Kieron Gillen Writes a YOUNG AVENGERS with No 'Safety Net'

 

It's one of the most frequently asked questions at a Marvel Comics convention panel: "Is Young Avengers coming back?"

Come January 2013, it is. Though it'll look pretty different.

The original incarnation of Young Avengers ran as its own series for 12 issues starting in 2005, in the aftermath of "Avengers Disassembled." Written by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung, it was one of the most beloved Marvel series of the past decade, and inspired subsequent follow-ups including team-ups with the Runaways, Dark Reign: Young Avengers and Avengers: The Children's Crusade, which reunited the team of Heinberg and Cheung.

As part of the sweeping Marvel NOW! revamp, Young Avengers is returning, this time with the Phonogram creative team of writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie, joined by artist Mike Norton and colorist Matt Wilson. It's a combination of familiar Young Avengers faces — Wiccan, Hulkling and the Kate Bishop Hawkeye — plus new members Miss America Chavez (from the Vengeance miniseries), Marvel Boy (Noh-Varr, recently "The Protector" in the main Avengers book) and Loki, who Gillen recently took on a fantastic voyage in the pages of Journey Into Mystery. Unlike the original series, which Gillen says was about being 16, this series is about being 18 — an important distinction for the writer, as he tells us in this interview.

 

Newsarama: Kieron, let's start with the (incredibly) obvious: This the first extended Marvel work from you and Jamie McKelvie. So though I think you've said that, unsurprisingly, it's the closest to Phonogram than any of your past Marvel work, how closely related do you see the two books, in terms of outlook and sensibility? Would a theoretical fan of Phonogram who isn't necessarily interested in the Marvel Universe recognize a good amount of what he likes in Young Avengers (other than, y'know, your writing and McKelvie's art)?

Kieron Gillen: I'm hoping so. Even with things like my writing and McKelvie's art (and Wilson's coloring, of course), it's more the specific parts of our creative process people will recognize. We're drawing a little more from that toolset, even to the degree that I'm using certain purely methodological approaches in the scripts that I've previously solely reserved for Phonogram.

(Because they are mad methods, which make the scripts look like I'm having some kind of nervous breakdown and communicating with nameless gods in some sort of arcane code. When the flail-wielding editor Lauren [Sankovitch] saw these strange pictograms she worried for me.)

Young Avengers is different in lots of fundamental ways, but there's an underlying philosophy going on. Phonogram is an urban fantasy comic that uses the metaphor of magic to explore the various effects of music. Young Avengers is a superhero comic that uses the metaphor of powers to explore the sensation of being 18. It's a thought pattern.

And there's a little automythbology going on too. Phonogram readers will smile when seeing which archetypes we're using, I suspect. Certain effects we reprise and re-imagine. We're trying to avoid anything like comics' tendency to pastiche its greatest moments, but we're not above pastiching our own.

That said, we can't overstate how different it is. It has plots and characters who are likeable at least half of the time. Both of these are distinctly un-Phonogram things.

Young Avengers #1

variant cover by

Bryan Lee O'Malley.

Nrama: One remark you've made a lot in discussing Young Avengers — including just now — is that while the original volume was about being 16, this is about being 18. It's an interesting distinction to make, and clearly an important one for you: In however much you want to get into it, what's compelling to you about being 18? And from your perspective, is "being 18 in the Marvel Universe" relatively unexplored territory (seems like it is — Marvel has never had an abundance of teenage characters, and the Marvel U Spider-Man, relatively speaking, seemingly kind of breezed through teenagerdom to early adulthood)?

Gillen: That's an interesting observation, and yes, that's what I'm looking at. I'm interested in life on the meniscus between home life and life as an adult. When you're 16, people like the Young Avengers cast are fundamentally home-based. They rely on their parents — both literal and metaphorical in the sense (Captain America and other Avengers are metaphorical parents to the Young Avengers. In Scarlet Witch, they make that metaphorical debt literal). In other words, there are stories where the cast has a safety net.

18 is about leaving home, even when you don't actually leave home. That's what we're looking at, and what we find interesting. The problems that exist at your moment. Your changing relationships with your peers. Your changing relationship with hero figures. Your optimism hitting the immovable object of the real world head on.

And a lot of it is just the mood of the thing. It's a book whose immaterial elements came first. I knew what a Young Avengers story would feel like before I had any idea of what this particular Young Avengers story would be.

In that way, it's also similar to Phonogram — another book where the immaterial vibe of the thing was before any specifics.

 

Nrama: Does the team have a base of operations, some type of equivalent to a Young Avengers Mansion? And on the same note, how much do they operate as a proper team, or more just characters who are linked and have adventures together sometimes?

Gillen: The first arc sets up their status quo. It doesn't just bring them together — it creates a reason why they're staying together. And from that point on, they're very much a proper team. Or at least my version thereof.

That said, I see a larger cast around our heroes. My current plans for issue #6, for example, is a standalone which takes in a couple of other teenage characters from the Marvel Universe (One a classic Young Avenger, and the other something else). I have room to tell stories that are "Young Avengers" that don't directly feature the Young Avengers.

