Comic Picks By The Glick

Young Avengers vol. 1: Style > Substance

September 29, 2013

Otherwise known as, “The Series That’s Holding Up the Third Volume of ‘Phonogram.’”  That being said, this is still a new work from one of comics’ most reliably entertaining and inventive teams, Kieron Gillen and Jaime McKelvie.  They knocked it out of the park on the first two volumes of “Phonogram,” the the issues of “Generation Hope” they collaborated on were good fun as well.  Here, they’ve been given stewardship of the latest incarnation of “Young Avengers,” which also happens to be the first incarnation I’ve gotten around to reading.  For their initial volume they’ve hit upon a story that spotlights the natural villain of any teen superhero:  parents.

Wiccan and Hulkling were two of the team’s original members, though after what I can only assume were the tragic events of the previous series they’re currently trying to live lives as regular teenagers in New York who are also in love with one another.  At least, Wiccan is trying.  Hulkling can’t give up the superhero game just yet as we see in an amusing Spider-man scene early on.  After trying to talk things through, Wiccan realizes what his boyfriend is going through and starts using his reality-altering powers to scan the multiverse and find a version of Hulkling’s mother who isn’t dead.  The good news is that it works and Hulkling is reunited with his mother in short order.  The bad news is that she’s an inter-dimensional parasite who wants to feed off the souls of him and his friends until they’re dead inside.

Naturally the two heroes are opposed to this plan, but “Mother” hands them their assess when they try to resist.  It’s only thanks to the timely intervention of none other than Kid Loki -- no, really -- that they’re able to escape.  Not only does Kid Loki know what’s going on, because his scrying revealed what Wiccan would do, but he also interfered with the spell and now he, Kate Bishop (the “Hawkeye” that is a lady), Noh-Varr (formerly known as “Marvel Boy” and the “Protector”), and Miss America (super-powered Latina superheroine from another dimension) are bound together by the shared menace of their dead parents trying to come back and kill them.  Good times all around!

Gillen and McKelvie are clearly having a ball with this series and that’s evidenced from the very first issue.  (The collection starts off with a short setting up Loki’s connection to Miss America and the wonders of Korean barbeque.)  Kate has just woken up after a wild night with Noh-Varr who expresses his love of sixties close harmony girl groups right before the Skrulls attack.  The series then breaks down into a double-page spread of Kate’s words and images of the two dealing with the attack that captures the frenetic joy that should be standard in every single superhero comic.

The volume is rife with experimental sequences that play with page and panel arrangement in interesting ways.  Sometimes it’s as simple as showcasing three different scenes progressing at the same time when Miss America takes on Kid Loki, Wiccan scans the multiverses, and Hulkling sleeps through some of it only to immediately wake up and realize something’s wrong.  Then there are the ones which experiment with the form of comics as Kid Loki sneaks through the panels to break Wiccan out of confinement, and Noh-Varr’s “rescue by numbers” that act as a how-to on properly kicking ass.  If there was any doubt that McKelvie is one of the best artists working in the medium today, this volume has banished them from my mind.  However, it’s also worth noting that the volume lists Mike Norton as a contributing artist.  In theory the contrasting styles between the two would be distracting, but it’s a credit to Norton that his contributions effortlessly blend with McKelvie’s to the point where I couldn’t tell the two apart.

Gillen’s writing here is just as clever and witty as you’d expect from his previous work.  Kid Loki’s, “I’m Tyrion!” bit is great, as is Noh-Varr’s “Come with me if you want to be awesome,” and “This machine is powered by teenage delusions?  Great!  METAPHOR!”  The book is filled with lines like these and if you’ve liked the writer’s other comics, then you’re going to find plenty more to love here.  It’s also impressive how he manages to establish the characters’ core personalities in the first few pages we see in this collection.  Yes, only the most essential parts of their history are mentioned here, but there’s enough to grasp their personalities and motivations to enjoy the volume.

Except for Miss America.  I had no idea who she was before the volume started and she remained a fairly blank cipher through most of the volume.  Also, though I was really looking forward to seeing what happened to Kid Loki after the events of “Everything Burns,” the answer turns out to be “everything and nothing” has changed for the character.  On one hand, Kid Loki is fundamentally the same as he was portrayed in “Journey Into Mystery.”  On the other, Gillen’s efforts to work in the character’s fate from that series is likely only going to confuse anyone who hasn’t already read it.

There are also a couple of other minor issues to address.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the dialogue in this volume, I can see how its unrestrained and unrelenting cleverness may strike some people as “trying too hard.”  I can also admit that five issues of “parents coming back from the dead” is a bit too long for an opening arc.  There’s ultimately enough fun in the execution to carry it, but it also leaves me hoping that future stories get to the point quicker than they did here.

I will be looking forward to these future stories, though.  “Style > Substance” not only lives up to its name, it also provides a great example of how to execute that particular concept.  Yes, there are some issues here which stem from that approach and they are effectively steamrollered over by the skill of Gillen and McKelvie.  So yeah, vol. 3 of “Phonogram” is coming to us later rather than sooner due to this series, but I think this version of “Young Avengers” works as an entertaining substitute in the meantime.

Jason Glick

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