Saturday, February 02, 2013

Young Avengers Catch-up: Young Avengers Presents (2008)

Marvel's Young Avengers characters have been an interesting group of characters to keep one's eyes on over the past half-decade or so. That's because of how the company's publishing decisions regarding them have illustrated the tensions between respecting a particular creator's vision and wishes for creations generated but not owned by the creator and the company's ever-present desire to sell more comics to people who want to buy them.

For years, Marvel has been remarkably cool (as in admirable, not cold) in its deference to Young Avengers co-creator Allen Heinberg, essentially leaving the half-dozen or so teenage superheroes he created (and, in some cases, re-created) with artist Jim Cheung alone, waiting for the TV writer who dabbles in comics to find time to return to them.

To recap: Way back in 2005 Heinberg and Cheung created an "ongoing" series entitled Young Avengers that introduced a half-dozen super-characters, each a teenaged version of an Avengers character, that lasted 12 issues, comprised of three story-arcs.

Then Heinberg got busy with other stuff, and, despite demand for the characters, then-Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada always answered questions about them with something along the lines of "They'll be seen in This-or-That-Series, but we want to make sure we get the characters right, so we'll be waiting for Allen to come back and finish the awesome story he started." Heinberg eventually did, but not until 2010, when the nine-issue Avengers: The Children's Crusade launched. It finally wrapped up just last year, in 2012 (No, it shouldn't take two years to publish nine issues).

In the years between those two series, Marvel essentially found a happy medium between letting someone else write a Young Avengers comic and not publishing any Young Avengers comics until Heinberg could get around to writing them, publishing various miniseries checking in with the characters in relation to various line-wide crossover event stories: 2006's Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways, 2008's Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers, 2009's Dark Reign: Young Avengers and a 2010 special Siege: Young Avengers. Plus a 2008 Young Avengers Presents miniseries, a six-issue anthology issue in which different creative teams checked in on each of the members of the Young Avengers for their post-Civil War/"The Initiative" status.

That no doubt sounds like an awful lot of comics, but it's far fewer comics than Marvel would have produced (and sold!) if they just kept Young Avengers going monthly for the four or five years the franchise was left fallow-ish, and it's probably worth noting how Marvel treated Heinberg's Young Avengers vs. writer Brian K. Vaughan's similar Runaways, which were also new, young heroes that were either new creations or derivative of pre-existing Marvel characters. Runaways passed into other writers' hands almost as soon as Vaughan left, and didn't cease publication until sales sunk too low.

Either because Heinberg finished the story he wanted to tell at the conclusion of Children's Crusade or because Marvel decided Heinberg-less Young Avengers is better than only publishing annual miniseries, Marvel just last week launched a new Young Avengers ongoing by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton (which I wrote about at some length here).

I liked it an awful lot, and it reminded me that I haven't followed the characters at all since the early half of Heinberg and Cheung's first run on the characters (I lost interest when about the time Heinberg did, but didn't regain it when he did). The new Young Avengers only features three of the original cast-members—Wiccan, Hulkling and Hawkeye, who is also appearing with the other Hawkeye in Hawkeye—and adds three other young Marvel characters—Marvel Boy (The Grant Morrison/J.G. Jones version), Loki (last seen in the Gillen-written Journey Into Mystery, which I wasn't interested in, being adverse to Asgardian stuff) and a new Miss America that I'm not sure has ever appeared anywhere else or not.

I got online and started seeing what other Young Avengers material was out there, and will be reviewing it in a series here, as I did with Marvel's Fear Itself tie-in collections, although not as frequently. I'm going to start with Young Avengers Presents.


As stated above, this is a six-issue anthology series, with each issue featuring a different member of the Young Avengers team (although most guest-star other members in some capacity or other), each by a different creative team, each featuring a pretty neat cover by Jim Cheung showing the Young Avenger before a collage of head-shots of the "old" Avenger that inspired them and almost all of them featuring the Young Avenger meeting up with a grown-up Avenger one way or another.

