Wednesday, January 23, 2013

FEATURED REVIEW: YOUNG AVENGERS #1

(w) Kieron Gillen
(p) Jamie McKelvie
(i) Mike Norton

What do you call it when the stars align, when everything goes exactly as planned, when all the pieces effortlessly fall into place? Usually, it's called perfection. Now, we can add Young Avengers...again.

Alan Heinberg and Jim Cheung's seminal 2005 Young Avengers was one of the most fascinating instances in modern comics history. Mercilessly pigeonholed before it even debuted, Young Avengers #1 was all it took to sway a vast majority of the skeptics. I say this because, logically, there is bound to be a small subset of readers who won't like something for one reason or another, but to be honest, I've never met a single Marvel comics fan (in person or on the internetz) who didn't not only like, but love the original run. Heinberg and Cheung bottled lightning with those original 12 issues. It's testament is the rabid anticipation that's been brewing for a new ongoing Young Avengers ever since the original ended. Sure, we got The Children's Crusade, but that was Heinberg and Cheung's swan song -- an ending with the potential for new beginnings.

Enter Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, a writer and artist respectively who have worked together numerous times in the past, most notably on their Image series, Phonogram. Gillen and McKelvie's subtle world of music as magic conveyed an idea of youth and popularity as a tiresome barometer of desire, along with the emotional resonance of music through the lens of supernatural pastiche. There's a lot of layers to PhonogramSo what do you get when you put a wildly successful youth-oriented superhero squad with a creative team that somehow perfectly captures the idea of being young? You get Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. And now I've used the same literary device twice in the same review. 

That's how good Young Avengers #1 is.

'Marvel NOW!' has been a mostly successful venture with a few outlying exceptions. Titles like Avengers, All-New X-Men, and Captain America are good because they commit to they commit to a clear narrative direction. Jonathan Hickman makes the Avengers feel bigger that ever before, Brian Michael Bendis has shifted the entire landscape of the X-Men corner of the Marvel universe, and Rick Remender took the Sentinel of Liberty out of our universe in order to find a bold new frontier for Steve Rogers. Young Avengers #1 does magnificently what so many books fail at doing on a monthly basis, and that is tell a compelling story about young heroes that actually feels like it's about young people. The opening pages featuring Kate Bishop and Noh-Varr (formerly known as both Marvel Boy and Protector) are pristine for Gillen's presentation of the awkward morning after a weird night our parents always warned us about while McKelvie draws these characters to look like actual adolescents, which is, again, something that is frustratingly uncommon in today's comic book landscape.

While Miss America Chavez and Kid Loki were featured exclusively in Marvel NOW! Point One's prologue tale, their time in Young Avengers #1 is limited to a small exchange over Loki's apparent plan to inflict harm of some sort, and America's natural reaction to floor the annoying Asgardian imp. Being such a short sequence, the amount of character development is betrayed by the number of panels. America wouldn't even listen to what Loki had to say in Point One, and now she's at the same location, like she's following him. Then we've got Loki, who tries to dine and dash before being spooked by a corporeal voice. Why is Loki so cheap? Is it because he's the god of mischief or is it because he's young and the money he has is that much more precious to him?

The most emotional storyline comes with the established relationship between Billy and Teddy, a.k.a. Wiccan and Hulkling, the latter of whom still goes out and puts on his proverbial mask to fight crime. Billy doesn't approve of the superhero game after the events of The Children's Crusade, and for good reason. "How many friends have we buried?" he posits his boyfriend as the two attempt to understand the needs and desires of the other. Teddy's surprise confession to privately dealing with the crumbling of his entire life after his mother's murder is surprisingly moving. It's what jumpstarts Gillen's plot, "big bad"-wise, going forward as Billy decides to use his powers again, but just for good. Again, McKelvie's artwork plays a pivotal role in the storytelling as his facial expressions contain depth and a dimension of reality without betraying the core of it being comic book art. Much like Mike Allred, McKelvie focuses on the face as a whole to convey different emotional responses instead of relying on body language or over-expressive features.

Young Avengers #1 was somewhat of a homecoming for this comic book fan. Since I got myself back into reading comics on a regular basis almost two years ago, my collecting has been done exclusively digitally, mostly out of convenience. It wasn't until Marvel announced the relaunch of Young Avengers with Gillen and McKelvie (something I actually hoped for after reading Phonogram and first learning about 'Marel NOW!') that I decided I would start buying in print again. I own all 12 issues of the original Young Avengers, and I didn't want to have a gap in my collection. As they've stated in many an interview, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie have not recreated the magic that made Alan Heinberg and Jim Cheung's Young Avengers so amazing. Instead, they've evolved the idea (in Gillen's own words) from "being sixteen to being eighteen." While that's only a two year difference, in the life of a person that age, that's all the difference in the world, and Young Avengers #1 captures this sentiment perfectly.

GRADE
10/10

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