How to Read the Young Avengers

young avengersSo I embarked on a recent quest to go through the proper reading order of the Young Avengers, in preparation for reading the recent (and now-complete) Marvel Now reboot relaunch of the series.
Unlike a lot of characters in the Marvel Universe, the Young Avengers only came into being about 9 years ago, so it’s actually possible to follow them through in a mostly-completionist fashion – and totally worth it!

BEFORE YOU START
It’s worth getting hold of two trade paperbacks: Avengers Disassembled, and House of M. (they’re easy to get hold of because they were major releases – my local library has them both) While not being comprehensive introductions to some of the baggage that our sweeties will have to deal with, they cover the most important parts and will answer a lot of questions that might come to mind while reading Young Avengers. If you make it to The Children’s Crusade, you’ll thank me for this. Also, getting caught up on some of the backstory surrounding Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch will be fun preparation for this year’s upcoming Avengers movie: Age of Ultron, which introduces both characters to the Marvel universe.

In Avengers Disassembled, the Avengers suffer the worst bad day in the history of the super team: an attack on and destruction of the Avengers Mansion, the deaths of several teammates including Ant-Man, the Vision and Hawkeye, and the revelation that something deeply terrible has happened to the Scarlet Witch and her powers.

In House of M, the Avengers and X-Men gather to decide the fate of their terrifyingly dangerous former teammate, the Scarlet Witch – who defends herself by changing reality to a world where all of their deepest wishes have come true. Wolverine remembers his entire past, Spider-Man is married to Gwen Stacy, and oh yes – Magneto’s family rule the world. Magic and mutation is commonplace, and non-mutants are an oppressed minority.

I avoided House of M for a long time because I’d heard a lot of criticism of this storyline from a feminist point of view – and yes a lot of the plot revolves around the Scarlet Witch being crazy and her powers going haywire because of issues to do with her imaginary children. But… it’s also a brilliant, self-contained book with some amazing characterisation of lots of interesting people in the Marvel universe, and presents a deeply nuanced portrayal of the Scarlet Witch herself who, despite all her problems, has it together far more effectively than her father or brother.

house of m

Without spoiling anything, I have to say – the Scarlet Witch’s crazy is only part of the puzzle, and that’s important because she’s going to be a poster child for superpowered scapegoats in the years to come.

NOW YOU’RE READY…
…to delve into the Young Avengers.

As I discussed in Galactic Suburbia episodes 111 & 112, the Young Avengers start out in their own miniseries in two trade editions: 1 – Sidekicks and 2 – Family Matters.

These comics introduce the original team as they come together in the aftermath of Avengers Disassembled and House of M. While the kids set themselves up as reflections of the original Avengers, their origins are often more complicated than that. Billy Kaplan, for instance, uses magic and calls himself ‘Asgardian’ at first, but his connection to the Avengers is actually through the Scarlet Witch. Likewise, Teddy Altman is green and strong and calls himself Hulkling, but he’s actually the alien son of Captain Marvel and a Skrull princess.

Young Avengers vol. 2-Family MattersEli Bradley (Patriot) is the grandson of Isaiah Bradley, a black super-soldier who was treated as a Captain America experiment by the government, but was kicked out in favour of Steve Rogers. Eli deliberately bases his costume on that of Bucky Barnes rather than Captain America himself.

All three Avengers who died in Avengers Disassembled are represented in this new team of teenagers: Kate Bishop takes on the name Hawkeye after filching all kinds of weapons from the damaged Avengers Mansion, Cassie Lang “Stature” is the daughter of Ant-Man, and a new version of the Vision is created in the process of their adventures.

This original run of the series is mostly about the kids coming into their own as heroes, dealing with legacy issues from their mentors and families, and battling the grownup superheroes for the right to use the name ‘Avengers’. Big character moments include the death of Teddy’s foster mother, the revelation of the story behind Eli’s super-soldier powers, and the Scarlet Witch’s twin boys Billy and Tommy meeting each other for the first time.

Yes, her imaginary twin boys. But here they are, in the flesh.

molly speedCIVIL WAR
This is a huge, sprawling series based on the idea that all the superheroes go to war with each other ever the issue of whether they should all register their powers/identities to the public. I wouldn’t recommend all of it, and while there are a few Young Avengers references and appearances throughout (some of which are later revealed to be fake), the bulk of their story is in the Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways trade.

If you haven’t read Runaways (or like me, you had read the original Brian K Vaughn series but weren’t up to date on later developments) then that side of things can be a bit confusing. Basically, the Runaways are a bunch of super powered teens who ran away from home because their parents were all evil. There are lots of them. At this time, they are grieving the recent death of one of their close friends and teammates (which I’m still mad about, which is why I won’t read the rest of Runaways). Also, they have a magic dinosaur.

The combination of the two junior teams is a great idea, even if you don’t have any idea who these kids are, because these teens have always been good at poking holes at the ridiculous and destructive life choices of their elders, and that pretty much sums up the Civil War event.

