Bendis’ Avengers: The Children’s Crusade

As mentioned during my Young Avengers retrospective, the Young Avengers were never a particular favorite of mine. I always considered this team to be a lesser, junior varsity version of the Avengers. Despite my apathy towards the Young Avengers, Avengers: the Children’s Crusade certainly caught my attention. Finally, it seemed, the Young Avengers were given a mission of significance: finding the Scarlet Witch. After a considerable absence in the comics, I was always curious as to where the Scarlet Witch had been. Sure, I still wasn’t interested in the Young Avengers, but this seemed like a story worth reading. The problem, however, was that I could not keep up with the series. The Children’s Crusade lasted for nine issues, yet publication delays dragged the series on for far too long. By the time the mini-series was finished, the Children’s Crusade had run from 2010 to 2012. As a result, I lost interest in the series early on. The main issue with the publication delay was the way it placed the Children’s Crusade outside of Marvel continuity. Many significant events occurred from 2010 to 2012, leaving readers confused as to the Children’s Crusade‘s place in the Marvel timeline. Overall, the mini-series didn’t seem to fit in with the other comics which Marvel was publishing at the time. Although the series suffered from glaring publication delays and continuity issues, it was still beautiful to look at. Jim Cheung’s artwork is always awe-inspiring, illustrating big name heroes like the Avengers and the X-Men. I never read the Children’s Crusade during its publication, but I was always struck by how visually stunning the series was.

It’s gonna be a loooong crusade…

In the context of Bendis’ larger Avengers run, the Children’s Crusade is an important step for the Scarlet Witch. Previously, Wanda Maximoff was responsible for some of the worst events in Marvel history. Bendis began his run with the destruction of the Avengers at the hands of the Scarlet Witch. Wanda was responsible for the death of multiple Avengers, including her husband, and the destruction of Avengers mansion. Additionally, during Bendis’ House of M, Wanda wiped out 98% of the mutant population, sending the mutant race to near-extinction levels. Ever since then, however, the Scarlet Witch had vanished without a trace. If she was ever to resurface, the Scarlet Witch would be considered a pariah to both the Avengers and the X-Men. In the wake of Wanda’s destruction, a new Avengers team formed: the Young Avengers. Each member of this teenage group was related to a specific Avenger in some way. Specifically, Wiccan and Speed, two long-lost brothers, were possibly the reincarnated children of the Scarlet Witch. Considering Wiccan’s magical power-set, similar to the Scarlet Witch, and Speed’s powers, similar to Wanda’s brother, all signs indicated these young heroes as Wanda’s children. Furthermore, although the Young Avengers had a memorable twelve issue series, it had been a while since this team was relevant. Indeed, the Young Avengers, at this point, were relegated to cameo appearances in major events, such as Civil War, Secret Invasion, and Siege. Given that the Young Avengers were not featured in any regular title at the time, the team was overdue for a comeback.

“So, your mom’s kinda crazy…”

Indeed, the Young Avengers were back with a vengeance, under their original creators, Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung. 2010’s the Children’s Crusade sent the teen superheroes on their biggest mission yet. After losing control of his hex powers, Wiccan is placed under intense observation by the Avengers. Fearing that the Avengers will punish or torture him, Wiccan runs away. Joined by his fellow Young Avengers, Wiccan sets out to find his mother, the Scarlet Witch, in order to learn more about his powers and how to control them. Along the way, the Young Avengers encounter the Scarlet Witch’s family members, Magneto and Quicksilver, who guide them on their journey. For their own reasons, Magneto and Quicksilver are also interested in finding Wanda. Things become complicated when the team discovers Wanda in Latveria alongside Doctor Doom. Stricken with amnesia, the Scarlet Witch is engaged to marry the malevolent Doom. While the Young Avengers have to find a way to recover Wanda’s memory, they must also contend with the Avengers and the X-Men, who both hold Wanda responsible for her previous atrocities. Caught between the Avengers, the X-Men, Doctor Doom, and the Scarlet Witch herself, the Young Avengers can only rely on each other to achieve their goals.

