You may have noticed that Marvel publishes quite a few comic books with "Avengers" in the title each month, and that there are more on the way.
While the current volume of Young Avengers has some strong ties to the main franchise, it aims to be a very different type of book by design — not just from the other Avengers titles, but superhero teams in general. This iteration of the series is driven by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, best known for their collaboration on Image's Phonogram; and the writer calls it "what a Marvel Universe book would be like if we fired it through our own aesthetic."
With a main cast of Kid Loki, Wiccan, Hulkling, Hawkeye (Kate Bishop variety), The Protector and Miss America charged with the task of "saving the world, even if no one else understands," the book recently wrapped its first five-issue arc. As the team heads to a multiverse road trip beginning with issue #7, we talked to Gillen for his thoughts on the series so far and what's next. Courtesy of Marvel, we're also debuting Kate Brown-illustrated interior pages from Young Avengers #6, out June 26.
Newsarama: Kieron, with the first arc now out in full, let's talk Young Avengers — one thing that was clear from the pre-release interviews with you and Jamie McKelvie was a desire to make it different than a typical superhero book, and that has shown itself in very overt ways, from the Tumblr-esque recap pages to the diagrammed fight scene in issue #4, to even the solicitations. How important do you see that type of structural experimentation to the overall identity of the series?
Kieron Gillen: This question makes me feel like I should be ticking one of five options to answer it. Do you rate it very low, low, medium, high or very high?
When I took the job on, a big part of the appeal was Jamie and I finally getting a chance to imagine what a Marvel Universe book would be like if we fired it through our own aesthetic. We're working against the dominant structural mores of the last decade to see how a book could work in this next decade, without moving into an abstruse area. We're creating the book like we own it. We're creating it like it's pop music.
It's just fun. If given the chance, why wouldn't we try stuff?
That said, to give proper credit, the Tumblr intro pages are the idea of the editorial team, and executed by [letterer] Clayton [Cowles]. I don't write them.
Nrama Now that the team is together, going forward will the Young Avengers become something a bit more closely resembling a traditional team? Or does "traditional team" go against the point of the series?
Gillen: Yeah, re-imagining what a traditional team could mean is kind of the point. This isn't a team that works on the dominant paramilitary superhero team model of the last decade. Their battles are more personal. Fundamentally, their archenemy Mother is someone who the established, adult members of the universe simply can't see. They literally cannot understand the battles the Young Avengers feel compelled to face. If you see giants where others see windmills, fight those giants. Saving the world, even if no one else understands.
There's a three month gap between issue #5 and issue #7, and even join the action at the start of #7 at the end of what would have been a previous adventure. We get flashbacks and details of what they've been up to, before diving into the new situation. It's basically a backpacking story, with them heading across the multiverse. It's not for pleasure. There's a reason why they have to do it, but a lot of it is about the road-trip nature.
All this is building towards our larger climax. I see the first 15 issues of Young Avengers basically as a TV series, and it is structured as such.
Nrama: Of course, Loki is central to Young Avengers, and he's in a very different place now than he was in Journey Into Mystery. We see that struggle in a very literal way in issue #5 — as someone that's been writing Loki for so long now, what's most interesting to you about the current phase of the character?
It's a transitional stage, in a literal way. He's not the Loki I wrote in Journey Into Mystery — but he's also not really the Loki that we saw in Siege and earlier. He's desperately guilt-ridden, and trying to change — but what that actually means is up in the air. He's done bad things, and then turned back from them. While he's got a plan, even he doesn't seem sure whether he's going to execute it.
And then there's his body. As I put it, Loki is now in the role of Young Loki, and for Gods, that's a big deal. Just being in the form of the teenage boy alters him.
Basically, Loki is pubescent. And that's always fun.
Nrama: June brings issue #6, focusing on Speed and Prodigy, two characters that haven't been a part of the book yet. What motivated their inclusion in the series? Speed seems fairly straightforward given his history with the Young Avengers property, but Prodigy is obviously more of a curveball — and seemingly a character you see a great deal of potential in (he's on an upcoming cover with the rest of the team, and a new member is promised for issue #7, which I'm guessing is probably not a coincidence).
Gillen: It would be terrible for us to put him on the cover if we weren't planning on using. That said, we are pretty terrible people, so I wouldn't be that surprised.
One of the ideas of the run was that “young avengers” is a concept rather than a team, about the idea of being a young hero (and in a real way, in the MU, the word “avenger” is pretty much what “superhero” means in ours). I wanted the ability to wander off and do anything with the younger marvel superhero characters. I ended up not doing that as much as I considered, but thought this was a good place to do it.
Part of it is to create the break in time and space — a gap between the end of five and the start of seven. Part of it is to explore what the other major Young Avengers characters have been up to — and he's been surprisingly fun to write. But really, I wanted to do this singular statement of exploring another part of the metaphor. The issue is basically the superhero equivalent of working a temp-job. Doing an utterly meaningless job for an organization that is exploiting you, with you fully aware that you've got these talents that are going entirely to waste. In this case, Prodigy — with his basically near infinite skill-set — is working a tech-support line for superheroes.
Afterwards, the issue puts Prodigy on collision with the Young Avengers. I don't want to say any more than that. There's many reasons why I'm interested in Prodigy that'll become clear, but the obvious one is that he's entirely outside the social group, and has a wildly different set of experiences. He's been an X-man. He was on Cyclops' side post-Schism, for example, and is still bitter over that experience.
Nrama: That issue is illustrated by Kate Brown, who isn't a familiar name (at this point) to American audiences. What can you share about what brought her to the book, and what made her right for the story?
Gillen: Jamie and I have loved Kate's work ever since we first saw it on the British scene. When we were considering having a guest artist for an issue, and knowing its timbre — a mixture between slice of life and cosmic horror — Kate immediately leaped to mind. She's a very different style to Jamie, while still having a pop edge. She colors her own work, which adds to the ambience as well. We wanted the issue to feel like a 7-inch single, a little bit of bedsit pop, like something Postcard would have released in the early '80s — both witty and sad. Kate does all that, but with a modern, cosmopolitan edge that shows her metabolizing of a bunch of art styles.
We love Kate, basically.
Nrama: You've mentioned the importance of writing a comic that appeals to teenagers, which can seem like a rare thing given the perception of the actual audience of most mainstream superhero books. It's early still, but as someone who interacts with fans a great deal online, have you been hearing from a young audience about Young Avengers, maybe more so than with your other work?
Gillen: It's more that it actively doesn't repel a teen audience. It's a book that's about been a teen, so is hopefully works to anyone who's ever passed through those years. That's a key thing. It's a book that's more than a little critical of its leads. It doesn't necessarily say this is the right way to act, but notes that it's certainly a way that people do.
While we interact a lot online, I can't really get a good read on the age of the readers. However, at the signings Jamie and I have done, the demographics are basically what we'd hope for. It seems a more diverse crowd than my other books. You still get the older part of the age bracket, but there's a lot of younger people too. The gender mix is what we'd hope it to be as well.
And the amount of cosplay is astounding and inspiring.