Funnily enough, there are plenty of comics significant to Bendis’ Avengers which he didn’t even write. Case in point: Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s Young Avengers. I was never really invested in the series at the time, however. The whole concept seemed pretty lame, honestly. A group of teenage Avengers? Why wouldn’t I just read about the real Avengers instead of this knock-off group? That being said, certain characters did stand out to me. Kate Bishop’s Hawkeye, for example, seemed pretty cool, even when I was just a kid. Since Hawkeye was dead at the time, I figured that it made sense to bring in a new version of the character. I was also drawn in by Jim Cheung’s artwork, which is incredible no matter what he draws. Cheung is a serious talent, and the fact that he was able to commit to the interiors for most of Young Avengers is remarkable. Ultimately, however, I only ever saw the Young Avengers as a JV squad of the real team.
Young Avengers must be taken in full context, however. At a time after Avengers Disassembled and before New Avengers, Heinberg’s team filled a massive, Avengers-sized void. The Young Avengers, however briefly, carried the torch during a period of transition for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Young Avengers also introduces several key characters which makes appearances throughout Bendis’ Avengers run. Ignoring Young Avengers would be ignoring some important faces of Bendis’ run, featured in events such as Civil War, Secret Invasion, and Siege. Several of Bendis’ comics also contextualize Young Avengers, from Avengers Disassembled to the Pulse, to New Avengers. If nothing else, Bendis shapes the landscape from which Young Avengers emerges.
Young Avengers is set up rather cleverly, establishing a new, mysterious young group of heroes from the beginning of the story. This new team arrives after Avengers Disassembled, apparently each apparently representing a member of the original Avengers. The Young Avengers include a Captain America, an Iron Man, a Thor, a Hulk, and a Giant-Woman. Slowly, over the course of the series, each member of the team is given a backstory, and the reason for the team’s formation is revealed. As it turns out, Iron Lad is a young version of Kang the Conqueror, one of the Avengers’ deadliest villains. The young Kang has arrived from the future to prevent himself from reaching his villainous future. With the original Avengers no more, Iron Lad assembles each member of the Young Avengers based on their relation to the original team. The clever thing about this is that Heinberg does not immediately state each member’s relationship to the Avengers. Rather, he gradually delves into each character’s backstory, slowly revealing their true ties to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
One of the most surprising revelations of the series is the relationship of Patriot, the team’s Captain America, to Captain America himself. It would be easy for Heinberg to say that Patriot simply took the same super-soldier serum which Steve Rogers did. Instead, however, Heinberg eventually reveals that Patriot’s grandfather is Isaiah Bradley, another Captain America from World War II. This revelation subverts expectations, connecting Patriot to an overlooked African American superhero. While Patriot’s connection to an African American Captain America has strong cultural messages and familial ties, the pressure of this legacy also makes him a relatable character. Patriot is revealed to have no powers, risking his life as a normal human in order to make his grandfather proud. There is something quite admirable about the inspiration which Patriot takes from his grandfather. Even with no superpowers, he wants to go out and make a difference, leading the Young Avengers like Isaiah Bradley might have. Sometimes, however, Heinberg writes Patriot as a little too bitter and jaded. Moments when Patriot interacts with Captain America come off as a bit too stereotypically rebellious, growing repetitive very quickly. Still, the idea of the character is very well thought out.
One hero with a more direct connection to the Avengers is Cassie Lang, aka Stature. As the daughter of Scott Lang, the second Ant-Man, Stature is directly tied to the original Avengers through childhood memories and experiences with her father. This connection makes the Avengers as a whole feel more like a family than before, adding a feeling of intimacy to the team. Despite her mom and stepfather’s disapproval, Stature expresses a desire to honor her father by following in his footsteps. There is a sweet sense of innocence to Stature’s intentions, as all she really wants is to be like her dad. The legacy which the Avengers leave behind, even when the team is finished, gives a great deal of significance to the Avengers as a concept. The Avengers are more than just heroes, they’re ordinary people with families and children who carry on their legacies.
