superhero in over her head. (Oh, Kate. It was so hard to see you drive out of the Hawkeye series with Pizza Dog. You are a gem and I like your new boy.) Later, Billy is imprisoned in a white room, leading to a rescue mission occurring in and around panels. I’ve been seeing more and more inventive layout work in my comic book reading as of late, and I am loving it.
As promised on the back cover of this trade paperback, however, it’s not all sass and games—there’s plenty of feels. (This is the first time I’ve seen the word tumblr and feels on official printed material, which felt both odd and perfectly right for this book.) There’s the trauma of seeing your dead parents resurrected in front of you, and Billy losing contact with his parents a la Hermione at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, albeit it’s completely involuntary in this case. But the reason that I brought up Journey into Mystery at the beginning of this review is that this is the first time we see Kid Loki after the events of that series. While you don’t need to have read that series to understand this one, it’s more affecting to know exactly why Loki is so conflicted and haunted by his past. His manic patter, so charming and childish in Journey into Mystery, is a defense mechanism here. Being able to see that character development actually play out over years? Well, that makes me feel like a big girl comic book reader.
I rented this book from the public library.