The series is set after the events of Civil War, during which the Young Avengers sided with Captain America's anti-registration faction, and the war's aftermath, including Cap's apparent assassination. Un-registered superheroics were outlawed, so the team was in semi-retirement, with only Stature legally allowed to superhero (She was appearing in the since-canceled Avengers: The Initiative series at the time).

The art can get a big dodgy in terms of consistency (Hawkeye's costume is constantly changing, for example), and I liked some styles much better than others, but overall it's a very competently-produced series, and not a bad introduction to the characters, even if their exact circumstances requires a bit of other reading (or at least asking a friend or Wikipedia what the hell happened during Civil War, I guess). Given the nature of the book, it's probably best to take it issue by issue.

"Patriot" by Ed Brubaker, Paco Medina and Juan Vlasco

After a rough day at school, in which Eli Bradley gets in a fight with a fellow student after he's heckled for writing about the Tuskegee experiments ("If it's so bad here, why don't you move to Russia-- or Iraq?"), Eli returns home to find James "Bucky" Barnes, the former Winter Soldier who is about to take over being Captain America during the original Cap's temporary death, leaving his house. Eli is the grandson of Isaiah Bradley, the kinda sorta first Captain America, the black one (As seen in the excellent, Kyle Baker-illustrated Truth).

Wanting to track Bucky down for...whaetever, Eli suits up as Patriot and teams with Hawkeye and Wiccan to find Bucky and ultimately have an off-panel heart-to-heart regarding the death of Captain America and the original Patriot (I didn't even know there was an original Patriot). A bigger deal probably could have been made regarding the Young Avengers meeting Bucky—in Young Avengers #1, it was explained the reason why there are no real sidekicks in the Marvel Universe was the apparent death of Cap's sidekick Bucky, but dude apparently didn't die after all.

I liked the art in this one pretty well, and it reminded me how much I liked Patriot's costume (one he lost the full-face mask) and overall design. It kinda made me wish he was in the new Young Avengers series, although I suppose they don't want more than one patriotic, star-spangled hero on the line-up. I assume he'll at least guest-star at some point though.

"Hulkling" by Brian Reed and Harvey Tolibao

I was somewhat surprised to see the floating heads behind Hulkling belonged to Marvel's original, dead-from-cancer Captain Marvel, and not the Hulk. I mean, half-Kree, half-Skrull shape-changer Teddy Altman took his name and look from founding Avenger the Hulk, not Captain Marvel, right?

Well, apparently Teddy is that Captain Marvel's son...? And this story is set during the time between when this Captain Marvel randomly came back to life in a panel of Civil War and whatever happened to him during Secret Invasion happened to him (I didn't read any of those Wait, what's up with Captain Marvel being back? comics because, being under 50, I didn't much give a shit about Captain least, not that Captain Marvel. The Fawcett/DC one is a different story, because that Captain Marvel rules). So it is essentially just a heart-to-heart between the two characters.

It did make me wonder why Hulkling didn't go by Marvel Boy or...something with the word Marvel in it, in large part because I hate his look, which is essentially short Hulk with bleached blond hair, crustacean arm action in the shoulder region and veiny pterodactyl wings. I also don't like Teddy's "civilian" look, with all those dumb earrings. Feh.

Tolibao's art is fine, and looks an awful lot like Steve McNiven's, and I really enjoyed how muscley and vein-y he made Cap and Teddy look, the former through his clothes. I imagine it was meant to look cool, but I imagine Tolibao drawing them sarcastically, and it made me giggle.
(This is my favorite panel; check out Marvel's posture)

(By the way, here's Tolibao's Hawkeye; her costume has two sleeves in his version rather than one, but he and this art team is one of the few which draws human breasts with nipples on them)

"Wiccan & Speed" by Roberto Aguirre-Sacas and Alina Urusov

I don't really get these two, although the story of Young Avengers and "Avengers Disassembled" and House of M and Brian Michael Bendis' New Avengers run and about a decade of X-Men comics and much of the events of the Marvel universe over that same time have kinda sorta involved them. They were the magically imaginary children that Scarlet Witch thought she had, but didn't really, but I guess maybe did, since now they are teenagers?

