Home » Book Reviews » Book Review: Young Avengers, Volume One

Book Review: Young Avengers, Volume One

WRITER: Allan Heinberg

ARTISTS: Jim Cheung, Michasel Gaydos, Neal Adams, Gena Ha, Jae Lee, Bill Sienkiewicz, Pasqual Ferry

COLOR ARTISTS: Jim Cheung, Jose Villarrubia, Justin Ponsor, Art Lyon, June Chung, Dave McCaig

LETTERER: Cory Petit

EDITOR: Stephanie Moore, Molly Lazer, Aubrey Sitterson, Andy Schmidt, Tom Brevoort

“Who the #*&% are the Young Avengers?” (J. Jonah Jameson, Young Avengers, Vol. 1 #1)[1]

“You were right. They are fanboys.” (Kat Farrell to Jessica Jones, Young Avengers, Vol. 1 #1)[2]

Who are the Young Avengers? They’re a team of teenage superheroes who’ve been showing up in the news, including in a Daily Bugle article written by Kat Farrell, who christened them with their team name. I really enjoyed volume two of this superhero team’s comics, [3] and so was very excited to read about how their story first began. This volume unfolds over thirteen issues (twelve in the main series, with Young Avengers Special #1 in between #8 and #9) and it was in many ways similar to and in many ways different from the story I’d already read. I thought it was about time that I write a review, as I’m continuing to read the Young Avengers canon.

The story begins with news reports about a team of teenagers that have been dressing up like the Avengers and acting like superheroes. The group comes together after the Avengers disbanded in a previous Marvel Comics crossover event story.[4] Lots of people are wondering who they are and what they’re up to. Kat Farrell wants an interview, and so Jessica Jones/Jewel has the assignment of getting the Young Avengers to agree to talk to her. The older Avengers want to find and stop the Young Avengers, out of concern for their safety. There are all kinds of weird things going on, including one of the team being revealed as the person who will grow up to be the villain Kang the Conqueror and an epic battle between the Skrull and Kree empires over a character who doesn’t want to side with either of them. The interactions between the Avengers and Young Avengers were interesting to read, with realistic motivations on both sides. Regarding the Kang storyline, I’m generally frustrated by stories with a character who’s destined to become evil (and not too fond of fate or prophecy elements in general) but it’s very heart-wrenching as we see a character make certain decisions about his own future in the hopes of saving his friends in the present. The battle between the two empires gives us some information about Teddy, and I like the element of him wanting to decide his future for himself. There’s a rather fun and funny ending, despite how dire the situation seems at first. Overall, the plot of the story is a little hectic at times, but definitely interesting and fun, with a decent amount of quieter moments and character development to get the reader invested in our superhero team.

