Now, Kieron Gillen. Here’s one of Marvel’s top guys. A fabulous run on Uncanny X-Men (unfortunately hijacked by AvX), An incredible run on Journey Into Mystery (unfortunately hijacked by Fear Itself), and currently doing some great writing on the current run of Iron Man (unfortunately hijacked by Greg Land). I’m increasingly enamoured with his work, and I was a big fan of the first issue of this revival of Young Avengers, paired with his Phonogram collaborator Jamie McKelvie on art duties.
I first encountered Jamie McKelvie’s work in X-Men: Season One, and I loved it. His smooth textures and naturalistic renderings are a perfect fit for books with teen characters. Younger characters, especially children, can be real challenge for some artists, but McKelvie’s feel spot on, especially Loki, who is bringing together this new team of Avengers as his older self did the original roster. He’s joined here by Mike Norton for some art assists, but it’s difficult to tell whether that’s simply inking or something deeper. This certainly does seem to have a touch more more fine detail then McKelvie’s work on Phonogram, so perhaps it’s this that Norton is adding to McKelvie’s beautiful streamlined work. It’s also worth mentioning the expression that McKelvie wrings out of his characters. He really is an artist who ‘acts’ through his pencils.
There are also some truly brilliant layouts here, including a couple of stand out pages that play with the structure of comic panels and the character’s relationship with them, and some playful prodding at the fourth wall. It’s always nice to see a mainstream book twisting the conventions of the medium slightly, and it’s yet another sign of the fresh approach some of the talent are bringing to the Marvel NOW books. Matthew Wilson, another Phonogram alumni, lays down fantastic colours. Vibrant without being overpowering, it adds to the naturalism of McKelvie’s pencils, in the way that colours always should enhance the feel of pencils.
On the subject of naturalism, it does seem to me that Young Avengers has always been more about the teens themselves then it has the superheroics. In particular, it’s the relationship between Billy ‘Wiccan’ Kaplan and Teddy ‘Hulkling’ Altman that has centred the book in it’s various incarnations. The same is true here, in that the main threat originates from Billy’s desire to do something special for his boyfriend. Now surely we’ve all felt that we want to do something special for our partners. However, I for one, don’t have reality altering powers. But if I did, you can bet I’d use them to try and do the impossible for the one I loved. Which is exactly what has lead to the peril Billy and Teddy find themselves in here. And therein lies the importance of naturalism, and how it leads to great superhero stories. What is great about this book, and many of the best comics stories, is how a familiar desire or situation is enabled or escalated by a fantastical element. In this case, Billy’s desire to see Teddy reunited with his late mother is enabled by his powers, and thus places a character-driven drama at the heart of a superhero tale. This isn’t a book about super-powered teens going at it in a grand battle royale for some abstract ideal, or on the basis of ill-defined concepts of evil and justice. This is about people. It’s just that the people happen to be able to do extraordinary things. It’s that which facilitates the extraordinary events. This is something which I think some comic writers lose sight of that in their writing at times, but not Gillen.
Of course, a character driven drama is nothing without good characters, and Gillen provides them with aplomb. Billy and Teddy’s relationship is utterly believable and real, more so than most relationships in comics. During The Children’s Crusade I at times thought they made too much of the couple’s homosexuality, having them kissing or embracing what felt like every other page as if to say “Look! These characters are gay! They’re dudes! And they love each other! And that’s cool!” I feel that this is perhaps overdoing it, and what I like about Gillen’s approach is that it is treated like any straight relationship in comics, albeit a well written one. There’s no big deal made of it, and that’s the true sign that we’re approaching acceptance. So far in the book, Billy and Teddy are the definite core of the story, and it’s a good sign that they are so engagingly written.
Gillen’s popular take on Loki is here in full effect. Charming, funny, and at times strangely vulnerable, the teen trickster is a joy to read. The further adventures of Kid Loki was the main attraction to the book for me, as I’m sure it is for many. I’m just glad that everything else is written that well. It’s a shame we don’t see Ms America, Marvel Boy, or Hawkeye (Not HAWKGUY, as the recap page playfully reminds us), but it takes time to build a team, and the story we’re fed here is more than enough to chew on.
Young Avengers is a great example of the best work at Marvel right now. Top-class creators, great characters brilliantly written, and slick, exciting visuals. This book oozes quality. More please!