Thursday, July 10, 2008

Young Avengers Vol. 1: Sidekicks

Young Avengers Vol. 1: Sidekicks
by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung
Marvel, 2005-2006

Garrett Martin: I only bought the first Young Avengers trade 'cuz I was drunk and had a coupon. Going to the comic shop drunk is a bad, bad idea, but at least in ths case I came home with something good. And surprisingly so, since the concept is so cutesy and gimmicky and all-around off-putting. Throw in a writer with little comics work and a CV full of bad TV shows and it should be a straight shot to shitsville. I mean, characters named "Hulkling" and "Iron Lad"? A female teenage Hawkeye / Mockingbird mash-up? That sounds like a satire of Silver Age DC more than anything, and except for stuff from Ellis and Milligan this current Marvel era has a pretty dismal record with satire in general. Somehow, though, Allan Heinberg created a series that's fun and engaging and that pays more tribute to the classic Marvel and Avengers spirit than any of the Avengers books Bendis has written. Young Avengers nicely splits the difference between old-school Marvel yuks and modern-day decompressed ultra-heaviness. I'd also call it a solid entry point for new readers, I think, despite heavily referencing several 40-year-old concepts, but I've been wrong on that before. Did you, as a relative new-comer, feel like you were missing out on anything, or ever get confused?

Hillary Brown: No, I don't think it was particularly confusing, partially because I've read both Alias and The Pulse and some of the more recent Avengers stuff, so I actually have some background in what all had been happening in the Marvel Universe at the time. I'm not sure how it reads if you don't. My guess is that it's not really a problem, as Heinberg's pretty good with getting exposition to the reader in a quick, simple, unobtrusive way. That's a boring strength to talk about though. What I really like are his jokes. I was hoping, honestly, that Young Avengers would be even better than it is, considering Heinberg's experience writing for The OC and Gilmore Girls, but it's still a totally pleasant read, contemporary enough without being a constant barrage of pop culture references (not that I necessarily have a problem with that method when it's done well; e.g., The OC, Gilmore Girls). The characters are sort of snotty teenagers, but they're also kind of sweet. Hulkling is a polite young man, not a rage-fueled jackass. Iron Lad just doesn't want to grow up and lose his youthful ideals. Cassie/Stature misses her dad. Hawkeye/Kate Bishop just wants to help, despite having no superpowers other than richness. And there are social issues incorporated without much preachiness (gay characters, racially fueled rage), which is always a relief. I probably liked it about as much as The Order, and the art is similarly okay, while problematic on a panel or two due to computer coloring and effects. That said, if I've got one criticism of the book, it's that there might be a little much action. I appreciate Heinberg doing his origin story from an in medias res perspective rather than starting at the boring old beginning, but there's so much fighting and time travel and trying to figure out what's going on that it can detract from learning about the characters, which is really what you want to do in this case.

GM: I think there's an appropriate amount of action for a superhero comic. That's why Young Avengers feels more like a traditional Marvel comic than much of what the company has put out this decade. It maintains a quick pace and doesn't get bogged down with overly long passages of "realistic" dialogue, but still has time to establish the personalities of the core characters. Those characters don't always possess more than maybe two notes, tops, but it's still early in the YA game (theoretically), and the foundations of these characters are firm. If only Marvel would quit holding out for Heinberg and green-light a new series by a writer with a similar voice and sensibility. I can't think of any obvious choices, though, other than maybe Brian K. Vaughan, who I guess is pretty busy with that there TV show of his (y'know, the one my non-TV-watching intellectual friends always pointedly confuse with Survivor).

Speaking of that guy, how do you think YA ranks against Runaways? Marvel's treated the two books somewhat similarly, trying to break them up into "seasons" (of which Young Avengers has still only had one) and being careful with how other writers use the characters. They've loosened that control over Young Avengers over the last couple of years, but still haven't expressed any interest in a regular series written by anybody other than Heinberg. That guy will have a rough time getting a fair shake from many fans, though, after the Wonder Woman fiasco.

HB: I definitely prefer Runaways. For one thing, I think it has a better balance of talking and action. It's not that I don't like punching--I'm okay with it--I just like a good mix, and there are more bombshells even in the first few episodes of Runaways than there are here, and that's the only fair comparison to make, as I've read issues and issues of Runaways and only these very few of
YA. I like the idea of seasons in comics, but maybe that's just because I'm coming from a television background. Still, it gives one an idea of arc pacing. Sometimes, reading comics, unless there's a title for a series of three or four issues, I don't know how to figure out what might happen next. I do think that Heinberg does a nice job with Jessica Jones, as far as a character I sort of know already. She doesn't get a ton to do, but she's also not as self-hating/-destructive as she is in Bendis's world, nor is she rendered in muddy, horrible art.

Sean McKeever would do a nice job with this book, I think, except he's over with the enemy, right? And I haven't read any of his Teen Titans stuff, so I don't know how he does with superhero group dynamics, just how he does with regular teenage stuff. I agree that Vaughan would do well, too, but he seems busy with other projects. Or, heck, maybe Bryan Lee O'Malley should sell out and start writing this

GM: This thing you say gets me: "sometimes, reading comics, unless there's a title for a series of three or four issues, I don't know how to figure out what might happen next." Why is that a problem? Do you always have to know where a story is headed?

Runaways is a better comic than Young Avengers, no question. The level of craft in the writing isn't as high in Young Avengers, but I almost enjoyed it as much, probably because it does have a more traditional feel to it. It's not as classic as the explicitly retro Amazing Spider-Man stuff we reviewed, but, like I said, most Marvel comics don't combine traditional and modern storytelling techniques as effectively as this book. And I wonder if you'd like that classic Marvel style, as storylines would regularly bleed into one another without clearly defined endpoints. Specific storylines and subplots would almost always have definitive resolutions, but they would lead directly into the next storyline, or be entwined with any number of other subplots that could be at any point in their dramatic arcs. That still happens today (look at Secret Invasion, for chrissakes) but there is more of an effort to separate and define storylines concretely.

And yeah, McKeever could've done a great job with these characters. I always forget about that guy. That might be intentional, though, after being partially responsible for Countdown.

HB: It's a personal flaw! I do, actually, tend to get a little annoyed with the early Marvel stuff for exactly that reason. I have no confidence anything will add up, and that's because often it doesn't. I like the art, and I find a lot of the writing and pop cultural references hilarious, and I like seeing the books evolve into something more interesting, but I find them more historically significant than anything else. I think I prefer it when someone at least pretends they're taking me somewhere specific, and even then, as with Smallville sometimes I can figure out that they're not--they're just doing the same thing over and over. I'm pro-arc but it's not a requirement, and to some extent the genre is all about continuing on as long as possible, so I can get frustrated with that aspect. It's not that I'm opposed to routine. I eat dinner at about the same time every day, and I have my mornings down nearly to a science, but I like a little structure in my narrative. It's probably not fair to say that arc-based storytelling can't coexist with open-endedness, though.

GM: That's not just early Marvel, though, that's the entirety of Marvel from 1961 to, like, some point eight years ago, or something. That's how comics have been written for decades, and, despite complaints about "writing for the trade", it's still noticeable today.

Anyway! Have you read the second Young Avengers trade? Despite digging Sidekicks, I've never picked up the next one. Probably 'cuz I haven't gone to the store drunk again.

HB: Ha. I know. It's kind of a big complaint for someone who reads comics at all.

I haven't bought the next Young Avengers yet, and chances are good I will, even though I never go to the comics store drunk, being as it's not open very late.

GM: Late? Man, this was, like, three o'clock in the afternoon.

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