This article was originally published at The Nerd Cave on January 10, 2014.
Less than one year after it began on January 23rd, 2013 the second volume of Young Avengers has concluded. It was one of the best comics of 2013. In the course of fifteen issues Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton, Matthew Wilson, and the rest of their team crafted a near perfect comic book; one that is emblematic of both 2013 and the youth of today (I can say this as a one of them). Despite the first issues title, “Style > Substance”, Young Avengers is a comic filled with fully realized characters, engaging layouts and art, and themes that resonate on every page.
McKelvie and Norton’s smooth line work and invigorating page compositions create a sense of excitement that propels the entire series forward. Skimming over the artwork alone is enough to provide the sense of energy that fills this comic. It’s a style that McKelvie refined during his previous partnership with Gillen on the first two volumes of Phonogram. His artistic muscles, having been built up at Image comics, are being flexed here, providing spreads like this:
Spreads like these were not used as occasional gimmicks. They were featured in every issue, functioning as important parts of the stories while challenging readers to think outside of the box (pun intended). Even more standard pages excel at being clearly laid out and infinitely readable. Beyond the interior artwork, the rest of the book’s design helped aide in establishing a youthful tone as well. Credits pages were posted like concert posters or ran like film credits wherever they best fit the book. From cover to letters column, Young Avengers maintained a unique feel that helped to emphasize what the comic was all about.
The Young Avengers themselves were the storytelling vehicles that outlined Gillen and McKelvie’s ideas about youth. Each of them represents a unique piece of the group dynamic. They all fall into clear roles, almost like the five teenagers in the breakfast club, but with super powers. Loki is the scoundrel. Billy and Teddy are everyone’s favorite couple. Miss America is the level headed, no nonsense, ass kicker. Hawkeye (not Hawkguy) is the rich girl. Noh-Varr is the party boy. Yet these roles do not define them. Everyone is a fully realized character with a unique set of needs and wants that conflict with one another. In fact, many of the central struggles of Young Avengers deal with these characters growing beyond the cookie cutter roles they initially inhabit.
From the very start, the team must flee their old lives in fear of Mother (a perfectly on-the-nose metaphor for parental authority) and find their place in the world. This journey of discovery plays to both their individual role and the role of their generation in the world they inhabit. The Marvel Universe is no easy place to break into. It’s filled with superheroes more than fifty years old, adults who have been managing the world for a longtime. No matter how many crises or events occur, the old guard is ever present. When Captain America or Thor dies, someone may take their place for a brief while, but they ultimately return and push the new kids back. It’s a world that encourages cynicism, especially if you’re not part of the old guard. That metaphor applies to our own world, which Marvel reflects in the manner of a fun house mirror. Substitute Avengers and X-Men with CEOs and politicians and it’s easy to see how the management (or mismanagement) of the world may seem impossible to change.
Rather than engage in open cynicism or naïve optimism, Young Avengers reflects a balanced sense of both ideas. The adults of the Marvel Universe are blinded to the threat of Mother, leaving only the young to fight back against a universal parasite that could destroy everything. The kids are on their own because the grownups cannot solve the problem. In fact, they’re part of it. This distrust of their parents and other authorities bleeds into their own lives though. Billy feels he cannot trust himself and sends Teddy away, breaking up with the person he loves most in the world. The negativity bred by what has come before almost destroys the team.
Until it doesn’t.
In the end, love saves the day. It’s not the accepted grim and gritty status quo of so many superhero comics that prevails in Young Avengers. It’s something new. The optimism and idealism of youth is really matters, not the encroaching cynicism. From the very first pages, those sensibilities are present. The first action scene kicks off with Hawkeye declaring, “Being a super hero is amazing. Everyone should try it.” Even in their darkest moments, the team is capable of having fun in battle or going out for breakfast bacon (which is magic). Young Avengers rejects the status quo of super hero comics entirely. This is what allows the comic to capture a truly unique tone amongst the many offerings from Marvel, DC Comics, Image, and others. It’s also what allows the team to conquer their cynicism and save the world.
Every member of the team is able to change by the end of the comic. It’s this ability, the ability to change themselves, which allows them to save the world. In the aptly named “Resolutions”, every Young Avenger moves on from the mistakes they have made in order to make a better tomorrow. Billy and Teddy reconcile with one another. Noh-Varr lets go of the girl who was perfect for him. Hawkeye decides to simply enjoy herself. Prodigy and Loki both own up to their mistakes and decide to do better. Miss America… still kicks ass. They cannot make the Avengers or X-Men better, but they didn’t need to. They saved the world by improving themselves.
Young people cannot fix the mistakes of the past. Adults may have screwed up the world. Dr. Doom and Lehman Brothers have done a great deal of damage, but the next generation can choose to be different. They can choose to be better. That may seem idealistic, but that’s not a bad thing. Young Avengers, like 2013, is over now, but its lessons remain. Cynicism is not a good attribute; it makes us distrustful and causes us to forget about the important things.
It’s important to be young. It’s important to make mistakes, and then learn to be better. It’s important to have friends. It’s important to party. It’s important to love with all of your heart, like there’s nothing else that matters. It’s important to stay young. If we keep that in mind, we might just be able to save the world.
I hope I die before I get old.