Book review: Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade”

I’ve had my copy of “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade” for almost a year now, but it was only until recently that I finally started reading it, mostly spurred on by the release of Kieron Gillen and James Mckelvie’s take on the teenage superheroes.

As I clearly spelled out in my review of the Young Avengers Ultimate Collection, I loved how Heinberg and Cheung took on these superpowered teens. I loved the art, I loved the characterization, and I loved how everything about it still felt so fresh even if it’s been more than half a decade since it was published.

I personally went into “The Children’s Crusade” with quite a bit of expectation, as I knew about bits and pieces of it, thanks to Tumblr. I knew that it would feature multiple superpowered teams, from the Avengers to the X-Men, and I knew that there would be a Wiccan/Hulkling kiss somewhere in there. But were those expectations met? Or is “The Children’s Crusade” a bit of a let-down?

9780785136385It was hinted at during the original run of “Young Avengers”, and now “The Children’s Crusade” takes on the question of Billy and Tommy’s parentage head on as the Young Avengers go on a quest to find the Scarlet Witch.

Of course, the way to the Witch is less than easy. Aside from finding themselves in an uneasy alliance with Magneto, the Young Avengers have the Avengers hot on their tails, waiting for them to find the Scarlet Witch so that they can hold her accountable for her crimes.

As they find themselves closer and closer to the Scarlet Witch, they also find even more and more obstacles. With Doctor Doom in the picture and the X-Men waiting in the wings, will the family reunion end up being a horrible disaster?

If I had any worries about the quality slipping in this miniseries, especially when compared to the original run of the Young Avengers, they were quickly dispelled in the first few pages of the book. The sassy humor is there right off the bat as the team battles the Sons of the Serpent, and Heinberg knows exactly where to inject it even as things get more and more dangerous for the team during their hunt for the Scarlet Witch.

I also loved how this book was so much about family — both about the ones we are born in and the ones that we make for ourselves. It’s something that a lot of gay people go through, and it’s nice to see that no matter how dysfunctional Billy’s two families may be, he still has both of them in the end.

If there’s something I had a bit of a struggle with, it was appreciating the bigger story happening beyond the pages of “The Children’s Crusade”, as well as catching up with all the things that have happened to characters that I last saw probably more than a decade ago. I mean, I didn’t even know that Nightcrawler and Banshee had already died! And the only reason I appreciated the tension between the X-Men and the Avengers is because “Avengers Vs. X-Men” was so heavily promoted it’s hard to not know about it.

Jim Cheung’s art, as usual, is top notch. I especially liked how he frames action scenes, especially during the big Avengers/X-Men confrontation over what to do with the Scarlet Witch. It’s a style I’ve really grown to love that I admit I was a little apprehensive when the sneak previews for Gillen and Mckelvie’s take on the Young Avengers first came out.

Near the end, I found myself tearing up as both of Billy’s families started falling apart. After going through so much to make himself whole, here he is seeing all of it break apart right before his eyes. It’s gut-wrenching, and you understand why Billy goes into a months-long depression.

But what really made me cry was how Teddy drew Billy out of that depression. Blame it on my being an old and alone person, but love being the reason Billy goes on? MY HEART HURTS.

Also, how happy am I that I finally get to read a comic with a gay kiss in it?

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In case it’s still isn’t obvious, I really loved “The Children’s Crusade”, perhaps more for what it means to me as a gay man rather than for the role it plays in the greater Marvel universe (Some people online seem to have found it boring?). The same magic that got me hooked on the first run is still there, and has definitely made a lifelong Young Avengers fan out of me.

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