Current Reviews


Marvel Slugfest - Young Avengers Presents #1

Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Ed Brubaker
Paco Medina (p), Juan Vlasco (i)
Marvel Comics
EDITOR’S NOTE: The first issue of Young Avengers Presents arrives in stores tomorrow, January 23.

Paul Brian McCoy: 3 Bullets
Chris Murman: 3 Bullets
Dave Wallace: 2-1/2 Bullets

SPOILER WARNING: The following reviews discuss plot developments of the issue.

Paul Brian McCoy: 3 Bullets

So here's the deal. I didn't read Young Avengers. I didn't read their Civil War tie-in mini-series. I know nothing about them other than what I just read on Wikipedia. My initial criticism of this book is that there's not even a text blurb letting new readers know who this character, Patriot, is. I would have appreciated that. But Brubaker is writing the first issue of this new 6 issue mini-series (each issue spotlights a different creative team and different character), so I had to read it. I know. It's a problem, and the medication isn't helping.

As I said, this issue's focus is Patriot, Eli Bradley (the grandson of Isaiah Bradley), as if you couldn't guess which character Brubaker would be taking on. But to be honest, the real star of this issue is Bucky Barnes, The Winter Soldier, and soon-to-be Captain America. Eli is feeling some pressure about being a black kid calling himself Patriot in an America that was "built on slavery and genocide," as he puts it. I kind of expect many readers to react the same way Eli's classmates react to his report on the Tuskegee Experiment, but I sympathise with his problem. It's hard to have a conscience and support some of the things this country has done over a few hundred years of growth, expansion, and interaction with others. His questioning of the idea of what it means to be a Patriot is timely and interesting, but nothing much is done with it here. Over the course of the issue we find out that he put on the costume to honor the legacy of his grandfather, the only survivor of the Super Soldier Formula testing (as presented in the vastly under-appreciated Truth: Red, White, & Black by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker), which isn't really news to anyone who knows anything about the character. Anyway, he tracks down Bucky to have a chat about his responsibility and his legacy.

And that's pretty much it.

I'm not sure what the point of this comic is, except to keep the Young Avengers in the public eye while their creator, Allan Heinberg, gets the second season of their own title ready. And with the current writer's strike, maybe that means it'll be back sooner than was expected. But this mini still seems to be suffering from a lack of purpose, at least in its first issue. Maybe the other characters will have more to do in their issues.

I must admit, however, that I really enjoy the use of Bucky in this issue. He's thrust into the role that traditionally was Steve Rogers' and isn't comfortable with it at all. I really can't wait to read his adventures carrying the shield and trying to live up to a legacy of his own. It just seems to be out of place occurring in this particular title. In fact, the conversation that begins in the very last panel of the issue is the one that I wanted to hear more of. Bucky's pep talk to Eli was good and did what it was supposed to do, but it wasn't very original or interesting. It was too much talking and not enough doing for my tastes.

Artistically, Medina and Vlasco do a functional job, clearly telling the story (what there is of it) but lacking much excitement. Even the actual action sequence didn't have much kick and was a little hard to follow in places. Most of the time, the backgrounds were minimal and the characters seemed to be overlayed into the scene via computer trickery rather than being physically drawn into the scene. I don't know if that's the actual process, but that's what it seemed like. On the other hand, the characterizations were good, with each player distinctly designed and consistent throughout. I don't know what was up with Bucky's sideburns though. He should get those things trimmed.

Overall, then, if you're a fan of Captain America, and particularly of Brubaker's return of Bucky Barnes, this issue might have more of interest for you than other readers. If you're a fan of the Young Avengers, I don't think this really does anything new or interesting with Patriot. The issue seems to just be establishing a holding pattern for the characters until they can actually be brought back by Heinberg later in the year.

Chris Murman: 3 Bullets

As strange as it sounds, the entire time I was reading this issue, I thought about my wife. Stop your laughing, you jackals; there’s a good reason. I love my wife more than anything, but she’s not the most patriotic person in the world. It may not be as prevalent in other countries, but anti-patriotism runs rampant in the United States. And why not, with foreign relations and presidential approval ratings both at apparent record lows. My wife attributes it to having visited too many beautiful countries during her college days for mission trips. Certainly solid idea logic, but others don’t have quite the same altruistic reasoning.

Eli Bradley fits into that boat. He, like many Americans today, fear Big Brother (not the reality TV show, the other one). The U.S. is fighting a war many don’t want and has a struggling economy and rising gas prices that are making us Yanks screaming bloody murder. Bradley is angry for a different reason, and I don’t fault his logic either after what happened to his grandfather. Letting his fists do the talking, his militant method of enforcing his reasoning is what made this controversial leader of the Young Avengers such a dynamic face for the team. It also led to some great conversation between the junior super-soldier and Steve Rogers. Now that Steve is dead, Eli is back to his old ways and not too happy with his place in the super hero community.

Enter the Winter Soldier.

I have to give a tip of the cap to writer Ed Brubaker for some smart dialogue at the beginning of the issue between Eli and his classmates. Being the hot-headed, loud mouth can certainly lead to many fights. Dating back to my college days, trust me when I say I know what that feels like. Once I got an idea that I felt was the truth, I went looking for someone to argue with. Many times, it ended in me getting my hat handed to me in the debate realm. Keep in mind I don’t mean this as criticism of Eli’s attempt to examine some of the severe racism the States has endured. Instead I applaud it. The only problem with pointing out events that make others uncomfortable is defending your summations with flying fists.

