After a brief stopover in Nazi Germany, we now return to the kind of antics you usually see in Kieron Gillen’s comics. That is to say clever takes on superhero tropes, immensely witty writing and lots of talk about music. This third volume of “Young Avengers” is also its last and gives us what is likely the best subtitle to any volume of comics I’ll read all year. Does the rest of the comic measure up to “best of the year” status? No, but we still get a satisfying wrap-up to this saga of comic-book teenagerism.
When we left off, Leah (Loki’s ex, who isn’t so much evil as she is justifiably mad at him) had just led Hulkling into a trap set by Mother. The rest of the team gets clued in to this fact along with the one that involves Mother leading all of the parallel universes they traveled through in the previous volume to Earth. Just to spite Loki for trying to trick her in regards to controlling Wiccan’s role as the demiurge. After an attempt to grant Loki a form that will allow him to use his full powers only winds up giving him a body that will make him more appealing to fans of Tom Hiddleston, the team realizes that it’s time to go to war. It’s all of Marvel’s teen heroes against a vicious army of supervillains from parallel universes with the fate of all reality at stake. All Wiccan has to do is sidle up to his future role and access enough power to change reality a little. No problem there. Right?
Even if the narrative does boil down to a “Love Conquers All” ending -- which is entertainingly called out by its cast -- it’s still one that’s executed well. The Wiccan/Hulkling relationship has been a cornerstone of this book, so it’s appropriate that things wind up hinging upon it here. Better still is the rationalization that third wheel Prodigy provides in order to dispel the angst surrounding it. In the end, badass poses are made, clever wordplay is demonstrated, and everyone gets what they deserve.
Especially Loki, which was the most resonant part of the book for me. While Wiccan/Hulkling may have been the cornerstone of “Young Avengers,” what happens to Loki here is essentially the culmination of what Gillen has been doing with the character since he first got his hands on him in the “Siege: Loki” one-shot several years back. The consequences of his actions in “Journey Into Mystery” are finally paid off here in a moment where he does something that I’ve never seen the character do before. It felt immensely cathartic to read that scene as it felt like real change had finally come to the character. (Or at the very least, a very good example of the illusion of real change coming to the character.)
If I had any issues with Loki’s subplot, and the volume as a whole, it’s that I felt that the nature of his “missing power” wasn’t quite set up as well as it should’ve been. When the penny drops, it’s almost too much to take in since it also asks you to assume that one key and several supporting characters in this conflict were never real or present in the first place. I had to work through some cognitive dissonance to fully accept this, but it does make sense the more I think about it.
Though Gillen does great work with the narrative and the characters, I can say that his work wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying to read without the art provided by his longtime regular collaborator Jamie McKelvie. Not only is McKelvie absolutely stellar at conveying human emotion and movement with his clean character work, he’s also an artist who loves to push the boundaries of the form as well. We get some minor examples of that in the multitude of comic panels that burst forth from Loki during his transformation and the grid showing the connections between the various teen heroes. Then the artist goes to town in the following two issues starting with two separate splash pages showing the onslaught of the various denizens of the parallel universes and Teon firing a machine gun on Rockslide’s back while the bullets show various scenes from the conflict. This is followed by some frankly marvelous double-page spreads as the Young Avengers go toe-to-toe with Mother’s forces and the fighting plays out against their blasts of magic. However, these moments are topped themselves when Wiccan goes full demiurge and…
You know, I could keep going on and continue telling you how great McKelvie’s art is but it simply wouldn’t be the same as seeing it on the page. It’s vibrantly imaginative work and if he’s this good on a company-owned superhero title, just imagine what his work on upcoming creator-owned titles “The Wicked + The Divine” and (eventually) “Phonogram vol. 3” is gonig to look like. Most assuredly, it’ll be something to see.
After the narrative climax in the third issue collected here, vol. 3 is rounded out with the two-part “Resolution” storyline which has the team and their comrades-in-arms partying down in a pocket universe to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Its main role is to answer nagging plot threads like “What happened to Tommy?” “What’s the deal with Patri-not.” Also, “Will Loki be able to get over himself?” Joining McKelvie on these issues to illustrate these scenes are six other talented artists: Emma Vieceli, Christian Ward, Annie Wu, Becky Cloonan, Ming Doyle and Joe Quinones. All of them provide distinctively appealing work in their styles, though Ward is the standout as he manages some impressive layouts in the five pages he’s allotted. In the end, these last two issues serve as a great epilogue to the main narrative, winding down the action and providing one more moment with these characters as part of this team before it’s relaunched by a new creative team.
Maybe not for a while, though. The sales on this title were on a steep downward slide since the first issue so it may be a while before the next incarnation of “Young Avengers” arrives. It’s funny, because even though this title drifted into “cancellation territory” before its end, there’s nothing about the narrative here that seems rushed. You get the feeling that Gillen and McKelvie planned this particular storyline out in a way that would allow them to exit the title gracefully if it didn’t set the world on fire with its imagination and wit.
Regrettably, it didn’t and here we are. At least we got three great volumes of superhero action and dazzling art out of it. If nothing else, their work on “Young Avengers” is continuing proof that Gillen and McKelvie are one of the absolute best creative teams in comics and one that deserves to be followed anywhere they go. I look forward to seeing what they’re capable of now that they’re back at Image and and working on their own creations.