Robot 6

Marvel NOW! Test Case 002: Caleb reads Young Avengers #1

In November I decided to use myself as a case study for the first issue of one of the series debuting as part of Marvel NOW!, the publisher’s concentrated, unified effort to sell its comics to a wider audience, which presumably meant luring in lapsed and new readers. That first issue I read was Fantastic Four #1 by Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley; I didn’t much care for it.

This week I picked up Young Avengers #1 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton, giving it the same treatment. (Between the two, I also tried Fraction and Mike and Laura Allred’s FF #1 and loved it, but didn’t write about it in this manner because … well, I don’t remember why. Here’s what I said about the first issue the week it was released, though). Ready?

My background: I read the first dozen 2005-2006 Young Avengers comics by creators Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung, but gradually lost interest in the characters at about the same rate Heinberg did. Over the years I’ve read various Young Avengers-related comics, most of which Marvel seemed to be producing to fill the demand for Young Avengers comics while waiting for Heinberg to write more: Young Avengers Presents, Civil War: Young Avengers and Runaways, Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers. But when he finally did return, I didn’t.

I didn’t read any of his 2010 series Avengers: Children’s Crusade, and I don’t have any idea what happened. Apparently it was pretty drastic, though, as at least one of the Young Avengers died. Of  the half-dozen characters on the covers of that first volume of Young Avengers, only three appear in the debut issues of this new series. (Interesting side note: So long had passed between the introduction of those characters and Heinberg’s return to them that initially Marvel was branding things with the words “Young Avengers” because there was heat associated with the phrase, but the last “Young Avengers” comic just sold as another “Avengers” comic, because by that point “Avengers” was a hotter term).

There are three other characters on the cover of this issue and, presumably, on the team: Miss America Chavez, whom I have never seen or heard of; Marvel Boy, who Brian Michael Bendis has been tinkering with until he became unrecognizable from his 2000 introduction by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones; and, finally, Loki, the Thor supporting character who is now a little kid for some reason, a thing that happened in comics I did not read (he was a full-grown lady the last time I saw him, I think).

So I’m not a complete stranger to comics with this title, nor to some of the characters in this book. I think it’s fair to put me square in the “lapsed readers” category here.

What appealed to me about this one: The presence of the Phonogram creative team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, mostly — particularly McKelvie, if I’m being honest. He’s a great drawer of comics, and there’s something very peculiar about his style; it’s not exactly unique, but it is rare. I don’t see a lot of folks drawing comics quite like him.

The fact that the cast was about half-new (to me) characters and half-familiar (to me) characters helped.

And the presence of Bryan Lee O’Malley art on (sigh) one of the covers probably pushed me off any metaphorical fence I was on. Sure, he isn’t drawing the interiors, and yeah, his style isn’ t the least bit reflected inside, but O’Malley art is so rare at this point that it being on the front of the book read a bit like an endorsement to me. You know, This great cartoonist whose work I love thinks enough of this book to draw a cover for it, so maybe I should check it out.

Or maybe O’Malley would love to draw covers for Marvel and DC super-comics and no one ever asks him. I don’t know.

New reader-friendliness: This is a little tricky. We join all six characters on the cover in storylines already in progress, or at least picked up where they left off. Each is paired up, so there are actually only three storylines to follow, and, by the issue’s end, two of them have intersected. But there’s a definite sense these characters have all had lives that have been going on in a lot of other comics one might want to read to get the details.

To Gillen’s credit, I didn’t get the feeling that I had to read any of those other comics. He introduces the characters, their powers and their deals pretty well, but I don’t know that this is a comic I could hand to, like, anyone and be confident they would like it enough to want to read Issue 2. For example, if I didn’t know what a Skrull is, or what Teddy and Billy’s powers are, whole chunks of this issue would have been pretty confusing.

I imagine anyone who has read many Marvel comics — be they current or lapsed reader s— and anyone who doesn’t mind using Wikipedia to look up a thing or two would be fine here, though.

Newness: Unlike Fantastic Four #1 and a lot of the other NOW! relaunches, this book does indeed seem genuinely new for Marvel, not just a new creative team taking on a title or set of characters, or a slight change of direction.

It helps that this isn’t replacing Young Avengers #19 or #45 or whatever on the schedule, of course. This is the first issue of a new volume of a series that hasn’t been around in a long time. This is a creative team that wasn’t just been working on another Marvel ongoing monthly. This is a new grouping of characters. Young Avengers #1 earns its #1 and deserves its place in the NOW! branding effort.