Paco Medina certainly does justice to Jim Cheung’s creations. Being the first in this series, Medina’s work will most likely be compared to the original. Personally, it’s been too long for me to wish for the old art. I just wish for the old story.

I have no idea what direction this series is going, but this reviewer didn’t detect a noticeable plot that will weave the characters together. I could always be proven wrong with the next issue, mind you, but I’m not expecting it.

Young Avengers was a great series during its original inception. Of course, using writer in high demand such as Allan Heinberg carries with it the danger of delays and a hiatus. Since their infusion into Civil War, I haven’t really liked the direction of the characters at all. Sadly, until Allan comes back to the book it appears my lack of enjoyment will continue.

There were some really great ideas expressed in this issue, as to be expected by Bru. Unfortunately, he wasn’t given a whole lot to work with. The result is an average book that could have been much better.

Dave Wallace: 2-1/2 Bullets

Young Avengers was one of Marvel's most successful new titles of recent years, introducing a fresh new cast of youngsters with ties to the original Avengers who got together to create a brand new super-team. With Allan Heinberg unable to continue the series on a regular basis due to his television commitments, the book's first “season” ended with issue #12 and has since been on hiatus whilst Marvel waits for him to find the time to return. So, barring a couple of spin-offs and guest-appearances (such as the Civil War crossover miniseries with Runaways, or the Fallen Son one-shot), we haven't seen a new Young Avengers comic since the last of Heinberg's issues shipped in August 2006. Evidently, Marvel realised that there was a demand for new Young Avengers stories that wasn't being met, so the publisher has come up with a new series of linked one-shot stories that focus on different team members, to make up for the absence of the main title. It's a shame, then, to note that this first issue fails to capitalise on the strong foundations provided by the original series.

Ed Brubaker is one of my favourite writers working in superhero comics today, so I was keen to see what he would make of the character of Eli Bradley, the Young Avengers team leader known as Patriot. Sadly, it's a rare misfire for the writer. Unusual for Brubaker, the story feels lazily-written and predictable from the start, casting Eli as the stereotypical Angry Black Man who vents his frustration at the inequalities of society through violence, and needs the positive influence of a more experienced father figure to calm him and encourage him to put his energies to more positive use. It's the kind of character growth which feels perfunctory and doesn't actually address the problems that the character brings up in the opening pages, instead preferring to sweep them under the carpet via a trite closing exchange which addresses the ways in which America has wronged its minority communities, but reminds us that, gosh darn it, everyone's really trying to make the world a better place.

Another flaw in the story is that it loses its focus on its central character. Although Brubaker starts with a couple of scenes which establish Eli's personality and home life, his story quickly shifts into a quite different mode as it becomes preoccupied with the character of Bucky Barnes, who appears halfway through the issue. The plot is fairly similar to that of the Winter Soldier: Winter Kills one-shot from a while back (only this time, Bucky, Hawkeye and Patriot take out a group of A.I.M. terrorists rather than Hydra ones), making it feel more like a retread of that issue than a fresh new story. Yes, there are a couple of nice touches; I enjoyed the “Captain America Lives” graffiti, and Brubaker makes good use of Hawkeye and Wiccan's powers in their brief appearances. But they're minor details in an overall story which just isn't entertaining or interesting.

The art is perfectly serviceable and solid, but it isn't particularly dazzling or noteworthy either. Paco Medina's clean lines give the characters definition and form, with smooth curves and a slightly larger-than-life quality that reminded me of the late Mike Wieringo. The more action-packed sections of the story are handled more than adequately, but Medina copes less well when called upon to enhance the dialogue-centric closing moments of the story. I've got no problem with extended talking-heads sequences, but the conversation has to be interesting to hold my attention, and it's important for an artist to keep things visually diverse if the page is to avoid looking static and dull. Unfortunately, neither of those things hold true for the final scene of the book, and (rather fittingly for a book with “YAP” as its titular acronym) the conversation between Patriot and Bucky degenerates into a meandering, pointless, hand-wringing discussion of how great Steve Rogers was and how the world is a worse place without him. There's nothing wrong with Brubaker trying to explore the links that Patriot has to Captain America, but the scene fizzles out when it should be fizzing: at the very moment when the story demands a resonant conclusion, it feels like it has nothing to say.

I can't quite work out what story this comic is trying to tell. There's very little exploration of the Young Avengers as a team, so I can't imagine that Marvel is trying to substitute this book for Allan Heinberg's series whilst they wait for him to return for a second “season.” We barely learn anything about Patriot that we aren't told in the opening few pages, so it doesn't feel like a character study, and the lack of many of the other Young Avengers means that it doesn't function as an exploration of Eli's role in the team. If anything, it seems to be a story about Bucky and Patriot trying to live up to the ideals of Captain America (but inevitably falling short), and as such it feels more like another of Brubaker's Captain America one-shot issues than it does the first issue of a new Young Avengers miniseries. With such strong foundations to work from, it's disappointing that the first new Young Avengers comic in a long time feels more like a lost issue of Fallen Son. Disappointing.

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