As our story opens, the Young Avengers are battling the Sons of the Serpent, a paramilitary group (read “militia”) devoted to racial and moral purity — their words, not mine — when Captain America, Iron Man, and Ms. Marvel show up — just in time for Wiccan (Billy Kaplan) to unleash a psychic blast that KOs the Sons and about half of Lower Manhattan. (Well, to be fair, one of them claimed to have a nuke strapped to his back and was about to detonate it.) The problem is, Billy doesn’t know what he did and doesn’t remember doing it — it was entirely unconscious. The Avengers, ever mindful of the time the Red Witch — who may be Billy’s mother — lost control of her powers, killed three of the Avengers, and stripped the powers from most of the mutants in the world, are not inclined to just let Billy run free after that. Billy has his own ideas on that score, aggravated by the fact that none of the adult Avengers seem inclined to question the Red Witch’s responsibility for her actions. Billy decides he’s going to find the Red Witch, prove to her that her sons, he and Speed, are alive, and get her to undo the damage she caused. Of course, these things are never easy, particularly when you’ve got to deal with Magneto and Dr. Doom, not to mention just about every other superhero in the Marvel Universe.
OK, where to start? Although not quite as sharp and sassy as in Young Avengers, Allan Heinberg’s script still has enough energy and enough sharp edges to stay entertaining, although there are points where it gets a little talky. It’s a complex — and complicated — story that winds up dragging in — well, let’s see, I’ve already mentioned the Young Avengers, the Avengers, Dr. Doom, and Magneto. Add the X-Men, X-Factor, and Iron Lad (still trying to avoid becoming Kang the Conqueror), and you’ve got quite a mix. (I’d forgotten what a judgmental jerk Cyclops is.)
Jim Cheung has moved easily into my own personal list of best comic artists, right up with John Cassaday and Dale Eaglesham. His character designs don’t leave you guessing who’s who, the drawing is very expressive, and while the layouts aren’t all that adventurous, there’s a good flow to the visual narrative (although I will confess that sometimes the full-page crowd scenes have a bit of a clogged feeling). The color’s pretty good on this one, although there are passages in which the “mood tone” gets a little out of hand.
One note: it was made quite plain in the first collection that Billy (Wiccan) and Teddy (Hulkling) are a couple. What was notable about it was the ready acceptance of their relationship by their peers, although one wonders if Heinberg and Cheung felt that their audience was ready: the visual representation was very understated. This time, it’s out there, right up front, including one frame — almost full page — that includes a major lip-lock. As a little added attraction, this incarnation of X-Factor includes another male couple, Shatterstar and Rictor, whose relationship is clearly portrayed (although without the teenage lust). The irony here is that, in the world of superhero comics, being gay is fine. Being a mutant with superpowers — well, have you noticed how strongly the theme of prejudice runs through these stories? (One wonders what Fredric Wertham would think about all this.)
This collection isn’t quite as on point as the earlier compilation, but it’s still way up there on the scale of terrific comics. And once again, this is a hardbound edition, but don’t you dare pay full price.
Collects Uncanny X-Men #526; Avengers: The Children’s Crusade ^1-9, Young Avengers #1