Book review: Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s “Young Avengers”

Although it may not look like it from most of the books that end up being reviewed on this blog, I was very much a comic book kid. I had my own comic book childhood — cut tragically short by my father — and have just recently tried to rekindle that old love once again.

One great thing about getting back into comics at this point in time is the fact that there are a bit more characters that I can relate to among the current (Marvel) line-up.  If my young gay self only had fierce goddesses like Storm and Phoenix to worship back in the day, there’s a slightly longer list of superheroes that are much more relatable to a gay man such as myself.

PERFECTION. Illustration by Emanuela Lupacchino

There’s Northstar, who’s the first openly gay superhero in American comic books and apparently set to become the first to enter into a gay marriage in the upcoming Astonishing X-Men #51.

There’s Rictor and Shatterstar, who shared the first ever same-sex kiss in a mainstream Marvel title, and whose subtext runs for as long as 20 years. I’d buy X-Force, but I don’t think I can (literally) afford to wade through all of that.

And let’s not forget the fact that most people with brains generally consider the mutants of the Marval universe as a metaphor for how the LGBT community is discriminated against in the real world.

It’s for all of those reasons — as well as the constant squeeing of Wiccan and Hulkling fans — that I happily picked up a copy of the Young Avengers Ultimate Collection. Will the buzz around this title be justified? Or will it just be a big disappointment?

(Edited to add Wiccan/Hulkling fanart!)

The “Young Avengers Ultimate Collection” bring together all 12 issues of the run of the Young Avengers main series — from the “Sidekicks” storyline of issues #1 to #6, “Secret Identities” storyline of issues #7 and #8, Young Avengers Special #1, and the “Family Matters” storyline of issues #9 to #12.

It’s been six years since the main series came out, but I have to say that a lot of the concerns that it brings up still resonated with me even after so much time has passed — and it’s been so long since I could call myself a teenager. There’s a great feeling of being in the now when it comes to Heinberg’s dialogue, which I guess you can attribute to the time he’s spent writing for shows like “The O.C.” and “Sex and the City”.

I also loved the cleverness with which Heinberg managed to pay tribute to the main Avengers team without sacrificing the uniqueness of the teens that make up the Young Avengers. I’m trusting Heinberg when he says that Kate Bishop and Clint Barton share a sassy gene, and I loved how he explored race, identity, and what it means to be a patriot through the character of Elijah Bradley.

But what really won me over was the subtle and organic way that Heinberg treated the Wiccan and Hulkling relationship. None of it was blunt or heavy-handed, and there was nothing stereotypical with the way the two were characterized. I loved that the “reveal” of their relationship was done so flippantly — just a couple of lines from Jessica Jones and Kate — because it really shouldn’t be treated any differently from the relationships of the straight characters.

And on a considerably shallow note, can I just say that it helps a lot that Jim Cheung drew Wiccan and Hulkling as such hot guys? Hulkling’s multiple earrings are just giving me life, and the subtle nuances in Wiccan and Hulking’s faces whenever they interact with each other in the panels were just perfect for me. It’s been a long road to get to characters like these, and hopefully this doesn’t just stop with Wiccan and Hulkling.

After reading the book I definitely wanted to pick up every other title that this teen team has ever appeared in, which certainly isn’t a small feat considering that I have been a solid X-Men fan since forever and know very little of the Avengers mythos. Heck, I might even try to dive into the main Avengers themselves.

While I am a bit disappointed that the “Young Avengers” isn’t a regular series, it’s encouraging that this team looks to have got such huge exposure with “Avengers: Children’s Crusade” — which I will probably buy in hardcover because I love this team so much. Whatever Marvel’s plan is for these superpowered teens, I’ll definitely be there to check it out.

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