Green Day: The Kids Aren't Alright: The Rise and Fall of the Young Avengers

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EDITOR'S NOTE: In this month's "Green Day" column, Kelvin examines The Young Avengers without any of his signature snark. Mostly.

I'll admit, I wasn't sure about Young Avengers to start with. The initial promotional materials weren't particularly informative, and the whole project seemed gimmicky, an odd attempt to steal some of the thunder of DC's Teen Titans, which was in something of a resurgence at the time. And the idea of teen Avengers just seemed a bit, well, naff. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the title turned out to be far and away the best thing to come out of the "Avengers Disassembled" event. While the main title spiralled uncontrollably into interminable non-stories in which (a) nothing happened, (b) something happened but someone else sorted it out while the Avengers stood about chatting, or (c) ninjas turned up, Young Avengers forged ahead as a solid superhero team book.

Ironically enough, it also turned out to be a great example of classic Avengers storytelling; while the characters were new*, they all had deep roots in Avengers mythology, and it was these roots that not only tied the team into the rich history of the parent title, and the wider Marvel Universe, in a much more effective way than a simple teen sidekicks approach would have done, but was also the driving force behind much of the drama inherent in the relationships between the team members.

Take the Vision, for example. His memories are those of the original Vision***, but his body is actually Iron Lad's discarded armour, and his personality is based on, but also different to, that of Iron Lad, just as the "adult" Vision was both a copy of Wonder Man, and a unique personality in his own right. Iron Lad was a young, pre-megalomania Kang, and the new Vision serves on a team alongside Wiccan and Speed, twin sons of the Scarlet Witch and the previous Vision. Yes, it's definitely soap opera stuff, but writer Allan Heinberg made that a feature to be exploited, not a flaw of which to be embarrassed; besides, this kind of interpersonal wrangling is part of what the Avengers have always been about. This fertile background is a writer's dream; I can think of a dozen stories to tell based on the above web of relationships, and that's before adding in antagonists, obstacles and the sundry superhero elements.

But we never got the chance; as soon as it arrived, Young Avengers was gone****. We've been promised a second series, but there's been nary a whiff of it so far, and in the meantime, all we've had is vast steaming slag piles of squandered potential as far as the eye can see, a bitter reminder of what could have been. Civil Bore was a cavalcade of noise and nonsense, but as young heroes inspired by the Avengers, and brought reluctantly under the older team's wing for training, there were plenty of opportunities for writers to make the most of the teenagers' reaction to the Registration Act. What we got instead was a couple of background cameos in the main series, and a crossover miniseries with the Runaways in which they teamed up to battle Grant Morrison's Marvel Boy***** for apparently no reason at all, and certainly no reason associated with the matter at hand.

Then came Young Avengers Presents..., a miniseries made up of one-shots each dedicated to one member of the team. Each issue had a strong creative team attached, and again there was plenty of potential in exploring the characters as individuals, distinct from the group setting. Only it didn't work out that way. There was an odd focus on wallowing in redundancy, with the creators refusing to actually develop the characters or reveal anything new about them, instead either going over what we already knew, or wasting time and space on irrelevancies. The format of each issue seemed to be a series of chase scenes then an inconclusive chat with the quarry of said chase; the new Hawkeye, for example, was given the previous Hawkeye's bow by Captain America, only to have it stolen by the previous Hawkeye, only for her to steal it back, only for him to decide to give it to her as a gift... just as Cap had already done. Each issue was a similar whirlygig of pointlessness; I can't blame the creators, as I'm sure they were merely working with what little they were given. Alas, I am barred from scrying into the inner workings of the Marvel decision-makers, so I'll have to speculate wildly on the reasons for this disappointing showing from some of superhero comics' best creators; I suspect it was a combination of an attempt to respect Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung's creation and not develop it without them, but also to publish a series in order to maintain the audience's awareness of the concept. Unfortunately, this resulted in a title in which nothing of significance occurred, interminably, for six months.

Now we have the inevitable Skrullaballoo tie-in, again reuniting the Young Avengers with the Runaways, and it should be a perfect match this time around, as both teams have Skrull members; the west coast youngsters have a Skrull princess in the roster, while the junior Avengers have Hulkling, a Kree/Skrull hybrid and heir to the entire Skrull empire. This really shouldn't be difficult. So why in the name of Fin Fang Fudging Foom's bright purple pants have we instead been given yet another unimaginative brawl? Come on Marvel, it's not bloody rocket science!

The creative types at Marvel seem to be aware of the inherent potential of the Young Avengers concept, as they keep trying to recapture the magic of those first twelve issues, and there's even been what seems like an attempt to turn it into a sort of brand, with the title formerly known as New X Men****** recently being relaunched as Young X-Men. Regular readers will know that I occasionally give Marvel a hard time, but much as that is the case, I have to give them credit for keeping Young Avengers alive in some form or another; it's just a shame that they seem to have no idea what to do with the title or the characters.

* Well, most of them were anyway. Iron Lad, Stature**, and the twins are technically characters who had appeared before, but that kind of continuity mining is part of the fun of the series for grognards like me.
** Stature. For crying out loud.
*** The original Avengers Vision, that is, not the original original 1940's Vision.
**** Okay, not quite that fast; Jim Cheung's not the quickest artist, and as the Wonder Woman debacle showed, Allan Heinberg's not much more speedy.
***** Despite the minor issue of him being in a different continuity. Sigh.
****** Itself formerly known as New Mutants.

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