Monday, February 25, 2013

Young Avengers Catch-Up: Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways (2006) and Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers (2008)

Marvel's big line-wide event/crossover stories generally provide the publisher with the opportunity to pump up their output for a few months, and a positive side effect of that is that it allows for book-less characters to appear. That was the case with the Young Avengers characters during both Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's super-successful Civil War (in which heroes fight heroes over 9/11 metaphors) and Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Francis Yu's less-successful Secret Invasion (in which heroes fight Skrulls over gross, clumsily executed fear-of-Muslims metaphors). In both instances, the characters met up with Marvel's other team of young, created-this-century heroes, The Runaways.

Their very first meeting came during the so-called Civil War, during which Iron Man wanted every single super-powered person in the United States to register with the government and then be drafted/press-ganged into a huge superhero army to make sure Speedball never accidentally makes an explosion-powered supervillain blow-up near a school again. And he felt so strongly about it that he was willing to murder his former teammates and imprison them without trial in extra-dimensional concentration camps.

Captain America disagreed.

The Young Avengers sided with Captain America (although Stature would eventually come around to Iron Man's position, after the conclusion of this series), while The Runaways were essentially conscientious objectors, seeking to avoid this conflict as they generally seek to avoid all of the Marvel Universe's conflicts. Conflict finds them, of course, as it usually does—otherwise, Runaways wouldn't have been much of a Marvel comic.

So when a TV camera catches The Runaways being attacked by SHIELD agents and their android member Victor Mancha is badly injured, the Young Avengers track them down and try to recruit them to Cap's side. In the might Marvel manner, they fight before realizing there's been a misunderstanding, and they're all on the same side.

Meanwhile, a sinister SHIELD agent sics a brainwashed and reprogrammed Marvel Boy (the Grant Morrison/J.G. Jones version from 2000's Marvel Boy) on both teams, but instead of capturing them all, he's ordered to simply retrieve a handful of aliens for his controller to experiment upon.

Zeb Wells wrote this one, and Stefano Caselli drew it. Typically of Wells, it was very well-written (Or is that Wells-written..? Ha!), and organically funny. There are jokes in here, but they are jokes made by the characters—it's funny because the characters are being funny, not because the writer is manipulating them.

The story doesn't really go anywhere in terms of status quo, at least not in terms of the Civil War. The Young Avengers are still with Cap at the end of the story, and The Runaways remain determined to stay out of it. Wells does manage to come up with some interesting suggestions for relationships between some of the characters—most unexpected being the friendship between Speed and Molly—and to move a few emotional arcs forward. Similarly, Marvel Boy is put right back where Morrison left him at the end of Marvel Boy, but in a rather triumphant manner.

Caselli's art is excellent, and he handles the straight superhero designs of the Young Avengers and the street-clothes of the Runaways with equal aplomb. He does a fine job of juggling some dozen or so characters, and making each distinct. He also does remarkably strong work with his "acting" through the characters.

This was an odd one to re-read after reading Young Avengers #1, as Marvel Boy is apparently being added to the cast of the new, ongoing Young Avengers title, and, in fact, the book opens with Hawkeye Kate Bishop waking up in Marvel Boy's bed after having spending the night with him.

She casually refers to the events of this series—she apparently didn't recognize Marvel Boy until she sobered up the next morning with "Oh, yeah! You kicked all our asses that one time! Billy, Teddy, everyone!"
In fact, he beat the living hell out of both teams, killing one of the Runaways (who was a shape-shifting Skrull, and thus able to recover from a broken neck), capturing Billy, Teddy and Karolina and delivering them to his boss for a few hours of torture and he began strangling Kate until he was interrupted by Nico, and started strangling her instead.

In other words, whatever Kate was drinking the night before Young Avengers #1, it must have been some strong stuff.

In Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers, the two teams once again meet, this time on the Avengers' home turf of New York City (The Runaways were still visiting there after recently returning from the 19th century with a new member in tow).

The actual events of Secret Invasion are so nonsensical that I don't think I can recount them in a way that makes a whole lot of sense. Essentially, a bunch of religious fanatic Skrulls think their gods promised them Earth as their homeland, and want to take it over; they've been taking it over by secretly infiltrating it for years, and then they simultaneously try a PR push to convince the Earthlings to join their religion while also violently invading New York City with spaceships and an army of Super-Skrulls.

The two teen teams are there when the Super-Skrulls attack and, as it turns out, both teams have their own Super-Skrulls on their teams. Teddy/Hulkling of the Young Avengers is a half-Skrull, half-Kree who was prophesied as a savior meant to unite the various warring factions of Skrulls, while Xavin of the Runaways was a Skrull prince and Super-Skrull in training who ran away.

The plot of this series focuses on Xavin's efforts to infiltrate the infiltrators, providing cover for his superhero team to get safely out of New York City, and to try and rescue Hulkling. Both Xavin and Hulkling are targeted for special attention by the invading Skrulls, since the former betrayed them and the latter's existence could maybe sway some Skrulls from their Skrullegion.

Despite the prominent roles played by several characters from both teams—mainly Xavin, Hulkling, Wiccan and Speed—this isn't really much of a Young Avengers comic. Many of the team barely cameo, with Patriot and Hawkeye barely getting a line or three. The Runaways don't fare much better, but they are certainly more of the focus of this story, as their Xavin is the de facto star, and the story starts with their point of view.This one is written by Christopher Yost, and features art by Takeshi Miyazawa. It's Miyazawa's art that is probably the most noteworthy aspect of this collection. It's rare to see teenage superheroes actually look this young, but Miyazawa actually draws them all to resemble children, rather than shorter than usual adults.

That the Secret Invasion mini seems the weaker of the two in terms of its scripting may have something to do with how short it is (it's just three issues), and the fact that the premise of the story its tied to makes it more difficult to expand the focus too far from the Skrull-related characters.

Yost's effort isn't as all around strong as Wells', but there are some fun moments in this—Speed's rescue of Molly and the Runaways' newest recruit is particularly memorable—and Miyazawa's charming art goes a long way towards making this well worth a read.

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