The story starts with the “Sidekicks” story line, and a full-page frame of a newspaper photo of a group of teen superheroes rescuing people from a burning building. The dialogue balloon says “Who the #*&% are the Young Avengers?” And that’s really the story.
To begin with, they are four fanboys with some remarkable abilities: Billy Kaplan (“Asgardian,” later “Wiccan”), who can cast spells; Teddy Altman (“Hulkling”), whose code name is pretty much self-explanatory — and then his parentage comes to light; Eli Bradley (“Patriot”), whose grandfather was the Black Captain America; and Iron Lad, who turns out to be the Young Kang the Conqueror, fled to 21st Century Earth because he doesn’t want to be what he will become. They are joined by Cassie Lang (“Stature”), whose father was Ant-Man, and Kate Bishop (“Hawkeye”), who has no powers except an amazing ability with weapons and a very rich father.
After the four botch a hostage situation — saved pretty much by Kate’s quick thinking (she’s a guest at the party — her sister’s wedding, as it happens), they, along with Cassie and Kate, are taken in hand by Iron Man and Captain America, who basically tell them to cease and desist: they won’t train them, they take away their uniforms, and threaten to tell their parents about their powers and activities. The group decide otherwise, although Billy and Teddy decide to come out to their parents themselves. (One of my favorite scenes, as it happens, involves the “coming out”: morning at the Kaplans’; Teddy stops by and the boys decide it’s time. Billy starts an awkward admission, intending to tell his parents that he and Teddy are part of the Young Avengers. His parents interrupt — they know, and Billy’s mother hugs them both, saying how happy she is they found each other, while Billy’s dad welcomes Teddy to the family. Yes, Billy and Teddy are a couple.)
There are several story arcs in this volume, and they’re all good ones. Allan Heinberg’s script sparkles — it’s tight, clean, and sharp, and the dialogue ranges from serious to pungent. These are teenagers coming to grips with who they are (and it so happens they all have connections to the adult Avengers) — it’s really a classic coming-of-age story in tights and capes, and Heinberg has got it cold.
Something hit me here that, thinking back, I’ve noticed in other recent superhero comics, most obviously in the Avengers and X-Men series: from a rather black-and-white view of the heroes’ purpose being to fight “evil,” the underlying theme is now how we treat those who are different. I think Billy and Teddy’s “coming out” scene is what threw it into high relief for me, I guess because it really points up the transitory nature of who and what is the object of discrimination: being gay is fine; being a superhero with exceptional abilities, not so much. There’s a telling sequence of Billy’s remembrance of when he discovered his powers that underscores the theme. Taken as a whole, it seems that the new generation of superhero comics have become studies in the cost of bigotry.
The drawing is superb. Jim Cheung gets pride of place for his pencils on two story arcs, “Sidekicks” and “Family Matters. Andrea Divito’s pencils for “Secret Identities” are just as good, and the slight shift in style doesn’t jar at all. There were a number of artists involved in the Special, and it’s to their credit as well that you barely notice. The visual style overall is rich without being crowded.
There are some special add-ons here, including Heinberg’s very entertaining comments on how he got started on this project — he was a screenwriter and had always wanted to do comics but had no idea how to go about it. In fact, also included is a section of Heinberg’s initial script, written as a teleplay, which he converted into a comic script with the held of Joe Quesada. There’s also a longish section on character and story concepts, and a selection of Cheung’s character sketches and unused cover ideas.
This is a choice volume, but shop around for it. It’s hardbound and priced accordingly, but you don’t have to get stuck with paying full price. (It also happens to be a gorgeously produced book.)
Includes Young Avengers #1-12, Young Avengers Special.