I don't know. One is magic character designed to originally make YA readers think he had something to do with Thor, rather than Scarlet Witch.

The other has the lamest speedster name this side of The Whizzer, and looks almost exactly like Impulse villain Inertia,
who looks exactly like Impulse/Quicksilver amalgam Mercury,
who of course looked a bit like Scarlet Witch's speedster brother Quicksilver.

His personality is also essentially that of a slightly more edgy Impulse.

In this story, they go looking for the Scarlet Witch and don't find her. It has some of the nicest art in the book, and that which is stylistically furthest from the media on the book. There's a abstracted nature to the design, and the images are smooth, clean and clutter free—it's quite suggestive of cels of animation.

Urusov even makes the Hulkling character, who I just stated I didn't like the look of, look kind of cool, giving him a truly hulking size and physique and fewer nooks and crannies. His hair also looks bleached to the point of being whitish, a more exotic look for a huge green space alien dude.

"Vision" by Paul Cornell, Mark Brooks and Jaime Mendoza

Though this is The Vision's story, it's just as much Stature's. This Vision, by the way, isn't The Vision that was torn vertically in half in "Avengers Disassembled," but the brainwaves of "Iron Lad", whose real identity was a secret in the first YA story arc, housed in a rebuilt android Vision body or...I don't know. Some of these characters sure are complicated for ones who have only starred in like 25 comics altogether, huh?

Anyway, it's not The Vision, but a new, younger Vision with the old Vision's powers but another Young Avenger's mind or whatever.

He has a crush on Stature, the size-changing heroine daughter of Ant-Man II Scott Lang. He goes to visit her at Avengers Initiative HQ, where she's in training to be part of Civil War victor Iron Man's well-regulated, federal army of superhero draftees, and talk about their relationship, which is weird (She was into the guy whose mind is in Vision's body).

Some AIM guys attack. There's a fight.

While I like teen angst and melodrama, this is more of the Crying Robot flavor than the true teen flavor, and I'm not really into Crying Robots (One nice thing about The New 52? No Red Tornado. Or at least not anywhere that I've noticed).

My favorite part was a panel of the AIM guys—those are the standard issue Marvel villains who dress a bit like beekeepers—on some sort of stake-out, in which Brooks draws four dudes in big, yellow beekeeper suits just sitting in a parked car by the curb.

"Stature" by Kevin Grevioux and Mitch Breitweiser

The next issue sticks with Stature, whose powers are apparently reflective of her emotional state (a very Marvel touch) and, at story's opening, she's feeling so "small" she's in danger of shrinking out of existence. Hawkeye has her placed, in the fetal position, on a microscope slide, and Wiccan and Patriot get called to talk her back to size.

She's apparently feeling small because she accidentally fell on her mom's cop boyfriend, whom she doesn't like, and might have killed him.

It's a nicely done done-in-one, with a predictable, cheesy—but not too cheesy—ending. Breitweiser's art is the most realistic in the book, but it doesn't enter into that weird wax dummy, photorealism realm that a few Marvel artists like to work (Greg Land, Salvador Larocca, etc). Bretiweiser probably has the best costuming in the book too, with people generally wearing clothing that looks like clothing one might see on the street. I was kind of surprised at how "in-style" Cassie Lang looked when not dressed as Stature.

"Hawkeye" by Matt Fraction, Alan Davis and Mark Farmer

Hey, it's Matt Fraction! Writing Hawkeye Kate Bishop and Hawkeye Clint Barton, the two Hawkeyes who star in his critically acclaimed Hawkeye series! I wonder if this particular comic doesn't merit a more thorough look-see from Hawkeye fans in light of that?

It also features probably the biggest and best art team in the collection, the veteran Davis/Farmer team.