Reader-friendliness: This is was a pretty smooth read, by Marvel standards. There are only five ads (all house ads, naturally) interrupting the story, so there are plenty of sets of consecutive story pages. The pages are all panel-packed (by modern Marvel standards), with pages of eight-panel grids for conversations (drawn from differing angles and with changing expressions and gestures, so the scene is of an actual conversation rather than just expositing talking heads) and, in the book’s one big action scene, a two-page, 20-panel spread that breaks a silent action sequence into a series of telling images.

If you haven’t read a Big Two superhero comic in a while, this isn’t the sort that will make you throw it across the room in frustration or anything.

Ultimate assessment: This is really good, maybe even great comics. It’s hard to tell with just a first issue, of course (the cliffhanger did suggest a somewhat tired direction).

McKelvie and Mike Norton’s artwork is simply stellar, the former’s style finding a perfect balance between realism and representation on one hand, and actual, no-computer-reference-apparently hand-drawing. It’s clean and crisp, with no wasted lines, and colorist Matthew Wilson uses effects effectively, working with rather than trying to bury McKelvie and Norton.

McKelvie also draws really hot young bodies. So there’s that.

Gillen’s dialouge and first-person narration is pretty sharp; there were a few clever bits that made me smile (the “Spider-Man” scene, Loki), and the teen-melodrama section was incredibly melodramatic in a CW kind of way (as a rabid fan of 90210, I mean that as a compliment).

Again, it’s hard to judge the plotting, as at this early point, Gillen’s assembling his Avengers, but so far so good.

I’m eagerly awaiting the next issue, and, as I set this one down, I thought that with Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil, Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye and Fraction and Allred’s FF, this makes at least four high-quality super-comics with top-of-the-field artwork. And each at only $3, too!

I doubt Marvel NOW! has been so successful with every one of its readers, but now that I’ve tried all the titles I wanted to try in their serial form, I’ve doubled the number of Marvel comics I buy each month. (Granted, it went from two to four, but that’s still double!)

Nitpick: The only nitpick I have here is that a two-page title page seems awfully excessive, especially as the left half is mostly black space. This isn’t a CD, guys!

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Comments

19 Comments

Very interesting article and followup to the Fantastic Four piece.

I disagree with the notion that this is good, maybe great comics. The melodrama was very offputting and a continuance of a tired theme between those two characters. The Spiderman scene I thought was a terrible attempt at humor. I don’t get why Loki is a teenager. Is “terribad” a thing people say?

I finished this issue, and I felt like I wasn’t hip enough to “get it.” But I’m probably not the audience for this sort of superhero book.

The artwork was very good though I will agree.

It’s not going to be for everyone and that could be a problem. The writer/artist team needs to find a way or character to bring in the audience. Avengers Academy picked adding Wolverina, I mean X-23. While I love the cast and set-up (and the cliffhanger was GREAT) the cast needs a big draw. Maybe Spider-Girl, or someone else with a fan base to add here. Perhaps a GS by Nova once his book gets rolling, I don’t know. As for Marvel Boy, he has potential, but they need to figure him out. He basically has super-insect powers from his DNA. Do something with that instead of the Nega-Band nonsense….it was done already. And that Protector business? BLEAH.

Loki being a kid isn’t THIS book’s move. It was established a long itme ago after Siege.

I also don’t get how the Spider-Man scene ISN’T funny but humour is subjective.

Also I think people not knowing Skrulls or the powers isn’t as off-putting as you might think. Not knowing specifics you know just by loking that Skrulls are bad guys and they’re attacking. That’s all you need to know for that moment. And Teddy’s powers are strongly hinted at by what he does in the issue. Same for Billy. His are even more spelled out for you by Teddy (refering to his reality altering).

You’re a smart cookie, Caleb. And a good writer. But you have one affectation that’s incredibly off-putting:
You can’t write a review without dropping in at least one reminder of all the things you’re NOT reading. It’s something a lot of comics bloggers do nowadays, so you’re not alone. I just feel like you do it more than most. Instead of just writing a review as it stands you have to make sure we know that –while you did read this particular book– there are still plenty of other books that you made a point NOT to read. Maybe you think this makes you sound more discriminating or something. It just makes you sound ill-informed.
I’d suggest you start reading more comics, even ones you’re not that interested in, just so have some context to work with. Or stop talking about how you’re not following a story completely because you didn’t read any of the lead-in material. This is your job, isn’t it? Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do, in order to do our jobs better. You think Roger Ebert is excited to see every movie he reviews?
Sorry to sound so harsh.

