Review: Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie (2014)

Rating: ★★★★★
Genre: Graphic Novel, Contemporary, Superheroes
Categories: M/M, Queer characters
Content Warnings: N/A
Buy it at: Amazon (Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3) | Barnes & Noble (Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3)

Description: After the previous team of Young Avengers fell apart, some of them have stayed away, and others are still out living that superhero life. But a new threat against the universe appears — an eldritch terror known as Mother, who has the ability to brainwash adults and is a parasite who is drawn to Billy’s reality-warping powers in the hopes of eating his soul, and maybe destroying the world in the process (all under the oblivious noses of adult superheroes). It’s Kid Loki who decides to get a new team together, bringing in the new members: America Chavez (a dimension-hopping lesbian Latina) and Noh-Varr (a disaffected Kree ex-soldier with a love for earth music), as well as pulling back some previous ones, such as Kate Bishop (rich girl with a bow and Hawkeye #2), Billy Kaplan (chaos-mage and son of the Scarlet Witch, Wiccan), and Teddy (a shape-shifting skrull-kree hybrid prince and Billy’s boyfriend, Hulkling). Joining them is David Alleyne aka Prodigy, an ex-mutant whose ability had been to learn everything.

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 links to my other Young Avengers reviews (including reviews for marvel events & crossovers that I only posted on Goodreads).

Impression: I’ve been looking forward to starting this arc for my entire reread, and I’m very glad to finally be here. It’s an incredibly stylish comic, with a great narrative arc full of queer content, and fantastic art that really sets the tone for the uncanny magic they’re dealing with.

McKelvie’s art fully brings in the strange, eldritch, mystical powers by breaking all the rules of paneling and coming out the better for it. Whether it’s the whitespace used in transitioning to and from various multiverses, or showing panel roughs and unusual layouts in Mother’s realm outside of time and space, or having the comic’s narrative text get discovered by Mother, or showing the white edges around the panels encroaching in on the characters to pull them out, or a character demonstrating their omniscience by walking back across previous panels, McKelvie isn’t afraid to play with the fourth wall and switch back and forth between the standard paneling and something completely innovative.

Volume 1 features the introduction of Mother and her powers to alter the perception of adults so that whatever she’s doing seems fine and it’s the children who are wrong, as well as a related problem that’s bringing all our heroes’ dead parents back to life… as their enemies. It’s a problem that only happens when they’re close to Mother, so  the purpose of this arc is to get them on the run to protect themselves and to keep the world safe from their dead superpowered parents. The threat is big, but the comic doesn’t lose its narrative focus on the characters’ feelings. The writing is snappy, funny, and just great at building off what we’ve already seen of these characters — and not afraid to be unfunny, too, dropping the occasional icy bomb with great effect.

Volume 2 features a phantom version of old teammate Patriot, an eldritch horror wearing his form with yet-unknown motivations. When Speed (Tommy), is kidnapped by this Phantom Patriot while in Prodigy (David)’s company, David goes to track down the Young Avengers. Together, they go to try to track Speed down — and end up running all over the multiverse, chasing after whatever’s wearing Patriot’s form. 

Although there’s lots of fun exploring many many doomed dimensions (and a few with good korean bbq), the main focus is on characterization. Loki’s motivations are beginning to come out, because nothing’s ever straightforward with Loki; Kate has to worry if her upcoming birthday will put her on the wrong side; Billy is starting to wrestle with the awareness that he might turn into some kind of god-dictator someday with all this magic power; Prodigy just really doesn’t want to die and would maybe like to kiss someone before that happens; Teddy is still fighting with the seed of doubt that Loki gave him about whether he might be a construct Billy actually made, and his therapy session turns, shall we say, very sour. Meanwhile, they’re still the only ones who can do anything about this, because they can’t turn to any adults for help. Does that sound grim? It isn’t, because Gillen’s excellent humor is on display here, with instagram post time montages, snappy one liners, and resentful superpowered exes’ therapy hour.

Volume 3 is a truly excellent ending to Gillen’s Young Avengers run. This volume sees Loki grow up a little, Noh-Varr face the fact that he can’t go back to when life made sense just by trying to repeat the situations of the past, Teddy deal with his concerns about his relationship, and Billy get a new relationship to his powers–all while fighting off the Mother Parasite (and a few evil exes) with the power of love (and the connectivity to our peers via social media). Specifically, though, it’s queer love.

Gillen was willing to tell a teen superhero story that was also, absolutely at its core, a queer superhero story. The story makes a point of the fact this is something they all have in common–whether they are gay, lesbian, bi, pan, questioning, or simply possibly not straight. (Kind of puts a different spin on the team’s struggle against the narcissistic and hungry Mother parasite and her ability to make other adults not understand their children’s real problems, huh?) We were given a story where their love was itself a superpower, where their ability to be a team despite all their interconnected struggles was never in doubt, and where literally defining what love is and facing their own doubts and self-hatred isn’t a side-story or subplot but is, itself, the key to drive the action forward. Acceptance and self-betterment isn’t disconnected from the fight against the supervillains; it is that fight (along with punching a whole lot of interdimensional horrors).

“I’m a story,” says Loki. “I just have to be the best story I can be.”

Related Reviews: Young Avengers: The Complete Collection | Young Avengers: The Children’s Crusade

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