By: Kieron Gillen (story), Jamie McKelvie (art), Stephen Thompson & Mike Norton (inks) Matthew Wilson (colors)
The Story: As they say, the hope of the future lies in our world’s children.
The Review: It kind of surprised me when I realized that this series is a year old now. Relatively, one year is nothing in the lifetimes of ongoing comics. At best, a title can manage to push out two, maybe three, arcs within that period, which isn’t a whole lot of room to establish a fully-fleshed out world, much less rock it with big, revolutionary changes. But a year’s worth of issues isn’t something to sniff at, either. You can cover a lot of ground in that amount of time.
With Young Avengers, Gillen hasn’t gotten nearly as far as he should after a dozen issues. The core Young Avengers were already pretty well-established going in, so it’s not as if Gillen had a lot of character development he had to go through in his story. In theory, the only work before him was to create a compelling storyline and explore the appeal and dynamics of his heroes. Somehow, Gillen has fallen short in both tasks.
His essential problem is one of focus. Gillen often seems fixated on certain points in his story to the neglect of all the others, which results in a linear but dull reading experience. Often, he’ll truncate the most interesting parts of the series into little more than a page, hoping some amusing glibness will make up for material he plainly abandons. I’ll refer you to Loki’s “wall” in #7, posting three months of updates on the team’s various adventures. Each could have been made into a whole issue unto itself, except Gillen apparently didn’t feel like it; he was much more interested in pursuing the dreary and rather obscure not-Patriot plotline he introduced in #6.
In a flabbergasting move, Gillen does something similar in this issue. After going through the trouble rounding up a whole army of heroic young’uns, he reduces their contribution to this world-threatening arc to a single page, again with a breezy one-liner by way of summary: “The thin spandex line. Our last, best hope for not being all doomed and stuff.” This habit of skipping over the details to get to the climax is a very adolescent method of storytelling—which is fitting, I suppose—and it minimizes the excitement the issue could potentially have.
Of course, Gillen would have had lots more time for young, heroic goodness had he not wasted the first twelve pages hammering the same points he’s made so many times already: Mother’s befuddling effect on the adult heroes; not-Patriot’s mysteriousness; the emotional confusion of Noh-Varr’s exes; the horrific consequences should Billy fail in this latest, most drastic attempt to confront Mother, etc. For heaven’s sake, the credits pages are literally a montage of panels from earlier issues. “We’re sorry for wasting your time,” Billy says to an oblivious Captain America; I believe that apology is better directed to us.
It would help, too, if Gillen could take his eyes off Loki for once and spend some time seriously addressing the lives and concerns of the other characters. This is, after all, a team book, so why do all the scenes that don’t feature Loki feel so obligatory? There’s a moment when Loki, after revealing he indeed lied that Billy’s death wouldn’t solve anything,* explains, “He can’t die. This story has a happier ending than that.”
“His story,” America corrects him firmly. You could read the line as an assertion that the others aren’t just NPCs in Loki’s role-playing game, but Gillen ultimately undermines it by making the most climactic moment of the issue one impacting Loki only. Despite the fact that Billy is striving to save the universe and his friends are fighting ex-loved ones, it’s only Loki’s confrontation with Leah that feels grounded, revelatory, and emotionally potent.
I hate to say it, but McKelvie has only been an enabler for Gillen’s bad habits. He’s so creative in his storytelling that he actually can produce what ought to be a multi-page battle between Marvel’s young heroes and the parallel Young Avengers into a single page. But even he can’t generate the same level of excitement from that alone; his bullet panels offer only tiny glimpses of what’s going on, some of which are no more than fancy poses. It’s beautiful, effective work he’s putting out, but it’s mostly covering for a plodding script.
Conclusion: An issue which exposes ongoing and serious flaws in Gillen’s approach to this title, and hints that Gillen has no interest in changing as the series winds down.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Which I totally called, by the way. I like to brag about these things because it reassures me that my deductive powers aren’t actually terrible.