This story features Kate on a date with Patriot, when they are suddenly attacked by their horse-drawn carriage driver—Ronin in a top hat!
Does that bring back memories? Ronin? Remember Ronin? "He" was a mysterious ninja in a vest character from the beginning of Bendis' New Avengers run that was either supposed to be A) Daredevil or back-from-the-dead Hawkeye (one of the first violations of then-EIC Quesada's vow that dead would mean dead while he was in charge) in a disguise who was later changed to Echo-in-a-padded man suit because too many people too easily guessed the surprise or B) was meant to be Echo all along, but artist David Finch either didn't know it and thus drew Ronin as a big hulking man or just sort of sucked at drawing.

Anyway, Ronin was at this point Clint Barton, and he challenged Hawkeye to visit the New Avengers' secret base to have an archery contest over possession of her bow, which was his bow, but Captain America gave it to her while Clint was temporarily dead, but now Clint was alive and Captain America was temporarily dead, so he wanted his bow back (Jesus, I guess these stories are all a lot more complicated than I thought while reading; I guess a good way to tell just how Byzantine continuity is in a particular super-comic is to try summarizing it in a few paragraphs).

Davis and Farmer's art is really nice, as smooth and dynamic as always, although they dress the boys like they're grown-up stock brokers on dates: Patriot wears a suit and tie, Speed a blazer.
I liked Kate's second dress though, which featured the same pattern as one of Hawkeye's goofier costumes.

Fraction's script is pretty clever, and the Hawkeyes sound like they would a few years later in Hawkeye; the comic is much more straightforward in construction and lay-out though, and offers a nice indication of exactly what it is that David Aja is bringing to the table in Hawkeye (that, and/or it's an indication of the difference in Fraction's writing the just sixth-issue of an anthology series versus scripting his own series).

It made me kind of which Fraction was writing the new Young Avengers, or at least got to write these characters at some length somewhere between then and now.

It also made me wish that instead of titling Hawkeye Hawkguy, Marvel instead changed the name to either Hawkeyes or Hawkguys.

It also also made me dread the possibility that the two Hawkeyes might hook up at some point. The first issue of Young Avengers has Kate musing on how hot Bucky is and Patriot admonishing her that "he is way too old for you", and this final issue certainly demonstrates how teenage the Young Avengers are versus how middle-aged the New Avengers are (even if Hawkeye and his peers are drawn more like twenty-somethings than the thirty- or forty-somethings they probably actually are...I'm 35, but was in junior high during the Gulf War, which I think has replaced Vietnam as a time-marker in the Marvel Universe sliding timeline...or has it slid to Afghanistan already? Because that seems too drastic a slide...)

Anyway, she's only 18 now right? That would be legal but gross Fraction—don't do it!

And that's Young Avengers presents: Some really good stories, some pretty good stories, some decent-but-no-worse-than-that stories. It's kind of a weird tour of the Marvel universe too, and read a few years later, it's remarkable how things have changed and how drastically. Even if you just look at who is dead and who is alive at what point (Since then, the then-dead Captain America, adult Vision and Ant-Man II came back to life, "Captain Marvel" died again and Bucky died and came back to life.


Brian J said...

Miss America showed up (first appeared?) in Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta's quite excellent "Vengeance". Strongly recommended!

JohnF said...

David Finch just sucks at drawing.
Doesn't stop him from getting some high-profile gigs, though.

doron said...

I remember reading online (bleeding cool?) that Kieron Gillen wanted Patriot to be in Young Avengers but the character is being used elsewhere so he put in Miss America.

Also his Journey Into Mystery is awesome. I'm normally adverse to Asgard stuff as well but it was great.

Caleb said...

Thanks Brian; I totally forgot about that series after I first read about it and made a mental note to read it in trade some day. Probably shoulda put that note on paper, instead of just taking it mentally.


Huh. Thanks. Can't imagine where Patriot is showing up--unless he's one of the young heroes killing or being killed in Avengers Academy--but I'm glad he's not dead or in limbo, I guess.

Unknown said...

Patriot is the grandson, not the son, of Isaiah Bradley.

Caleb said...

He sure is. Fixed it.