Brigid Alverson

January 25, 2013 at 4:27 am

Barry, I think that is pretty harsh. Marvel NOW is supposedly a good jumping-on point for new readers so it’s absolutely appropriate for Caleb to talk about what he has and hasn’t read. That’s something I want to know, because in my experience, as a seriously lapsed superhero reader, the stuff that publishers are presenting as new-reader-friendly really isn’t. In this case, I would rather hear the thoughts of someone who isn’t already obsessively reading every Marvel line than a review from someone who is totally up on every story. I think Caleb did a great job of presenting that point of view.

@Adam: This is Loki. He’s a God who is a teenager.

Theoretically, this is your introduction to the character.

Gillen wrote a piece about that sort of question when he was relaunching X-Men. People weren’t capable of trusting that the first issue would tell them all they needed to know. It’s tough to blame them, because so many first issues fail utterly in that regard, but you’re shooting yourself in the foot coming into a comic with the assumption that wherever anything you’re reading is different from the most recognizable version of a character, it means you need to go back through the longboxes and figure out why.

Caleb, stop bragging about how few comics you’re reading and the comics you chose not to read, as if it’s something to be proud of.

Comics snobbery isn’t a thing. It’s what makes this industry a miserable place.

I absolutely loved this issue. FF 3 is brilliant as well. Love the new human touch outfit. I also really loved the title page.

This is the first review of yours I’ve read, and I have to say I’m very impressed by all the angles you looked at. Your perspective is especially valuable to me as a fellow “lapsed reader”. As a fan of the original Young Avengers back in the day and of Kieron Gillen’s writing elsewhere on the web, this grabbed my attention. Issue #1 did not disappoint.

It’s also got me interested in reading a few other high-quality comics. Spreading my money too thin with mediocre comics is what turned me off comics altogether years ago, so I’ll check out your other reviews. Thanks for your insight!

All around this was a pretty big disappointment. I was super excited for this title based on the preview art and the addition of Marvel Boy. This just felt rushed, and like the title of this issue more style then substance. Also for something that felt rushed and so crammed with information I felt like I really didn’t learn anything about these characters or where their going. The dialogue was pretty weak especially the exchanges between Loki and Miss America. Ugh. Hulking and Wiccan are cute together but there was just way to much melodrama with them for the first issue. Will follow the series and read it at the LCS until about issue 6 and decide whether I should pick this up again.

“Will follow the series and read it at the LCS until about issue 6 and decide whether I should pick this up again.”

I’m sure the store owner really appreciates buying your comics for you.

I really enjoyed this new take on Young Avengers. And your review is pretty spot on, though I’m not as convinced that the book will be difficult for new readers.

@Ziggy And I’m sure they appreciate all the money I’ve spent there the past 2 years (especially since I could buy everything online at a discount or read/check out a few things at the library). Also a lot of the comics that I read while in the store I end up buying at a later date. I try not to read to many books. So your comment doesn’t really faze me and I will continue to read books while in the store.

@Pete

Of course his comment fazed you and made you feel guilty. If it didn’t you wouldn’t have bothered to respond.

If you enjoyed this and don’t know why Loki is a teenager, then for christ’s sake go and get yourself Gillen’s JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY – now all out in collected editions – to understand why.

@RedComet & Ziggy: cool story bros.

If you don’t recognize the current Loki, you need to drop everything and pick up Gillen’s Journey into Mystery run starring the same, because it’s amazing.

@Red Comet My last comment on the topic. I’ve been reading comics for a long time. I’ve spent a lot of money on the idustry. I read maybe 4 or 5 books while in the store. Sometimes I don’t read every page. Sometimes I just flip through the book and maybe read a speech bubble here and there. I’ve checked out books at the library for free and then continued reading them by buying the trades at my LCS.

I really liked Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung’s introduction and small run with the Young Avengers, it was really good, I was very disappointed how we only got two volumes. Issue 1 on Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie seems to be getting a little overrated. It wasn’t bad…that bad, but it wasn’t 100% good. That 5 star review that Kelly Thompson gave it, I question a lot!
First, Kate Bishop, who was a rape survivor and had a hard time letting two of her previous teammates (Patriot and Speed) get intimate with her, and here she wakes up with a man whom she cant even remember his name, and all of a sudden. And I’m tired of how fake Billy and Teddy romance plays out. We get it they’re gay and in love! Make it more realistic at least. I’m pretty sure teenage homosexuals go through the same issues that young heterosexual couples go through. I wasn’t that exited about the cliffhanger either. I have questions, but not eager to know the answers. But I’ll definitely give it another chance though.

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