Too many cooks

Wiccan, the Scarlet Witch’s son, acts as the catalyst for the Children’s Crusade. Although his powers are very similar to his mother’s, Wiccan is still only a teenager. As such, Wiccan remains very unsure of his place in the world, trying to establish his own identity. When he begins to lose control of his powers, Wiccan is understandably placed under a considerable amount of pressure. Recognizing the dark path on which the Scarlet Witch traveled, Wiccan is terrified that he will follow in his mother’s footsteps. Indeed, when the Avengers call Wiccan in for observation, he feels boxed in. Realizing the fear that the heroes have of his powers, Wiccan refuses to be treated like his mentally unstable mother. In order to avoid repeating history, Wiccan searches for his mother. By gaining answers about his parentage, Wiccan is looking to learn more about himself. Additionally, by finding and saving his mother, Wiccan is also looking to save himself. If the Scarlet Witch can be found and redeemed, perhaps Wiccan can find a solution to his own unstable power-set.

That’s one alternative to

Wiccan’s brother, Speed, on the other hand, is not as emotionally invested in this journey. Rather, Speed is generally along for the ride throughout the Children’s Crusade. Carrying over from the original Young Avengers series, Speed is still the hyperactive, impulsive kid of the team. Nonetheless, Speed accompanies his brother, showing through his actions that he cares about Wiccan. Despite all of the clever insults and jabs at his brother, Speed is constantly looking out for his brother. For example, at the beginning of the story, when Wiccan is held in Avengers Tower, Speed is the one who arrives to break him out. Additionally, although it seems as though Speed doesn’t care about his parentage, it’s revealed that he is actually quite wary about the dangers which Wanda Maximoff presents. More often than naught, Speed tries to caution Wiccan against going too far in finding Wanda. Suffering a much rougher childhood than Wiccan, Speed is generally more closed off to a potential connection to his mother. It is only in the very end of the series, when Speed realizes that Wanda isn’t a danger, that he becomes more receptive to his parentage. Despite distancing himself emotionally, Speed still shares several moments of bonding with Quicksilver and Magneto. Indeed, Speed connects with Quicksilver over their shared super-speed, and greatly admires Magneto’s power. Of course, most of these moments come from Speed’s immaturity, but this immaturity is still a nice distinguishing trait for the character. While Wiccan is more concerned with searching for the Scarlet Witch, Speed is generally on the adventure to have a good time.

Not a great choice of role models

Although Speed primarily joins Wiccan’s journey for the thrills, Hulkling, Wiccan’s boyfriend, is there for more serious reasons. Throughout the Children’s Crusade, Hulkling is depicted as extremely protective of his boyfriend. No matter what the decision is, Hulkling backs up Wiccan all the way. This support is a key distinguishing mark between Wiccan and the Scarlet Witch. While the Scarlet Witch was isolated, Wiccan is surrounded by strong sources of love and support. Hulkling’s love keeps Wiccan grounded, while Wanda had no one to stop her from losing control. Indeed, the relationship between Hulkling and Wiccan largely serves as the heart of the Children’s Crusade. Not only does Hulkling support Wiccan’s decisions, he also pushes Wiccan to confront his fears. For example, at the end of the story, Wiccan isolates himself, staying indoors during several major Marvel events. After months of quiet support, Hulkling finally pushes Wiccan to get back into the world and live his life. Hulkling forces Wiccan to live proudly, rather than hide in fear. The pathos of this relationship is indicative of the strong bond between the Young Avengers. This bond highlights the younger generation’s purity of heart. Even though Hulkling supports Wiccan, he has a certain reluctance about supporting Wiccan’s mission. For example, Hulkling sees the Maximoff family, including Magneto and Quicksilver, as trouble. Yet Hulkling continues to support Wiccan, just as Wiccan supported Hulkling when they confronted his Kree-Skrull heritage. Hulkling may have problems with the mission of the Children’s Crusade, but he still supports Wiccan as a devoted boyfriend.

Keeping each other grounded

At the center of this plot is Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch herself. From the beginning of the Children’s Crusade, Wanda is portrayed as a cautionary tale. Starting off as one of the purest, gentlest of the Avengers, Wanda lost control of her powers, becoming a superhero pariah. This cautionary tale is what mobilizes Wiccan into action, realizing that if he doesn’t find and redeem his mother, it may be too late to save himself. When Wiccan does find Wanda, her memory is gone, giving her a clean slate. The way Heinberg writes this memory-wiped Wanda says a lot about her character. Without any of the emotional baggage or powers, Wanda Maximoff is a sweet, almost naive young woman. She treats Wiccan with immense kindness upon meeting him, and even sees the good within Doctor Doom, enough to marry him. This angelic personality is a glimpse into Wanda’s true self, underneath the years of trauma and mental instability. Heinberg demonstrates how everything which Wanda has endured has torn down this kind personality, setting her out of control. Once Wanda’s memory is returned, the weight of her past nearly consumes her. Wanda is weighed down by the guilt which she carries, attempting to kill herself through magic. This repentance contributes greatly to Wanda’s character arc. Heinberg illustrates Wanda as a real person, with remorse for her actions, rather than a careless monster. While Wanda’s crimes were reprehensible, she realizes this, feeling that there is nothing which she can do to atone for her sins. It is only the love of her son, Wiccan, which keeps Wanda afloat as she attempts to care for the last good thing in her world.

