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Avengers: The Children's Crusade #1

Posted: Friday, July 16, 2010
By: Kelvin Green

Allan Heinberg
Jim Cheung, Mark Morales (i), Justin Ponsor (c)
Marvel Comics
Back in 2004, the Avengers faced their greatest, most powerful foe, an enemy so powerful and destructive that even Earth's mightiest heroes could not withstand its power. This foe was not Kang, nor Loki, nor even the Scarlet Witch, although they did blame it all on her.

This enemy was, of course, the accursed Bendis. Those were dark times for the Avengers fan, as the team was replaced by a bunch of immobile, glossolalia afflicted hipsters. For a while there, things looked bad, real Kyle Reese "We were that close to going out forever," bad. But then Marvel released teasers for something called Young Avengers. with glimpses of what looked like, predictably enough, younger versions of the Avengers. Of course, comics fandom then responded with typical neanderthal aggression, condemning the new title as a rip-off of DC's Teen Titans, purely based on one image. What. A. Suprise.

There were always bound to be similarities, but Young Avengers turned out to be far more than a rip-off. It turned out to be a solid superhero team book, very much a product of the Bendisverse, but with a healthy respect for the history and legacy of the characters. In short, it was a proper Avengers title at a time when the accursed Bendis seemed dead set on erasing such a thing from the the very fabric of reality. It was a good comic, a fine comic, but then writer Allan Heinberg buggered off to spend ages not writing Wonder Woman, and the series ended, to be replaced by a bunch of half-hearted crossover tie-ins and mini-series, which, despite some good work from some good creative types, just were not the same.

(In all fairness, once Dan Slott took over Mighty Avengers, we got something similar, but by then it was Skrulls this, Norman Osborn that, oh-no-not-the-bloody-Sentry-again, and it never really took off. Shame.)

But now it's back! The title is a bit of a misnomer, as this is essentially a continuation of Young Avengers, with the grownups positioned as guest stars and perhaps even antagonists. Given that Heinberg and Cheung's comic was always more deserving of the Avengers name than the "proper" books at the time, the pseudonymity could be considered rather fitting. It really does feel like a continuation too, with the same strong characterization, the same intelligent scripting, and the same great artwork from Jim Cheung.

Well, almost. Cheung's linework is a touch less busy nowadays, and the scritchy-scratchy lines he once used to indicate texture, most noticably on faces, has gone, with that work now being done through Justin Ponsor's coloring. It's still recognizably Cheung, but it's missing something, almost as if taking out those extra lines has also robbed the art of some of its vitality, and there's something of the plastic, anaemic look of Civil War about the combination of lineart and coloring. All that said, the comic still looks good, as Cheung is a great artist with a distinct, attractive style and good storytelling skills. It's just that this issue is not quite up to his usual standards. I liked the scritchy-scratchy.

By contrast, Allan Heinberg's writing was clean and efficient back then, and still is today, doing a fine job of conveying the cast's personalities and feelings, but not drawing attention to itself through excessive stylization. There's enough of a similarity with the snappy, "realistic" tone of the parent titles to maintain a sense of unity, but there's also a classic superheroic feel that wouldn't be out of place in a Kurt Busiek or Steve Englehart Avengers issue. The dialogue is modern, but it's nonetheless delivered during action scenes, mid-punch, just as in all good old fashioned superhero comics.

It will surprise no one that Heinberg writes these people better than anyone else, and they all seem like real, living, breathing people. Living, breathing people who can change shape, use magic and run faster than the wind, obviously. It's good to see Wiccan and Hulkling's relationship out in the open, with none of the nervous allusion and tentative implication of older issues. That said, there is one odd bit where the script insists the pair are kissing but the art doesn't, which looks suspiciously like someone somewhere getting cold feet at the last minute, but I could be reading too much into it. It's also good to see the writer taking time to give the other members of the team reasons to go looking for the Scarlet Witch, in what could so easily be a story focused on Wiccan and Speed searching for their alleged mother.

Neither the reappearance of the Young Avengers, nor the homecoming of their original creative team, come as a bolt from the blue, or even a triumphant return. Rather, the feeling is one of comfort, of a return to something familiar. That is not to say that the comic is an exercise in cozy nostalgia without the quality to back it up. Heinberg and Cheung may not be making a big splash here, but they are delivering good, strong superheroics, and it's good to have them, and the Young Avengers, back.



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