Indeed, the Avengers do leave behind a legacy, in more ways than one. Specifically, the characters of Hulkling and Wiccan are more than they seem. Following in the footsteps of the Hulk and Thor, respectively, both Hulkling and Wiccan carry mantles for heroes with which they have no direct or indirect ties. Rather, these young heroes have been inspired by the heroism of their predecessors, choosing to honor these Avengers. Additionally, as Heinberg reveals more about Hulkling and Wiccan, their actual connection to the Avengers becomes apparent. Hulkling turns out to be the son of the kree warrior Captain Marvel and a skrull princess, a callback to the classic Kree-Skrull War in which the Avengers engaged. At the same time, Wiccan is the son of the Scarlet Witch, another classic Avenger, responsible for the original team’s disbanding. These blood-ties certainly make for interesting stories, and excellently tie Hulkling and Wiccan to the Avengers in unexpected ways. Rather than simply saying that Hulkling is the Hulk’s son or that Wiccan is Thor’s little brother, Heinberg throws a wrench in conventional expectations. The relationship between Hulkling and Wiccan also adds a lot of heart to the Young Avengers, showing the close personal ties between team members. Additionally, Heinberg is very progressive in writing about a gay relationship in a mainstream comic book. Normalizing such a relationship is a nice step forward in making comics a little more representative of the real world.
Sometimes, however, the connection to the Avengers can be a little too on the nose. The inclusion of Speed, a young boy with the powers of Quicksilver, who looks almost exactly like Wiccan, presents an obvious connection to the Avengers. Writing a pair of boys who look almost exactly alike, with the respective powers of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, knowing that the Scarlet Witch had a pair of twin boys, seems a little too straightforward. Nevertheless, Heinberg writes Speed with a great sense of fun. The young speedster is a juvenile delinquent with a sharp attitude, adding a facetious dynamic to the team. The fact that the Young Avengers meet Speed by breaking him out of jail says so much about the character. It’s easy to see why Speed was given his power-set, as super-speed fits his impatient, quick-witted attitude. Given all of these fun qualities, I can overlook the obvious connection between Wiccan and Speed. Furthermore, both of the twins’ connection to the Scarlet Witch will be quite important later on.
Heinberg really pulls a smart move by leaving one of the Young Avengers without any connection to the original Avengers at all. Kate Bishop, the new Hawkeye, stumbles upon the Young Avengers by chance, when they rescue her from a hostage situation. Through hard work and determination, Kate breaks free of her old life as a spoiled rich kid and becomes the new Hawkeye. Throughout the series, Kate demonstrates her formidable nature with a range of weapons and a sharp intelligence. Kate is also given a strong personality, being simultaneously witty, tough, and compassionate. Whenever Patriot is trying to order her around, Kate refuses to comply, choosing to do things her own way. In this sense, Kate is very similar to Clint Barton, the original Hawkeye, when he would stand up to Captain America. It is this similarity to Barton which makes Kate is such a great character. When Barton died in Disassembled, a new Hawkeye was needed, and Kate fit the role perfectly.
Of course, it is the Young Avenger who brings the team together, Iron Lad, who has the most complex backstory. There is a certain tragedy to Iron Lad’s inevitable future as Kang the Conqueror. During the first storyline, Iron Lad fights to change his destiny, to become a hero instead of a villain. Admittedly, the idea of fighting one’s destiny is a bit of a tired trope, and the reader can tell that eventually, Iron Lad will have to become Kang. Yet Heinberg still manages to surprise the reader along the way. While Iron Lad cannot entirely change his destiny, he can leave behind a new, better part of his legacy. Creating the Young Avengers creates a heroic part of Iron Lad’s life, giving a purpose to a new team of heroes. Additionally, creating this team allows Iron Lad to experience close relationships, such as his brief romance with Stature. Finally, Iron Lad realizes that in order to do the right thing, he must return to the future, heroically facing his fate. Yet he leaves behind one last token of his benevolence, programming his brain patterns into a new version of the Vision. Reviving the Vision not only keeps Iron Lad’s legacy alive, but it also revives an integral part of the Avengers, which had been missing since Disassembled.