Family reunion

The rest of the Young Avengers fill out the main cast nicely. Simply by joining Wiccan on his journey, the Young Avengers demonstrate the strength of their bond. Unlike the adult Avengers, this team is more like a family. From beginning to end of the Children’s Crusade, the Young Avengers stand united. The Young Avengers also act as a sort of moral conscience to the older heroes. Indeed, when the Avengers and the X-Men bicker over the Scarlet Witch’s fate, the Young Avengers intervene, defending Wanda in an objective and unbiased manner. The actions of the Young Avengers, who go to great lengths to protect the Scarlet Witch, inspire Wanda to atone for her sins. Rather than give in to despair, the Scarlet Witch takes responsibility for her past crimes, thanks to the Young Avengers’ heroic example. On an individual level, however, there isn’t much room for character arcs during the Children’s Crusade. The plot is so fast-paced, it seems as if each member of the Young Avengers becomes lost in the shuffle. Still, each Young Avenger gets some small moment to shine. Kate Bishop, in particular, shows off her leadership skills quite nicely. It’s amazing to think that Kate has become such a strong leader, despite not being an original Young Avenger. Stature also has a nice moment when the team goes back to the destruction of Avengers Mansion and saves her father, Ant-Man. This is a touching moment, reuniting a father and daughter for the first time in years. The Vision’s relationship with Stature is also very sweet, much like Hulkling and Wiccan. Patriot, however, still annoys me. His leadership pales in comparison to Kate’s, and he constantly makes idiotic decisions which result in disaster. For example, Patriot interferes with Wanda’s attempt at re-powering the mutant population, additionally allowing her power to be transferred into Doctor Doom. Not only does this action prevent the resurgence of a dying race, it places power directly in the hands of Marvel’s biggest villain. Out of the Young Avengers, Patriot is definitely my least favorite.

Kate Bishop, everyone

Much of the Children’s Crusade focuses on history. Specifically, learning from history, so as not to repeat it. Wiccan, for example, sees history begin to repeat itself in his own powers. Just as the Scarlet Witch couldn’t control her powers, Wiccan is beginning to lose control of his own powers. Fearing that history will repeat itself, Wiccan journeys to learn more about his familial history. Of course, digging up the history of his mother becomes a dangerous venture, opening old wounds within both the Avengers and the X-Men. Despite its dangers, history becomes even more necessary later on, as Wiccan uncovers the truth behind the Scarlet Witch’s powers and the crimes which she committed. By confronting the past, Wiccan is able to learn from it, both for himself and his mother. Confronting the past, however, raises several questions about redemption. Mainly, how can the Scarlet Witch hope to redeem herself after everything she’s done? Initially, Wanda has no hope for her own redemption, attempting suicide through magic. Furthermore, people like Wolverine are out to kill Wanda so that she can never commit another atrocity. Many, including Wanda, believe that she is too far gone. Yet it is the faith of children, particularly Wanda’s son, Wiccan, which gives her hope for her own future. The purity of the Young Avengers is the very force which drives the Children’s Crusade forward. In a sense, the Young Avengers are better than their adult counterparts, free of the baggage and emotional history with the Scarlet Witch. Looking through fresh eyes, the Young Avengers see a kind, confused, and ultimately tormented woman who needs help. Rather than condemn Wanda, the Young Avengers help her, believing that she can still be a hero. When the Avengers and X-Men fight among themselves, the Young Avengers stand as a family, working together to help Wiccan’s mother.

