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

Book Review: Young Avengers, Volume Two

WRITER: Kieron Gillen

ARTISTS: Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton, Kate Brown, Emma Vieceli, Lee Loughridge, Christian Ward, Annie Wu, Jordie Bellaire, Becky Cloonan, Ming Doyle, Maris Wicks, Joe Quinones

COLOR ARTIST: Matthew Wilson

LETTERER: Clayton Cowles

EDITORS: Jacob Thomas, Jon Moisan, Lauren Sankovitch

“I’m not going to spend the rest of my life in the phone booth. I’m not living a lie.” (Theodore “Teddy” Altman/Hulkling, Young Avengers, Volume 2)[1]

“Kate Bishop’s Interdimensional Journal. Week Five. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote, ‘I hope we get home in time for my birthday.’ I was joking. I write it again, this time with all seriousness: I hope we get home in time for my birthday. Let’s go one further: I hope we get home at all. We’ve seen astounding sights that catch my breath and will haunt me for life. Mayfly dimensions full of horrors craving to be more than a tiny fragment of time. Desperate dimensions fully of fears, all time running out. The interdimensions, hungering after what we were lucky enough to be born into. It’s awful for everyone. Even Chavez is exhausted. Barely anyone’s sleeping, and when they do, what they dream of makes them wish they hadn’t. ‘Gaze not down the rabbit hole, in case you become a rabbit,’ as Loki said. Everyone rolled their eyes. And then there was the dimension with the rabbits. Oh God. I have nightmares about rabbits. I’ve had bad times. We all have. But this is the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. These days … Everyone just wishes they would end. Except the days when we wish it could go on forever.” (Katherine “Kate” Bishop/Hawkeye, Young Avengers, Volume 2)[2]

“This story has a happier ending than that.” (Loki, Young Avengers, Volume 2)[3]

Superheroes are awesome, and there’s a superhero comic series that has reaffirmed my interest in and excitement for the genre. I recently read the second volume of Young Avengers, a comic series with teenaged superheroes with some similarities to characters from the adult Avengers. Young Avengers was created by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung, and first appeared in comics in April 2005. The series I just read is volume two of Young Avengers (part of the Marvel NOW! relaunch), by writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie, plus contributions from several others. Volume two includes a short preview story “The New World” from Marvel NOW! Point One #1[4] and twelve issues.[5] (I do intend to read the other comics in the series, but the three books that contain Volume Two were the ones I could get my hands on first.)

As our story starts, we have a group of friends who used to be a superhero team but have given up the superhero life after previous events (which I don’t know about yet, not having read the earlier story, but it’s mentioned that friends of theirs have died). There’s America Chavez/Miss America, Loki Laufeyson, Theodore “Teddy” Altman/Hulkling, William “Billy” Kaplan/Wiccan, Katherine “Kate” Bishop/Hawkeye, Noh-Varr/Marvel Boy, and David Alleyne/Prodigy. Of course, their decision to not be superheroes can’t last for long. The preview story shows a strange meeting between Loki and Miss America, in which it seems Loki is up to something and trying to get Chavez to work together with him. She refuses quite forcefully, blasting him through a wall. Then, we go to Kate Bishop and Noh-Varr, who’ve just woken up after a night together and are attacked by Skrulls. Meanwhile, we see that Teddy has been sneaking out and being a superhero secretly in disguise, using his shape-changing abilities. Billy, Teddy’s boyfriend, is upset at first. They have an argument, but then make up. Billy decides to do something nice for Teddy by bringing back his late mother, by finding another version of her from an alternate universe. Danger, adventure, and hilarious superhero tropes ensue.

This is, above all, just a fun story with fun characters that made me smile. Our characters go on a journey across multiple parallel universes to defeat evil, facing off against different rivals. They have to stay away from Earth in their own universe, because their parents are being mind-controlled by a monster “Mother” (a monster who looks like Teddy’s mother, but really isn’t). There is also some trouble in Billy and Teddy’s relationship, as Teddy has an existential crisis, wondering if he’s just a manifestation of Billy’s power and desire, rather than a separate individual person (since Billy has the power to change reality with his powers). In between the fights against villains and existential crises, the friends do fun things like having pancake breakfasts, posting on social medial sites, and joking around with each other. The writing and artwork go well together, conveying the story in a way that kept me reading and wanting to know more.

The plot of the story had some issues, but also some good elements. There were several points in the story when something would be mentioned that was really interesting and had the potential for interesting world building or depth, but that didn’t happen. For instance, the creators attempted to include several characters who were working behind the scenes to manipulate the situation, but their motivations and the foreshadowing were done in a way which only made partial sense. The last two chapters (issues #14 and #15) felt like a dash to tie up plot threads before the end of the series. As a side note, the villain’s actions of brainwashing the adults, leading to the teens having to save the universe, was a bit clichéd, but I admit I probably feel this way due to seeing this trope many times over the past couple of decades. A younger reader who is part of the intended demographic for this book might not have gotten use to this trope yet, so I don’t hold that against the book. On the positive side, there were some parts of the plot that were fun. There were superhero elements that were really funny. These teenagers are aware of adult superheroes, and their knowledge of the superhero tropes made some of the narration amusing. There were elements that showed them having experiences that are common among teenagers, despite the fact that they are heroes. There were some romance tropes that might have seemed clichéd in other stories, but which I thought were appropriate here. Since these tropes are usually in romance stories with heterosexual characters, including them in a story with a same-sex couple made it seem sweet and welcome, rather than something we’ve seen many times before. Though a few didn’t work as well, most of them did, and left me smiling broadly. The fact that the characters were aware of and commented on the various tropes in the story was hilarious.