 

Nrama: Kid Loki is moving with you from Journey Into Mystery to Young Avengers. How does your approach to the character differ from here as opposed to JIM? What new aspects of Loki are you able to explore with his new surroundings?

Gillen: As those who have lived through the somewhat traumatic climax of my Journey Into Mystery run will know, the Loki we have now is somewhat different to the Loki we've had so far. As such, his motivations are immediately going to be in question. Why is he here? What is he doing this for? What's actually going on?

It's tricky. Young Avengers is a #1. JIM was an enormously complicated story. I don't want Loki's status quo to cause unnecessary confusion to newcomers. In this case, Loki's current state's an advantage. Those who don't know anything about Kid Loki will be automatically suspicious because he's Loki. And JIM veterans? Doubly so. They know what the score is. The question for them is what is he up too.

The Young Avengers are equally suspicious of Loki. Teddy and Billy are both total superhero geeks (in fact, total geeks generally). It's not as if they don't know that Loki may as well be a synonym for mischief and mayhem. 

Actually, while we're talking Journey Into Mystery, while I'm abandoning much of JIM's stylistic elements (the epic ironic captions, etc) I'm taking the lessons I learned from there. That was the book where I learned to wear my heart on my sleeve. As idea-heavy a book as JIM was, it was a book about that emotional connection. That's right in the heart of YA.

 

Nrama: An intriguing inclusion is Miss America Chavez, who's, at this stage, probably the least-known character in the book, but clearly an important one. Given how much of the Marvel Universe is dominated by decades-old characters, how important is it to you to keep someone like that in rotation, who could have easily fallen by the wayside? And have you discussed the character at all with Joe Casey, who I think would be the only other person to write her?

Gillen: Young Avengers has always been a book that plays with the sense of generations.  When I was told that Eli (Patriot) was unavailable, I wanted someone in the red, white and blue... and my mind immediately went to Miss Chavez, who I'd enjoyed enormously in the criminally overlooked Vengeance mini. She added a diversity to the cast, both in terms of attitude and background. Yes, I'm writing her with a particularly mysterious past, but from the hints we get, it's certainly a damn sight less privileged than most of my cast.

In terms of Chavez's newness specifically, I'd agree. The trick is finding a niche in the Marvel Universe where a character can flourish. I mean, you can't just create a moral paragon character who is loved as a symbol of everything good about his country. That job's taken by Captain America. No-one else can do it in the MU.

So new characters go in new place.

There's part of me that likes that I got to use a Casey creation. [Grant] Morrison's Noh-Varr too, actually. There's a fun symbolism to have characters created by the two writers who have arguably been most effective in introducing youth characters in corporate superhero comics in the mix.

Regarding America specifically, I haven't actually talked to Joe about her use, which I'm somewhat embarrassed about. I kept on meaning to drop him a line, but the way the last six months have been I never got around to it. And now I'm too embarrassed and shame-faced to drop a line. Er... Sorry, Joe?

 

Nrama: Here's a question about a character not in the book: You've said that Patriot wasn't available, but I do think folks are curious as to why Speed isn't around. Is he in the picture at all?

Gillen: His absence is explicitly explained in the first issue. While he's never going to be a core cast member (at least, for the first year of the book) there are some things I'd like to do with him. While there's a good reason he's not around, at least part of it was wanting to keep the cast tight. This is a character-led book, and even adding a single extra character in the first arc would dilute that. When I introduce Speed, I want it to be meaningful. And…

OK. I'll admit it. I'm currently planning for him to be in issue #6 in a big way. He's the Classic Young Avenger I mentioned earlier.

Not 100% sure yet, I stress. But it's my current aim.

 

Nrama: You've mentioned that, at least at first, the Young Avengers will encounter new villains. Can you say anything more at this point about that? And how much do these villains also tie into the theme of "being 18"?

Gillen: Completely. For me, the best superhero villains speak to the heroes' struggle and identity. If the book's about being 18, then the villains are too. They are entirely about the key themes of the book. There's some familiar antagonists too, but how I'm using them speak directly to what the book's about.

I don't want to say too much about it. But I expect there are some antagonists I'm reintroducing which will cause a yelp or two.

 

Nrama: It's clear that Young Avengers as a seires is going to be acting somewhat autonomously at first, without any overt tie-ins to other books. But, it's still Young "Avengers." How much of a presence do the adult Avengers have in the book — either on-panel or thematically?

Gillen: In a boring nuts-and-bolts way, The Avengers cameo in issue #2. Moving forward, they'll have a presence... but it'll be subtly different to what you may expect. The Young Avengers are misunderstood. The full Avengers frankly worry about them. In a real way, the Young Avengers are on their own.

But the ideal of the Avengers? That's right at the core of the book. It's about people with talent banding together and saving the world from threats too large for any one of them. Being an Avenger isn't really about the mansion or the tower or the membership card. It's about when these heroes came together to do what had to be done – because they knew only they could do it.

Trying to live up that ideal is absolutely what Young Avengers is about.

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