Telling it like it is

Generally, the Children’s Crusade has a fairly solid plot. The first few issues begin an exciting premise, launching the Young Avengers on a fun quest. Encounters with the Avengers, Magneto, and Quicksilver do a lot to emphasize the stakes and importance of finding the Scarlet Witch to the overall Marvel Universe. Additionally, the final issues are very exciting, featuring a massive clash between the Avengers, the X-Men, and Doctor Doom himself. Once again, seeing such iconic characters in this title says much about the Scarlet Witch’s crucial role in the Marvel Universe. It really helps that Heinberg provides both the Avengers and the X-Men’s perspective on the Scarlet Witch, considering the different impact she’s had on both teams. Wanda’s own remorse is given considerable attention, which is especially important, rather than simply waving away all of her past crimes. Wiccan’s struggle to get through to his mother is both convincing and heartwarming. The place where the series drags, however, is in the middle few issues, when the Young Avengers have to restore Wanda’s memory. While it is necessary to address the issue of Wanda’s amnesia, this part of the series has no real consequence on the rest of the story. Perhaps Heinberg could have shortened this section by an issue or two. Furthermore, revealing Doom as the mastermind behind Wanda’s mental breakdown feels a bit cheap. Heinberg seems to be excusing the Scarlet Witch of all responsibility for the Avengers’ destruction and the mutant decimation. It’s difficult to find the middle ground between making Wanda a complete monster and making her into a saint. Yet conveniently revealing Doom as the culprit behind Wanda’s actions goes a little too far, suggesting almost complete innocence on her part. Finally, the ending, while very well written, is a bit grim for my taste. Stature dies, the Vision dies, and the Young Avengers disband. It feels as though the Children’s Crusade suddenly went from a fun adventure into a rather dour storyline. Even so, this ending does show the consequences of being a Young Avenger, raising the stakes. Heinberg also manages to send the Young Avengers out on a kind of bittersweet note, giving the team the sense of closure they needed.

You sure about that?

As a whole, the Children’s Crusade is a very well done journey to recover the Scarlet Witch. More importantly, this series does much with the consequences of Wanda’s actions. The Scarlet Witch is not simply given a happily ever after. Rather, Heinberg takes Wanda through personal feelings of guilt and remorse, simultaneously confronting her with the wrath of both the Avengers and the X-Men. Both of these parties are given a lot to say, adequately expressing their position on the Scarlet Witch’s crimes. Choosing the Young Avengers for this particular mission was also a smart move. Considering Wiccan and Speed’s personal connection with the Scarlet Witch, it’s only natural that they would be the ones to search for her. Additionally, finding Wanda brings a sense of closure to the Young Avengers, since Avengers Disassembled brought them together in the first place. Recovering the Scarlet Witch, the Young Avengers come full circle, addressing the disaster which initially assembled the team. I do wish that there was more room for individual character arcs, though. Perhaps another Young Avengers series leading into the Children’s Crusade would have fleshed out the team a bit more. Still, the Young Avengers are an endearing group. Finally, The Children’s Crusade is a great mini-crossover between the Avengers and the X-Men. Heinberg does an excellent job highlighting the differences between these two teams. Seeing how each team reacts to Wanda’s return is both believable and presents a balanced view of the Scarlet Witch’s past. Cheung’s artwork also renders the Avengers and the X-Men beautifully, leaving me speechless at every double-page spread. Ultimately, the Children’s Crusade is a worthy story for the Scarlet Witch’s return.

Avengers vs. X-Men: Round Zero

After the Children’s Crusade, the Young Avengers are essentially finished, at least during Bendis’ era on Avengers. Two of its members are dead, and the remaining Young Avengers are retired. The only breakout star of the team will be Kate Bishop, aka Hawkeye. Kate’s leadership and personality throughout the Young Avengers series earns her a significant role in Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, alongside Clint Barton. Later on, Kate will headline her own series, All-New Hawkeye, by Kelly Thompson. As for the Scarlet Witch, the Children’s Crusade has officially placed Wanda back on the board. Following significant delays, the Children’s Crusade ended in 2012, just in time for Avengers vs. X-Men. During this major event, the Scarlet Witch is going to play a pivotal role, finally earning her way back onto the Avengers. Wanda’s redemption will take some time, but it will eventually pay off. Speaking of Avengers vs. X-Men, the Children’s Crusade plants some major seeds for this upcoming event. Establishing the tensions between the Avengers and the X-Men, particular due to their differing perspectives, the Children’s Crusade sets the stage for one of Marvel’s biggest conflicts. The result of this conflict will resolve several plot threads, stemming from events such as House of M and Avengers Disassembled. None of this resolution would be possible without the return of the Scarlet Witch.

Saying goodbye

That’s all for today. What did you think of Avengers: the Children’s Crusade? Did the Scarlet Witch get a convincing return? Were the Young Avengers given a worthy comeback? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back in tomorrow, when I look at Matt Fraction’s big event, Fear Itself!

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