Thursday, 31 October 2013

Young Avengers, Volume 1: Style > Substance by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton Review


You know how certain stories feature kids or teens in them because the storyteller somehow thinks that kids/teens won’t identify with the grown-up heroes and need someone relatable? That’s generally bogus – nobody wants to be Tom Cruise’s whiny kids in War of the Worlds, they want to be Tom Cruise. Nobody wants to be Jar Jar Binks or kid Anakin, they want to be Obi-Wan! Young Avengers somehow subverts that rule by making their teen characters the characters teens – and adults! - would want to be. Part of this success is how well Kieron Gillen’s captured what it feels like to be a teenager – turbulent mood swings both up and down, along with the exciting potential of the future, and the screw-it-all attitude that powers you through anything. 

The Young Avengers are: Wiccan and his boyfriend Hulkling, Kate Bishop/Hawkeye and her boyfriend Marvel Boy, Kid Loki, and Ms America. Hulkling (and I love the character but what a stupid name!) doesn’t have parents and is living with his boyfriend Wiccan and his family who’re super-cool with the setup and their kid’s sexuality. But he misses his mum, so in an ill-advised scheme, Wiccan conjures up Hulkling’s mother from a parallel dimension only for Kid Loki to interfere and the Mother that steps out turns out to be some kind of shape-shifting/Agent Smith-like replicating crazy monster! Young Avengers Assemble!

In a book starring teen heroes, Gillen’s choice to make the antagonist an authoritarian figure literally called Mother is pure genius because who do kids rebel against? Their parents! This is my first Young Avengers book so I have no idea how or why Loki is suddenly a 14 year old but he’s definitely the best character in the group. Besides his good taste in breakfast food (bacon roll with ketchup – yummers!) he has a great scene where he tries to explain to the sceptical group that he’s a bad guy-ish but he’s also kinda good: “You guys read/watch Game of Thrones? Who’s your favourite character?” Everyone: “Tyrion” Loki: “I’m Tyrion!”. 

Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton’s art is damn near perfect. The lines are clear and smooth (which is the one thing that I felt was uncharacteristic of our teenage heroes – none of them had spots!) and the presentation is awesome. Teenagers – especially teen superheroes – are bound to swagger a bit and this book reflects that, opening with a cinematic title/scene switching opening sequence showing Hawkeye and Marvel Boy fighting Skrulls in space after boning. You can almost hear the power pop melodies of Green Day’s American Idiot playing as they launch into the Skrulls, smiling, as Kate says, with the kind of arrogant bluster teenagers tend to possess, that “being a superhero is amazing – everyone should try it!”. It even ends the same way with that self-important “you have been reading – Young Avengers!” title card sequence which is terrific, perfectly presenting the way teenagers see their lives, as the most interesting movie ever made. The flipside is, if you’re not enjoying the book it could come off as supremely annoying. 

There’s also an amazing splash page where Marvel Boy explodes into a nightclub to save the rest of the Young Avengers from Mother and her brainwashed cohorts where we see the whole layout of the club, following his actions with numbers and close ups outside the layout drawing for details – I’m not doing it justice describing it, but it’s really something to see. They even go abstract in this book as Wiccan finds himself trapped within the panels of the comic, acting as a jail cell, as Loki and Hulkling bust open the panels to break him free, and skip over the panels like it’s a platform game to get back into their story. Again, the best Marvel books out there right now are incorporating elements you’d see in indie comics rather than superhero comics (Hawkeye is doing this the best) and it works so damn well – this sequence was unexpected and brilliant. 

I don’t know any teenagers but I think if you gave them both Young Avengers and Teen Titans to read, they would go with Young Avengers – it’s a better book on every level and seems more appealing and convincing to a younger audience by being more identifiable, especially as Teen Titans is currently written by a guy in his 50s wearing a Hawaiian shirt! I’m not making this a Marvel/DC thing because I enjoy (and dislike) books from both, but I feel like Marvel have achieved audience range with this book while DC’s New 52 titles remain aimed at a certain kind of person in their 30s who only want to read “dark and gritty” tales. 

This book is called Style>Substance which describes the attitudes of the characters but definitely not the characters or the book itself which has plenty of both. Young Avengers - what an unexpectedly great book! Gillen and co. capture the spirit of youth in Young Avengers, when all you needed was your favourite song and your best friend and you were unstoppable. The characters are balanced really well, at times confident and clear-sighted, other times vulnerable and suddenly realising their limitations, and they also seem like real teenagers – there’s even a scene where they get carded at a club! Young Avengers is a really fun superhero book that’s easily one of the most impressive Marvel NOW! titles out there.

Young Avengers - Volume 1: Style>Substance

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