Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Marvel Unbound - Young Avengers, Volume 1: Sidekicks

I caught wind of a mammoth on-line sale over the summer and picked up a bunch of Marvel Adventures digest trade paperbacks to dole out as rewards and atta-boys for the kiddo over the course of the school year. The sale was a great bargain. The books usually go for six or seven bucks a piece, but I got these for just a few dollars each. The one thing I did pick up for myself in that discounted haul, though, was Young Avengers, Volume 1: Sidekicks.

My only exposure to the Young Avengers is the six-issue limited series, Young Avengers Presents. It was essentially six one-shots -- each focusing on a specific member of the team, each written by a different Marvel scribe. I wasn't surprised to find that my favorite entries in the miniseries were issues #1 and #6 about Patriot and Hawkeye, penned by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, respectively. And although the writing overall was somewhat hit-or-miss, I was intrigued enough by the characters to want to read more.

So I backpedaled and dove into the Young Avengers, Volume 1 trade paperback, which collects the "Sidekicks" storyline that launched the series in 2005. It slips nicely into mainstream Marvel continuity following the events of Avengers Disassembled and predating the formation of the New Avengers team. The book establishes a nice foundation that's fun to read. There isn't much in the way of extras in the Sidekicks trade paperback, only a single page of character designs by artist Jim Cheung, but you shouldn't be reading this for the extras anyway.

Allan Heinberg's writing, especially in the first two issues, is simply fantastic. He can write Brian Michael Bendis' Jessica Jones character as well as Bendis himself. The verbal exchanges between Jessica and fellow reporter Kat Farrell are great, as well as her interplay with Captain America, Iron Man, and the Young Avengers themselves.

Coming along a good two years after Brian K. Vaughan established the market for powered teenagers with his Runaways series, Heinberg carves out a nice place in the Marvel Universe for his team of underage super heroes.

Founded on the idea that there is an Avengers Failsafe Program to be executed by the Vision, Young Avengers takes a unique spin on origin tales. As explained by Nathaniel Richards, Iron Lad, in issue #3, the failsafe program is "designed so that if anything should happen to the Avengers -- if they were destroyed or disbanded -- then the Vision would be able to pinpoint the exact locations of the next wave of ... young Avengers."

Sidekicks packs a lot of fun in six issues. At the core of the story -- beyond being an origin tale -- is some great Back to the Future time-bending with Kang the Conqueror, and it also contains some good "adults don't know everything" type moments between Cap, Iron Man, and the Young Avengers. I'm usually put off by time travel stuff, just because it tends to get so complicated. And it did get a bit convoluted here, but I was enjoying the story so much that I didn't mind it at all this time.

We are initially presented with four team members -- a Captain America-like Patriot, an Iron Man inspired Iron Lad, a Hulk and Captain Marvel hybrid Hulkling, and a Thor and Scarlet Witch paired Wiccan (who originally went by the moniker "Asgardian"). They are joined in the early goings of the book by Ant-Man offspring Cassie Lang as Stature, and Kate Bishop's brash Hawkeye/Mockingbird amalgam.

The mild Sam and Diane/Dave and Maddie tension that Vaughan explores in volume one of Runaways with Alex Wilder and Nico Minoru are also mirrored in Young Avengers between Eli Bradley's Patriot and Kate Bishop's Hawkeye. (Interestingly, both sets of teens also share the same racial profiles as well, with both Alex and Eli being Black, and Nico and Kate as Caucasian.)

It makes sense that for each of the big crossover events of the last few years, Runaways and Young Avengers have been paired up. Although neither of those miniseries was written by Vaughan or Heinberg, they are worth checking out for Stefano Caselli's art in the Civil War tie-in and Christopher Yost's scripting in the Secret Invasion tie-in.

Beyond these off-shoot series, Young Avengers is on hiatus. On the up-side, it's easy to find all the Young Avengers material out there in either monthly back issues or collected editions. The trade paperbacks are available in five volumes: Volume 1: Sidekicks, Volume 2: Family Matters, Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways, Young Avengers Presents, and a soon-to-be released Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers. On the down-side, there doesn't seem to be any new Young Avengers proper series material on the horizon until Heinberg and Cheung free up enough time to focus on another 12 issues.

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