Classic Fantastic is our series of features on the classics of the format — please check out our other picks for the most important titles, in terms of appeal, innovation, and storytelling, that every library should own.
What’s it about?
You’d think with a title like Young Avengers, this book would be about the Avengers training their teenage sidekicks. You would be wrong. Shortly after the Avengers broke up in the 2005 Marvel event Avengers Disassembled, a group of teens decided that if the Avengers wouldn’t do their job, then someone else had to. And who better than a group of super powered fanboys? Well, honestly, just about anyone. But they’re the ones with the initiative to get a team together and start fighting crime, so they get to be a superhero team, whether Captain America and Iron Man like it or not. Spoiler: They don’t. But we’re talking about teenagers. So they do what teens do best and rebel against authority. It doesn’t matter if that authority is parents, teachers or the superheroes the team idolizes. Nothing is going to stop them from being heroes.
Despite good sales, a quickly developing fan base, and good reviews from critics, Marvel cancelled the series after 12 issues and a special because creator Allen Heinberg no longer had time for it. Thus the first series includes only a few story arcs. Despite that, the books covers a wide range of issues.
The first , “Sidekicks,” deals with getting the team together, facing its first major threat and showing the team members’ determination to be heroes, despite opposition from one of the Avengers’ greatest villains, Kang, and from the Avengers themselves, who have declared Young Avengers too young and not well trained enough to be heroes. Despite the Avengers having officially shut the new group down at the end of their first major outing, the arc ends with the team heading out to battle crime despite the disapproval of the the heroes they idolize.
The second arc, “Secret Identities,” deals with the team trying to come out as heroes to their parents, which, due to a misunderstanding leads to Wiccan coming out as gay, but not disclosing his secret identity. It also deals with drug use coming back to haunt the team leader, Patriot.
The final arc, “Family Matters,” deals with family and helps tie the team firmly to the Marvel Universe’s history. It reveals that unknown to him, Hulkling is the son of the prince of the alien Kree Empire and princess of the alien Skrull Empire. These, as longtime fans already know, are two of the largest alien Empires in the galaxy (matched only by the Shi’ar) and that they absolutely hate each other. When both Empires send delegations to claim the heir it leads to trouble. In the midst of that catastrophe, Wiccan learns that he is far more intimately tied to the Scarlet Witch than he could have known and, on top of that, he has a twin brother. Despite the team reeling from these revelations, they manage to team up with the Avengers and to fight the two invading alien armadas.
Sadly that is where the series ends. And while it doesn’t leave any major cliffhangers, there is a sense of unfulfilled potential. However, Marvel saw how popular the characters were and later released a six issue mini-series with each issue focused on one character and his development (twins Wiccan and Speed had to share an issue). They also appear in crossover mini-series with the other teen team of the Marvel Universe, the Runaways, during major events.
Eventually the original creative team, Allen Heinberg and Jim Cheung, came together and wrote a 9 issue mini-series Avengers: Children’s Crusade, which involved the Avengers, the X-Men and at its heart, the Young Avengers. It tied up many remaining plot points both for the Young Avengers and for larger events of this era Marvel Universe as a whole, and indirectly led into the Avengers vs. X-Men event, which ended the 2004-2013 Marvel Universe Era and launched Marvel NOW! So you can think of the Young Avengers as bookends for that era of Marvel.
Several things help the series stand out. Firstly it’s a fantastic introduction to the “era” of Marvel that lasted from mid-2004 until the start of 2013. The events of the comic occur right at the opening of that era and help get it started. The story references Marvel’s rich history without making you feel overwhelmed by it. While it doesn’t make you feel like you have to read 60 years of comics to understand anything that’s going on, it does make you want to read them so you can better understand the complex history of the company. All of the protagonists are either new characters or had only been incredibly minor in the past. Still, each one of them has ties to important characters and events in Marvel history. Learning more about these characters helps you better understand the Marvel universe.
Another thing that helps it stand out is that the teenage protagonists of the series actually act and sound like teenagers. A lot of times when adults write teenagers, their adult voice is incredibly obvious, especially to any teenagers reading. When I first read the series at age 14, I found the characters realistic and relatable.
This series will appeal to a lot of people. For starters, the book is well written and beautifully drawn, so people who are fans of comics in general should enjoy it.
In addition, the book is fantastic for teens. The characters are relatable and their struggles are as well, if on a slightly bigger scale. Teens reading this may not have to stand up to Captain America, but odds are they are rebelling against authority figures. They might not be finding out that they are the heir to two feuding alien empires, but they might just have found out they’re adopted. They might not be beating up drug dealers, so they can get their next hit of super strength, but they might be tempted by drugs and cigarettes. And teens struggling with their sexual identity can find positive, relevant role models in Wiccan and Hulkling.
Finally, this book is particularly good for people trying to get into comics, but who aren’t sure where to start. The book slowly helps immerse the reader in Marvel’s vibrant and interesting history without overwhelming them with it. Many books try to introduce new readers to the Universe gently, but I haven’t seen any that do so half as well as this does.
A major element the series gets right is inclusivity. Two of the main characters, Wiccan and Hulkling, are gay and dating, but the comic never makes the relationship feel forced or uses them for token diversity. It is not presented as a stunt to show how open minded Marvel is. The story treats them as two complete heroic characters who simply happen to both be men and to be dating each other. The characters have become fan favorites and well-liked by critics, even winning the book a 2006 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book.
The Young Avengers bookend the era of Marvel that got my entire generation into comics. It appeals to teens for their ability to relate to the characters and to adults for its solid story telling. In addition it’s got connections to Marvel NOW! Hawkeye is one of Marvel NOW!’s best-selling books and it’s deuteragonist, Kate Bishop, got her start in Young Avengers. In addition to that, Young Avengers Volume 2 is a part of Marvel Now! and ties in closely to the original series.
Why should you own this?
Honestly? It’s a fantastic series. It’s practically the Firefly of comics. It was amazing, has a loyal fanbase and ended too soon. I can say that I literally do not know anyone who has read the series and not thoroughly enjoyed it. It appeals even to non-comics fans. It’s a comic series that, perhaps due to its brevity, doesn’t have single bad panel in the core twelve issues. The later mini-series are kind of hit or miss, but there’s still more good than bad. Avengers: Children’s Crusade is of the same quality of the issues that came seven years before it. The series is worth owning because although it’s quick enough to devour in a day, it bears re-reading and there’s enough there that you feel you got your money’s worth. It’s a series you will never regret buying.
- Volume 1: Sidekicks (ISBN: 9780785120186)
- Volume 2: Family Matters (ISBN: 9780785117544)
- Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways (ISBN: 9780785123170)
- Young Avengers Presents (ISBN: 9780785129752)
- Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers (ISBN: 9780785132660)
- Dark Reign: Young Avengers (ISBN: 0785139095)
- Avengers: The Children’s Crusade (ISBN: 9780785135494)
If you can get it, the Young Avengers Ultimate Edition paperback edition (9780785149071) is more readily available and includes the first two volume’s stories plus extra content.