The character development was generally interesting, but also left me wanting to know more. America Chavez is a really fascinating character, and the inclusion of some backstory about her towards the end of the story made me want to read more stories about her. Kate Bishop and Noh-Varr are mostly shown in their relationship, but both of them were really fun. Many of their comments during conversation are hilarious, including Kate’s concern about not being young enough (due to not being a teenager anymore) and Noh-Varr’s comments about Earth and humans. Billy and Teddy were incredibly sweet together, and their romance plays an important role in the story. David Alleyne was fascinating, and it’s suggested that he is in some other superhero comics, other than Young Avengers. His storyline in this volume was very quickly resolved toward the end, and I really want to know more about him. Loki seems to have a complicated backstory, which was curious but which I didn’t know much about. I’m hoping that volume one and other comics with these characters will provide more backstory and character development, because all of these characters fascinated me and made me feel that there’s great potential for other stories.

Lastly, I’d like to discuss the inclusion of non-straight characters in the story. I’m not going to lie; approximately ninety percent of my desire to read this series was based on hearing that there are gay characters and a same-sex couple. I already loved superheroes (especially the X-Men), but when deciding which of the many superhero comics to read, knowing that this series is known for including gay characters was a factor in my decision to read this right away. I heard about the Young Avengers from an image that’s been going around Tumblr showing one of the letters from the letters column in volume one, issue #7 of Young Avengers. In it, Sef Farrow writes about a nephew of his who is gay and for whom the comics provided hope, due to the inclusion of gay teenagers. He wrote, in part, “A light in the darkness—a life-line to grab—call it what you will. I call it hope.”[6] Right at the beginning of the story, we find out that Billy’s parents (before being mind-controlled by the villain) are totally accepting of their son’s sexual orientation, and have even allowed his boyfriend Teddy to move in with the family. For many LGBTQ teens, this acceptance is hoped for, and sometimes never arrives; including it in this story was a welcome and happy escape to a better world. One of the elements of superhero stories that appeals to us is the wish-fulfillment of being powerful and able to do great things, and the fact that this other form of wish-fulfillment (acceptance, when some of the readers may be LGBTQ teens who aren’t accepted by this families) is included in this story gives me hope. Billy and Teddy’s relationship has some common romance tropes (e.g. the breakup followed by the inevitable reconciliation, love as a magical force, sometimes extremely-sweet cliché dialogue, their love for each other motivating their actions and being a pivotal part of the story), but most are fun to read about. Since we usually see these tropes in stories with romances between heterosexual characters, to see them portrayed with a same-sex couple was sweet. These elements are so common in our popular culture that including them in a story with a same-sex couple makes me feel included, shows that stories about LGBTQ people aren’t so different or weird, just as touching as stories about cisgender heterosexual people. The creators even include the hilarious trope in which it’s revealed that most of the main characters are not heterosexual, an inversion of the common all-heterosexual cast found in many stories. I think it would have been even better to also include more development for the other characters, besides Billy and Teddy, and also to include transgender characters. Most importantly, the characters get to be interesting and do many things, not just be “the LGBTQ character”. They get to be brave, complex, funny, and fun to read about.

Ultimately, Young Avengers has reaffirmed my interest in superhero stories. This volume was such a fun experience and has given me hope for the future of the genre, for its potential to be more inclusive and diverse. Despite some issues with the plot, there’s lost to love in this story. When I started writing this review, I didn’t have volume one, but now I do. I can’t wait to read it and hope that another installment of this superhero team will endear them to me even more.

[Originally Written: 30 May 2014]

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References

[1] Gillen, Kieron; McKelvie, Jamie; et al. “#1: Style > Substance”. 2013. In: Young Avengers Vol. 1: Style > Substance. Marvel, 2013. [ISBN 978-0-7851-6708-2]

[2] Gillen, Kieron; McKelvie, Jamie; et al. “#8: The University of Multiple Lives”. 2013. In: Young Avengers Vol. 2: Alternative Culture. Marvel, 2014. [ISBN 978-0-7851-6709-9]

[3] Gillen, Kieron; McKelvie, Jamie; et al. “#12: ‘Young Avengers’ Part One”. 2013. In: Young Avengers Vol. 3: Mic-Drop at the Edge of Time and Space. Marvel, 2014. [ISBN 978-0-7851-8530-7]

[4] “Marvel NOW! Point One Vol 1 1”. Marvel Database Wiki entry. Retrieved on 30 May 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Marvel_NOW!_Point_One_Vol_1_1.

[5] “Young Avengers Vol 2”. Marvel Database Wiki entry. Retrieved on 30 May 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Young_Avengers_Vol_2.

[6] Letter from Sef Farrow (Virginia Beach, VA). In: Heinberg A, DiVito A, Hennessey D, et al. Young Avengers Vol. 1 # 7 “Secret Identities (Part 1 of 2)”. Marvel, October 2005.

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