Review: Young Avengers: The Complete Collection vol. 1 by Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung (2006)

Rating: ★★★★
Genre: Graphic Novel, Contemporary, Superheroes
Categories: M/M, Superheroes
Content Warnings: Highlight to read: Reference to kidnapping/assault (possible sexual assault) of a minor. Brief scenes of racism and homophobia from background characters toward our heroes. Some sexism of lead characters to other lead characters.
Buy it at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Description: When the original Avengers disband, a team of teenage heroes comes together to fill the gap. Their first order of business: surviving the wrath of Kang the Conqueror and weathering the disapproval of the adult Avengers! Next, the newly-formed Young Avengers take on super-powered sadist Mr. Hyde, the extraterrestrial Super-Skrull, and a full-scale alien invasion, juggling their parents and their private lives at the same time!

I’m rereading a bunch of the Young Avengers content, which has won several GLAAD awards for the queer content it introduced. If you want to follow along, I made a Young Avengers reading guide over here to make it easier to understand the order, where to get the comics, and see my other Young Avengers reviews!

Impression: The content in this volume includes Young Avengers #1-12 and the Young Avengers Special 1, so I’m breaking it into three parts, as the collection itself does.

Young Avengers 1-8: This is a strong introduction to the new team! It manages to nail the complexities of time travel, while putting front and center the struggle of teenagers who want to help in a superhero industry where teenagers were only ever sidekicks, and that in an older era. Lots of “We’ll tell your parents”. It suffers a little from having to introduce 6 new characters while juggling complex relationships of 4+ previous ones (Cap, Iron Man, Jessica Jones, and (in absentia) Scott Lang), but the pacing is good. Also, I just love Billy and Teddy. Especially since we’re seeing a lot of tension as these teens meet each other and start hooking up, it’s nice to have the gay relationship already established, sweet, and stable. (Also, especially looking at the contentious letters to the editors that were published with individual issues when they were first released, it was a big heckin deal to include a gay couple in comics, so it was an especially good call to make them pre-established and happy.)

…That said, this isn’t my lane, since I’m white (but, I mean, so’s Allan Heinberg), but I do wish that Eli was handled with a little more sensitivity. He’s a wonderful character taken on his own, with a lot to prove as a black teenager, since his grandfather had been the original Captain America supersoldier, but had largely been an experiment by the US government, classified and kept a secret. However, he’s also both a. Kind of sexist, getting annoyed when Kate Bishop decides to join the team, and b. secretly unpowered, relying on drugs that he steals off street thugs to keep superpowers, and lying about it (he claims he has had a blood transfusion from his grandfather). I like him as an individual, and when he has to struggle with how to move forward once his secret is out, I think he’s wonderfully written–but I also think that it is kind of tone-deaf to make the one black protagonist in this volume the one who is a sexist with a drug problem and it made me wince quite a few times while reading.

Young Avengers Special #1: A sweet look at each of the Young Avengers and what made them want to be superheroes. Nice art (if somewhat variable due to having different artists throughout it) and small, bite-sized origin stories for teenagers, from bullying to wanting to fit in to wanting to live up to a family legacy.

(…and, of course, to kidnapping and implied rape, which, along with the Eli problem, is a big part of why I knocked it down a star; I’m so tired of this kind of backstory for female heroes, although, in all fairness, we only see the kidnapping and are told that something else was a trauma that Kate has only told her therapist about, but Jessica Jones says ‘something like’ it happened to her too, and (tw: sexual abuse) here’s the description of what happens to Jessica Jones in comics verse. So. You know. I’m sure we didn’t need that implication for Kate as the only older (but still a teen) female Young Avenger, but I’m glad it was only an implication instead of on page, at least).

Young Avengers 9-12: This next arc moves into the Kree-Skrull war with an exciting revelation about one of our characters’ origins. It’s action-packed, full of great characterisation and subtle visual storytelling (I loved seeing Teddy wearing Billy’s sweater after he wrecked his clothes shapeshifting, without the text needing to call attention to it, or Jarvis serving a bunch of teens soda cans on a silver platter). It brings the older Avengers in and gives them something more complicated to deal with than just ‘can we allow kids to go out and be superheroes’, and introduces a new superhero, Tommy… one who they have to break out of juvie because of his problem of, you know, exploding things he doesn’t like. The changing dynamic of characters in this arc is great, the tension is fantastic, I really like what they do with pretty much everyone in their own moments, and while not all emotional beats land, it’s overall a really solid set of issues.

Overall, this collection stands as a great introduction to the Young Avengers, and while I think later work might be stronger (especially the Children’s Crusade, and Gillen’s run), it’s a good series with a lot of heart.

Related Reviews: Anchor Points: Kate Bishop #1 | Young Avengers: The Children’s Crusade

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