First off, let me get this out of the way: the second volume of Young Avengers is crap. They pulled this “OMG, his superpowers are from drugs!” thing that I hate probably more than any other cliché in comics, and at that point even the interesting Hulkling secret origin stuff that followed couldn’t save the series for me. They had already squandered the limitless potential set up in volume one.
And volume one of Young Avengers, from back in 2006, is everything that I’ve ever wanted in a Marvel comic.
It starts with a couple of reporters at the Daily Bugle getting an assignment from J. Jonah Jameson: four super-powered teens dressed like the original Avengers showed up at a burning building the night before, and nobody knows anything about them. Writer Alan Heinberg is clever enough to launch the story with the same question every reader will have just from looking at the front cover: Iron Boy? Thor Jr.? Teen Hulk? Who the hell are these people?
Finding out, of course, is where the fun is. Some secrets are revealed right away and others take a bit longer to unravel (a few, alas, don’t come out until that lamentable second collection), but suffice it to say that Heinberg knows his Marvel mythology, and these seemingly random kids trying to take over for the Avengers (disbanded at the time) all fit into it rather nicely.
But more importantly, with a handful of newly minted characters the writer gets a chance to actually develop them, and this basic tenet of storytelling 101 is what’s generally missing from mainstream comics as a whole. Wolverine has been Wolverine forever, and still has to be pretty much the same Wolverine at the end of whatever bone-clawed, wolf-evolved ret-con the latest scribe has thrust upon him in a desperate attempt to dream up something new. ALL open-ended storylines eventually collapse under their own weight. That’s why a book like this, which doesn’t ignore decades of continuity but instead uses it as a foundation to build something different, comes as such a breath of fresh air.
Young Avengers isn’t flawless. I adore Jim Cheung’s clean, vivid artwork, but he’s definitely one of those illustrators who draws the same face on pretty much every character (that’s what different colored costumes are for! Duh!). And if you’re not as versed as I am in Marvel history (*cough*NERD!*cough*), some of this probably won’t quite resonate like it did with me. But if you enjoy superhero comics at all, give it a try. More than anything I’ve seen clad in spandex in a long time, these kids feel like real people, and since you know as a reader they were only introduced a few issues back, there’s a genuine worry in the back of your mind that literally ANYTHING could happen to them.
It’s big-time superhero action, live without a net. And it makes a pretty decent closed arc, too, so you can read it, enjoy it, and pretend the rest of the story never even happened. Lord knows I’ve tried to.