The Young Avengers are all really interesting. Some characters are the same as the ones in volume two, while others are different. The story begins with a group of four: Nathaniel Richards/Iron Lad, Elijah “Eli” Bradley/Patriot, William “Billy” Kaplan, and Theodore “Teddy” Altman. Nathaniel is interesting, and his story is very sad. Faced with knowledge about the villain he’ll become, he has to decide what to do and what to tell his friends. Despite not usually liking storylines about fate, and despite some confusing parts of the story, I found him a very sympathetic character as he tries to figure out the best course of action. Eli is the grandson of the original Captain America, Isaiah Bradley. The formula that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America was originally tested on African-Americans, and Isaiah Bradley was one of the test subjects. He ended up being the last one alive and secretly went on a mission to stop the Nazi Super Soldier program. For his trouble, he was imprisoned at Leavenworth, and then released years later. The story is meant as a reference to the actual use of African-Americans as test subjects in unethical medical testing throughout our history. Eli becomes a superhero and calls himself Patriot to honor his grandfather and continue fighting the good fight. He’s a great character with a great backstory, but I was troubled by how the explanation of his powers was handled. The original explanation was great just the way it was (a good combination of fun and serious elements, addressing discrimination in a fascinating story) but the creators went down an unnecessary plot-twist tangent that (perhaps unintentionally) contained some stereotypes that often show up in stories with African-American characters. What makes it even more frustrating was that the story went full circle, with him eventually getting his powers in the same way that was originally explained, so I’m not sure why they went down that tangent in the first place, instead of using that space for a different story arc for Eli, perhaps regarding his relationships with his family or friends. Overall, Eli himself is a great character I’d love to read more about. Billy gets some more backstory in this volume, as we find out about him being bullied in school and finding out that he’s the son of Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. Teddy also gets some backstory, as well as a big story arc in this volume. We find out he used to use his powers to impersonate celebrities to gain popularity with his friends, but he eventually decided it wasn’t right. Teddy finds out that he’s not human, and neither is the mother who raised him his whole life. He is half-Kree, half-Skrull. His mom Mrs. Altman is Skrull and was Teddy’s birth mother’s nursemaid. Teddy’s original title and name is Prince Dorrek VIII, and his allegiance is wanted by both the Kree and Skrull empires. He’s not particularly interested in either proposition, thinking of Earth as his home. It’s a nice story with references to finding one’s own identity. Later, in volume two, Noh-Varr calls him as “Teddy, Adoptive of Earth”, a fitting title.[5] The relationship between Billy and Teddy is fun, as usual. There’s a hilarious coming out passage, in which Billy is about to tell his parents he’s a superhero, but they think he’s trying to come out about his sexual orientation, which they already know. They hug and welcome Teddy to the family. It’s the kind of coming out, met with acceptance and love, that many LGBTQ kids and teens wish they could have. In the article “Comics Pride: 50 Comics and Characters That Resonate with LGBT Readers”, Andrew Wheeler described their story as “an It Gets Better for the superhero set”[6] and I wholeheartedly agree.

Soon after the story starts, Katherine “Kate” Bishop/Hawkeye and Cassandra “Cassie” Lang/Stature join the team. Kate gets some character development in this volume, as we find out what motivated her to become a superhero and how she inherits Clint Barton/Hawkeye’s bow and superhero name. She’s the only member of the team without superpowers, but her story shows that bravery and morality (not superpowers) are what matter most. Her interactions with the other characters are fun to read as well. Hers was another origin story that contained some elements that are stereotypical, this time for female characters. We find out that she was motivated to become a superhero after she herself was attacked, and it’s a common trope for female character to become motivated after being attacked, especially after sexual assault. This part of her story isn’t really addressed further, though I do like the little acknowledgement that it’s not the victim’s fault and that bad things can happen to everyone. Cassie has an interesting family story, as the daughter of a superhero who’s no longer alive. She doesn’t get along with her stepfather, and her mother is concerned about her. (There’s an interesting bit in which we find out Cassie’s mother’s reason for being concerned about her, and it adds some depth, instead of just being a case of the parents conveniently getting in the way to provide an obstacle for the teenage character.) Cassie is determined and doesn’t let anything stand in her way, not even the Avengers themselves. The next to join the team is the Vision, who’s a bit of a confusing character, having as he does the Vision’s programming and Nathaniel’s emotions and memory, but his story is an interesting introduction with potential for exploring how a person figures out who they really are. The last person to join the team in this volume is Thomas “Tommy” Shepherd/Speed, the twin brother of Billy Kaplan. Tommy is behind bars after destroying his school, but the Young Avengers break him out, so he can help them rescue Teddy. He doesn’t get a big story, but there is some interaction between the twin brothers.

The way the older Avengers were incorporated into the story was done well. When a new set of characters are introduced into a universe, it can be tempting to rely too much on already-beloved characters to carry the story, taking the safe option by focusing on characters with a large fanbase. The creators of this comic judiciously avoided that problem by maintaining the focus on the teenage cast, with participation by the older characters in a way that made sense. Most prominent among the older Avengers is Steve Rogers/Captain America (who acts very much like a concerned parent). His concern for the younger superheroes is not just there for a few laughs and to provide a convenient obstacle (though the situation does have these effects as well). It’s explained in the beginning that Captain America’s sidekick Bucky Barnes was killed during World War Two. As J. Jonah Jameson remarks about the aftermath of Bucky’s death (in a funny line for such a serious situation) “From then on, kid sidekicks only showed up in comic books.”[7] It was interesting to read a story in which a group of superheroes are actually discouraging teenagers from joining their own chosen profession.