It is the theme of legacy which permeates through the pages of Young Avengers. The team, as a whole, tries to live up to the famed heroism of the legendary Avengers. Much of this is done directly, such as Wiccan’s initial codename of “Asgardian”, or the rest of the Young Avengers modeling themselves after the original team. Each of the Young Avengers carries some connection, directly or indirectly, to the original team. Throughout the series, however, these Young Avengers break free from the shadow of the originals, choosing to be their own heroes. “Asgardian” goes by Wiccan, Patriot accepts that he doesn’t have powers, and Hulkling grows to understand his alien heritage. Indeed, while the series does emphasize the connection of each Young Avenger to the originals, Heinberg also highlights the formation of new identities. Iron Lad, for example, breaks free from the villainous shadow of Kang, becoming a hero and leaving behind a new legacy for himself. Furthermore, by bringing these unique individuals together, Heinberg emphasizes the importance of their relationship to each other. The smaller, more intimate Young Avengers are more of a family than the original Avengers. Patriot and Hawkeye bicker, Hulkling and Wiccan are a couple, and Wiccan and Speed are siblings. The familial aspects of the Young Avengers grounds them, bringing the Avengers back to basics. The Young Avengers are truly a team of underdogs who depend on each other to face the challenges they could not face alone.
While the series is only twelve issues long, Young Avengers boasts some impressive story arcs. The first arc of the series deals with the formation of the team, and Iron Lad’s struggle with his villainous destiny. This initial storyline is a wonderful set-up for the team, introducing all of the major players and gradually revealing more about each of them as the story moves along. Heinberg definitely writes an Avengers-style origin, as the team comes together piece by piece, rather than as an organized unit. These first six issues tackle all of the major themes of the series, from family to legacy to the grounded, back to basics approach to the Avengers. The second, two-issue arc centered around Patriot flounders a little. Much of the focus is on Patriot and his attempts to gain superpowers, even using steroids to become a better hero. While this story does a nice job examining Patriot’s insecurities and flaws, it is pretty forgettable, noticeably missing Jim Cheung’s gorgeous artwork. Still, the final four issues are incredible, delving into Hulkling’s backstory. The reveal of Hulkling’s heritage is quite a surprise, and the epic battle between the Skrull and the Kree at the end, with the Young Avengers caught in the middle, is fantastic. Furthermore, seeing the Young Avengers band together to defend Hulkling shows an intense loyalty and bond between the team’s members. It also helps that there is an amazing team-up with the New Avengers during the final battle, which Jim Cheung renders magnificently.
Overall, I found myself way more invested in Young Avengers than I expected. While this series is not officially part of Bendis’ Avengers saga, for me, it counts as an important chapter of this era. Heinberg writes the team with plenty of heart, illustrating their friendship, focusing on legacy, and connecting the team to family. Looking back, I wonder why the series did not receive a longer run. Giving Young Avengers more than twelve issues might have allowed more room to flesh out some overlooked characters, such as Stature or Hawkeye, who don’t receive full arcs like Patriot or Hulkling. I would have also liked to have read more stories that simply featured the team going on standard missions. There is a fun dynamic within the group, and more low-key adventures would highlight that a lot more. Almost all of the stories in this series were major events, so smaller ones would certainly allow time for the reader to catch his/her breath. Some parts of the series also seemed a bit repetitive, such as the older Avengers constantly trying to shut the Young Avengers down, but I suppose this was necessary to make this group more of the underdogs. Ultimately, however, the characters are all quite likeable and down to earth, with a lot of fun character interactions.
One main reason why I wish the Young Avengers had a longer run is their marginalized role later on. The team goes on to appear in Civil War, Secret Invasion, and Siege, all important chapters in Bendis’ Avengers saga. Yet during these events, the Young Avengers feel reduced to glorified cameos. There is no real significance of the Young Avengers’ presence, instead serving to pad up the main cast of the story. It’s also confusing as to why the Young Avengers were left out of House of M, an event centered around Wiccan and Speed’s mother, the Scarlet Witch. I find this strange, considering the importance which the Young Avengers play in the event Young Avengers: the Children’s Crusade, during which they find the Scarlet Witch and recover her memories after House of M. The impact of finding the Scarlet Witch, the woman responsible for the end of the Avengers and the decimation of the mutant population, should raise the Young Avengers’ prominence. Yet the only member of the team to break out from the title has been Kate Bishop. As Hawkeye, Bishop goes on to become a breakout star in Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye and Kelly Thompson’s All-New Hawkeye. All of the other members seem to fade off into obscurity. While Young Avengers is a remarkable series with an important place in Bendis’ era of Avengers, it certainly deserves a more lasting impact on the Marvel Universe.
That’s all for today. What do you think of the Young Avengers? Should they have a larger influence on the Marvel Universe, or are they a bunch of junior Avengers? Share your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Be sure to join me tomorrow, when I finally look at Bendis’ breakout series, New Avengers!