Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Super-Powered Comics: Young Avengers

I picked up the original two Young Avengers trade well after the book finished its original (and notoriously slow) run. I expected to hate it, quite honestly, as the concept seemed like a cheap knock on the original Teen Titans concept. What I got in its stead was a rather complex look at young super-heroes that owed as much to the New Warriors as it does to the Avengers.

Allan Heinberg, writer of such (loathed) shows as The OC and Grey’s Anatomy builds the initial arc of the book around an intriguing premise: What if you found out you were destined to become time’s greatest villain? A young Kang the Conqueror’s answer is simple: he travels back in time to gather the help of the Avengers, only to find the Avengers no longer exist. So he does the next best thing and gathers a team of young heroes mentioned in the Avengers files, all with ties to previous members. Kang takes the name Iron Lad, and alongside Patriot, Asgardian, and Hulkling they act as a new generation of Avengers.

The initial six issue arc brings them in to conflict with Iron Man and Captain America as well as the fully grown version of Kang. One large irk builds as the story progresses, as we break Marvel’s rules of time as the universe shifts again and again as history alters. (Mark Gruenwald establish the rules of time in the Marvel Universe along time ago, and ever since he died the company have stomped all over them.) The arc ends with one Young Avenger gone, three others arrived in his place, and the temporary disbanding of the team. It is all brought together beautifully by Jim Cheung, an artist I still remember from his sketchy styling on (ironically) the teenage incarnation of Iron Man a decade back. His style developed exponentially through his work on X-Force and especially on Crossgen’s Scion.

A two issue arc follows (with not quite as good art by Andrea DiVito) that starts to re-establish the team. We learn the origins of Patriot’s powers, get some tidbits on the home life of Stature, and establish Kate Bishop’s new heroic identity. The guest art filled Young Avengers Special features some of the biggest comic artists alive: Neal Adams, Gene Ha, Bill Sienkiewicz, Jae Lee, Pascual Ferry, and a framing sequence by Michael Gaydos. Jessica Jones (of Alias fame) delves in to the histories of the team, all as a lead in to the final four issue arc.

Jim Cheung returns to illustrate the best issues of the book, as the team reunites in an attempt to prevent a new Kress Skrull War, all revolving around team member Hulkling. They end up caught between the Kree, the Skrull, and the Avengers, but the new and improved Vision aids them in finding another new member: Speed. Apparently the lost soul-brother of Young Avenger Wiccan (formerly Asgardian), Speed is a temperamental speedster able to project explosive blasts.

The series ends with the team as a unit, but come Civil War and Heinberg’s inability to keep up with the series, the book came to an end.

All in all, Young Avengers gives us a good look at what could have been in the Marvel Universe. But with several team members popping up in the rosters of the new Avengers teams over the next few months, I doubt we will see them as a cohesive unit again. It’s a real shame, as this team has more potential than any other corporate produced title outside of Runaways.

Both books can be picked up now in one affordable trades (containing all 13 issues). I highly recommend any reader of great comics go out and pick them up.

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