The writing and artwork is really enjoyable. It definitely kept me reading. There are some really hilarious and moving conversations between the characters, as well as panels with beautiful artwork. It’s been really enjoyable to read these characters as written and drawn by various creators, as imagined by different people. Despite creative differences between the volumes, I found it very easy to get back into the world.

With regards to diversity, I enjoyed the attempts to be inclusive in both volumes one and two, despite some of the issues. Racial diversity was addressed with Eli’s backstory, and despite the misstep with the odd tangent, there are lots of passages that acknowledge racial discrimination in a relevant way. Unfortunately, unlike volume two, there aren’t multiple non-white characters in the main team. (Technically, Teddy’s a shape-shifted who can look however he wants, but he usually has light skin.) The creators of both volumes have kept up the tradition of a United States-themed superhero leading the team, just as Steve Rogers/Captain America led the Avengers. The fact that Eli Bradley (in volume one) and America Chavez (in volume two) are both non-white characters is welcome and reflects the idea that anyone, of any race, can be a leader and anyone can don the red, white, and blue of the United States. (As a side note, there’s an excellent line by Luke Cage addressing the lack of racial diversity in superhero stories. The Avengers see news reports about the Young Avengers yet again, indicating that the teens didn’t follow the adults’ instructions to disband their group. While watching the news broadcast, Peter Parker/Spider-Man says, in response to a comment by Cage regarding Patriot’s uniform, “You know his name?” Cage responds, “You think there are so many black super heroes running around that I can’t remember their names?”[8] Hopefully, we’re moving toward a future when we can honestly answer “Yes” in response to that rhetorical question.) With regards to LGBTQ characters, there aren’t as many in this volume as there are in volume two (which reversed the usual convention by making the entire team non-heterosexual), and once again, there aren’t any transgender characters (a demographic that often gets even less representation than homosexual characters). On the positive side, the same-sex relationship in the story was the main romance, not pushed to the side in favor of focusing on heterosexual characters’ romances. There are multiple female characters, though there are still more male than female characters on the team. The interactions between the female characters were really great to read. Generally, there are valid criticisms that can be made, in addition to the ones already mentioned, but the Young Avengers series is one that’s moving superhero comics in a good direction.

Overall, volume one was really fun to read. It has its merits and flaws, just as the second volume does, though they differ in their strengths and weaknesses. The Young Avengers have become one of my favorite superhero teams, and it’s always great to find a new story that earns a special place in my heart.

[Originally Written: 26 July 2014]

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References

[1] Heinberg, Allan; Cheung, Jim; et al. “Young Avengers Vol. 1 #1: ‘Sidekicks’”. 9 February 2005. In: Young Avengers: Ultimate Collection. Marvel, 2013 (second printing). [ISBN: 978-0-7851-4907-1]

[2] Young Avengers Vol. 1 #1: “Sidekicks”

[3] EAS. Book Review: ‘Young Avengers’ Volume 2 (By Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, et al)”. Homeworld Journal, 16 May 2016. https://homeworldjournal.wordpress.com/2016/05/16/book-review-young-avengers-volume-two/

[4] “Avengers Disassembled”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 24 July 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Avengers_Disassembled.

[5] Gillen, Kieron; McKelvie, Jamie; et al. “Young Avengers Vol. 1 #7: ‘Breakfast Meet’”. 2013. In: Young Avengers, Vol. 2: Alternative Culture. Marvel, 2014. [ISBN: 978-0-7851-6709-9]

[6] Wheeler, Andrew. “Comics Pride: 50 Comics and Characters That Resonate with LGBT Readers”. Posted on 29 June 2012 at Comics Alliance. Retrieved on 25 July 2014 from http://comicsalliance.com/comics-pride-month-50-most-important-lgbt-comics-characters/.

[7] Young Avengers Vol. 1 #1 “Sidekicks”.

[8] Heinberg, Allan; Cheung, Jim; et al. “Young Avengers Vol. 1 #7: ‘Secret Identities (Part 1 of 2)’”. 2005. In: Young Avengers: Ultimate Collection. Marvel, 2013 (second printing).

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