Young_Avengers_Presents_Vol_1_1_TextlessYOUNG AVENGERS PRESENTS
This is a gorgeous mini-series with a single issue for each character, pairing them with an older Avenger of one kind or another and mostly talking through an issue of deep emotional importance. More comics should do this! I discussed these comics in Galactic Suburbia 112.

While the previous appearances of the team weren’t especially subtle about the romantic connection between Hulkling and Wiccan (formerly Asgardian), the Teddy-Billy relationship is explicitly stated here as boyfriends. They’re kind of adorable.

One of my favourite issues of this series are the Patriot one, in which Eli Bradley and Bucky Barnes bond over the recent death of Captain America and the conflicted feelings they both have about patriotism, racial issues, and loving/fighting for a country that has at times done terrible things.

I also really love the Hawkeye issue which was my first introduction to Kate Bishop. Clint Barton, the original Hawkeye, is no longer dead and now goes by the name of Ronin. He challenges Kate to a shoot-off for the name and for his bow (both of which were bestowed upon her by the now dead Captain America during Hawkeye’s own ‘dead’ period, can I tell you how much I love that Marvel writers always acknowledge the ridiculousness of this trope?).

hawkeye hawkeyeThis is the start of one of my favourite relationships in the Marvel comicsverse, the platomance between both Hawkeyes despite the fact that they have nothing in common other than arrows. (most recently this friendship was portrayed gorgeously in the Hawkeye Vs Deadpool mini-series which I want everyone to read because it’s funny and brilliant)

Stature gets lots of attention in this particular series, featuring in the Vision issue as well as her own, while new brothers Billy and Tommy set out on the first quest of many to find out WTF happened with their mystical “birth” mother, the Scarlet Witch. (she’s not actually their birth mother, because they are the reincarnated souls of her imaginary children, I think, but the whole thing plays out as a ‘foster kids hunt the birth mom’ storyline. The at times uncomfortable relationship between the brothers who barely know each other but are trying to be good family is shown to good effect here.

Hulkling (Teddy) taking the opportunity of a brief window of Captain Marvel being alive again to do the whole ‘you are my father’ rooftop deep and meaningful conversation is pretty awesome too. I love that this is a whole run of one-shots mostly made up of difficult conversations and character growth.

SECRET INVASION: Runaways/Young Avengers
The teen teams are back together again in another mini-series!

parseltongueA few things have changed for the Runaways since the last team up – they have another kid along for the ride, and Karolina’s Skrull girlfriend is female again (honestly, don’t ask). The main difference between this and all the other Young Avengers appearances is the artwork, which is all soft-focus manga adorableness instead of more standard superhero sharp lines and bright colours.

The only real problem artwise is that Victor and Xavin are drawn as really similar, and I keep getting confused by Nico’s brown hair instead of black. So it’s a bit tricky to remember who is who at times.

It’s a cute story, with the main Young Avengers focus being on Hulkling and his refusal to take up his destiny among the two alien races he descends from – I haven’t read the rest of the Secret Invasion storyline and apart from ‘hey look the Skrulls are invading’ I don’t think you need to, as it’s pretty clear what’s going on in the larger arc.

DARK REIGN: Young Avengers
Again, I was reading this one out of the larger event context which was only problematic in that when Iron Man, Hawkeye and a bunch of other Avengers turned up and started being mean to the kids, I had no idea that it was actually a bunch of evil impostors (Norman Osborne as Iron Patriot, Bullseye as Hawkeye etc). So that would have been handy to know. Funnily enough, I wasn’t shocked by Iron Man being a dick to the kids, but Hawkeye pretending not to know Hawkeye was just weird.

Thomas_Shepherd_(Earth-616)_and_Lisa_Molinari_(Earth-616)

Otherwise this works as a self contained mini-series/trade with more characterisation. A new bunch of teen vigilantes brand themselves as the Young Avengers and take to the streets, leading our Young Avengers to chase them down and tell them off for appropriating the name.

Yes, they’re aware of the irony that this is exactly what the grownup Avengers did when they declared themselves Young Avengers in the first place. But still.

It’s a funny, dark story with the real meat being the backgrounds of the new Young Avengers, where they come from and what their motivations are. Coat of Arms, the thoughtful street artist who’s all about the superhero meta, is the character I’d most like to see turn up in all the other comics from now into eternity, because she’s smart and hilarious. Tommy agrees with me.

This run is exactly what the Young Avengers should be – sharp, snarky and providing a youthful commentary on the more standard superhero fare.

SIEGE: Young Avengers
A one-shot issue that ties in with yet another massive Marvel Event.

I read the Siege trade first, which explained most of what was going on – basically, this is the endgame of the whole ‘Norman Osborn takes over the Avengers’ storyline, including the return of Iron Man, the return of Steve Rogers as Captain America, and the return of Thor. The city of Asgard appears on Earth, all hell breaks loose, and Nick Fury drags together a bunch of superheroes no one has heard of, plus some old favourites, plus the Young Avengers.

