Monday, February 04, 2013

Young Avengers Catch-up: Dark Reign: Young Avengers (2009)

As the pre-colon part of the title indicates, this five-issue miniseries by writer Paul Cornell, pencil artist Mark Brooks and a quartet of inkers was part of Marvel's "Dark Reign"...which wasn't a story, event or crossover so much as it was a status quo (akin to "The Initiative"), accompanied by a branding effort that placed "Dark Reign" banners atop all of the participating books and featured content somehow related to the new status quo that was in place between event/crossover stories Secret Invasion and Siege.

That status quo? Due to his inability to prevent a mass infiltration of earth by shape-shifting aliens, Tony "Iron Man" Stark was demoted from his post-Civil War job as Boss Of All Superheroes, a job that instead went to former supervillain Norman "The Green Goblin" Osborn, a convicted multiple-murderer and crazy person. With a villain now running the show, almost all of the superheroes are defying the government's registration act, and Osborn is promoting villains to serve as heroes. He had his own Avengers, for example, which consisted almost entirely of villains wearing hero costumes.

Cornell wrote a miniseries about Osborn's "dark" X-Men team, and here he checks in with the Young Avengers team, setting up a "dark" version of them comprised of teenagers who have the names and in some cases powers of Masters of Evil, echoing the way then-New Avengers/Dark Avengers writer Brian Michael Bendis created an Avengers team of villains posing as heroes ("Thunderbolting," is the verb, I think) and setting the real Young Avengers against them, ideologically (to start) as well as physically.
These new Young Avengers are The Enchantress, an Asgardian-themed character with magical powers who often uses "Thee" wrong; Big Zero, a white supremacist with the Stature-like power of growing to gigantic proportions (and a cool haircut); Egghead, an android character presumably around to give The Vision someone to fight; The Executioner, a gun-wielding vigilante who models himself after The Punisher; Melter, the costume-less would-be leader with the power to melt stuff; and Coat-of-Arms, the actual leader who wears a special coat that gives her two extra set of arms (get it?!) and is pursuing superheroics as an art project. She's an artist who is seeking performance as a type of social experiment to see what it means to be a superhero or a supervillain in a time when The Green Goblin is the chief good guy.

She's also probably the most interesting of the new (I think they're new; they're all new to me) characters, and a way for Cornell to rather easily insert meta-narrative into an otherwise schedule hole-filling fight comic and make it about something.

I think he succeeds rather well. He gives each of the new characters a story arc of differing levels of creativity and relevance, each has a personality and each wrestles with moral alignment questions in different ways and comes to different conclusions (If "wrestle" isn't too strong a word, as Big Zero is a racist at beginning and end, and she programs her boyfriend android to be more and more racist and all-around bad).

As for the original Young Avengers, they find themselves in the exact same position the actual Avengers were when the Young Avengers first debuted (in Young Avengers). They see a group of strange kids using their name, and they must decide whether they're okay with that and what to do—what they can do if they're not. So they fight. Then talk. Then team-up to see what these new guys are made of. Then decide who if any of them they want to cherry-pick for their own team, where they can train them. And, of course, they fight some more.

Oh, and then the Dark (grown-up) Avengers show up, so they can fight everyone too.

Overall, it's another impressive performance from Cornell, turning out a remarkably enjoyable story with strong, new characters that fulfills all of its obligations (lost of superheroes, lots of fights, "Dark Reign" content) while still managing to make a coherent, somewhat independent whole.

Brooks' work is fairly strong, too. I don't care for many—any, actually—of the new characters' looks (with the possible exception of Big Zero's haircut, and Coat's coat), but Brooks sells them admirably, and renders all of the Marvel characters perfectly well while managing to tell the story with the art. (The only parts I didn't care for? A dropped-in photo background of a street scene for the big splash page introducing the new Young Avengers, and a weird page in the third issue that's divided into five tall, skinny vertical panels in which Executioner and Hawkeye are weirdly positioned and angled for all five, barely-changing panels).

The climactic battle is a lot of fun, as Osborn (as Iron Patriot) brings Daken-as-Wolverine and Bullseye-as-Hawkeye to fight the Young Avengers alongside the Young Dark Avengers, and, surprisingly, the Young Avengers whip their asses, even ejecting The Sentry from the fight. That aspect of the battle could have used a little better resolution, given that Osborn and two of his more phsycho-killer-y teammates are allowed to leave when they're at the Young Avengers' mercy, but the entire fifth issue is a nice escalation of stakes, with everyone screaming at one another about what it means to be an Avenger, and Cornell even manages to tuck the new characters away for possible future use ("Some of them will do the right thing," Patriot says, "Either that, or we'll end up fighting them.")

There's also a pretty nice moment where Patriot gets to tell off Osborn—
—and sock him in the iron jaw, Captain America-on-Hitler style.
(Shame Brooks positioned the punch differently, though).
There's a pretty good use of a George Michael song in here, too. I had never heard "Shoot The Dog" and had to look it up on YouTube to listen to it and better understand a scene or two in this comic. I felt my my cultural horizons expand.

1 comment:

Dean said...

Huh. I wondered where those kids who showed up toward the end of Avengers Academy came from. Guess I'll have to check this out.