Young_Avengers_during_the_SiegeReading Siege has the added bonus of Maria Hill being awesome, which is makes any comic worthwhile for me. It’s a bit of a punch-up story, considering that it’s written by Bendis (who I can usually rely on for character and thoughtfulness plus hella dialogue) but the side stories make it interesting enough.

The Siege trade is made up of the main event issues, which have a heavy punching to dialogue ratio, but there’s also a trade called Siege: Battlefield which collects a bunch of interesting Siege-related one-shot issues exploring the final battle in more depth, not only with the Young Avengers but also Captain America, Spider-Man, Loki, etc.

I highly recommend the Captain America issue if you’re doing the whole Siege thing properly because it explains some of the resolution, as does the Loki issue. The Spider-Man issue is just him and Ms Marvel kicking ass and bantering which is lovely but not overly plot-relevant. The Young Avengers issue contains some great material for Hawkeye, Patriot, Wiccan and Hulkling, and really gets under the skin of Speed (Tommy) who has always been a bit on the edge of the heroic action in the past.

You don’t NEED to read it for Young Avengers continuity, but while I didn’t love much about Siege, the Young Avengers issue on its own is really good.

Avengers_The_Children's_Crusade_Vol_1_1AVENGERS: The Children’s Crusade
This is where all this reading and pre-reading of Young Avengers stories pays off! I don’t know how well this story arc/trade works without all the foreknowledge of Billy and Tommy’s story, and the Scarlet Witch, but for me it worked as a (mostly) brilliant climax to the entire Young Avengers story so far.

It also provides something a lot like closure to the events of Avengers Disassembled and The House of M. So there’s that.

Most of the best Young Avengers storylines have been about conflict between what the teen heroes want for themselves, and what the adult, established superheroes want for them. The central conflict in this particular storyline is dialled up to 11, because the Young Avengers are supporting Billy in his quest to find and understand the Scarlet Witch, and the adult Avengers and X-Men all have so many complicated feelings about Wanda and what she did that their antagonism towards (and patronisation of) the kids feels entirely natural.

212px-Young_Avengers_-_Maximoff_Family_(Avengers_Children's_Crusade_-_Volume_2)It really doesn’t help that Magneto has turned up to bond with his grandkids, or that Billy’s powers are becoming more and more of a threat. As a reader and a parent I could totally see the point of the adults trying to stop the kids, even know I also know they are WRONG because I am on the Young Avengers’ side no matter what.

Iron Lad is back, with his ‘time travel is totally not going to make me a super villain if I use it just once more’ schtick, and Cassie has to confront the fact that her relationship with teen!Vision is largely based on him having a lot of the memories and personality of Iron Lad himself – talk about a teen love triangle!

Messing around with time makes matters more complicated for everyone, especially when some of the kids manage to accidentally reverse the last un-reversed fatality of Avengers Disassembled: Scott Lang, Cassie’s dad. There are huge character-defining moments for the whole House of M family including Magneto, Quicksilver, Wanda, Billy and Tommy.

Kate Bishop’s Hawkeye is awesome as ever, even when the story isn’t about her.

By the end, the Young Avengers are healed and damaged in equal measure: two members dead/destroyed, one quit after making a disastrous field call he can’t forgive himself for, and one well on the way to becoming a super villain… maybe?

kissOh and after many, MANY years of committed teen monogamy, we finally get an on-panel kiss between Wiccan and Hulkling. Six years late, but you take what you can get.

I’m not entirely happy about some of the resolutions of this story – but it is narratively satisfying and feels like it has addressed and resolved a lot of story threads that have been hanging over the team for some time.

I also really appreciate that the resolution included a time shift and showed the characters reacting to the emotional fallout over months instead of being all peppy and positive the second the adventure is over.

*Bakes cookies for the Young Avengers*

MY YOUNG AVENGERS ESSENTIAL READING LIST:

Avengers Disassembled (2004-2005)
House of M (2005)
Young Avengers 1: Sidekicks (2005)
Young Avengers 2: Family Matters (2006)
Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways (2006)
Young Avengers Presents (2008)
Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers (2008)
Dark Reign: Young Avengers (2009)
Siege: Battlefield (containing Siege: Young Avengers one-shot) (2010)
Avengers: The Children’s Crusade (2010)

Now I’m all caught up and ready to properly read the Kieron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie Young Avengers series, which concluded last year and is available in three trades:

YOUNG AVENGERS VOL. 2
1 – Style > Substance
2 – Alternative Culture
3 – Mic-drop at the Edge of Time and Space

Come join me when I review them later in the month!

YA

3 replies on “How to Read the Young Avengers”

  1. Grant Watson says:

    I am really keen to read what you think of the last volume, because it’s by a mile my favourite of the whole Young Avengers canon – mainly for Loki.

  2. Grant Watson says:

    In fact, to get properly up-to-speed on Young Avengers vol 2 it wouldn’t hurt to read Gillen’s run on Journey Into Mystery beforehand.

  3. tansyrr says:

    Ah damn it, might have known you would give me homework.

    Have been meaning to read that forever, but gave it to a friend instead and forgot to borrow it back.

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