Starting this off incredibly unprofessionally, Young Avengers is without a doubt my favorite of the Marvel NOW! launches from 2012/2013. The series has something special – a frenetic pacing, unique layouts, and a true sense of relevant “now” to what the characters are going through, even though I personally have never had any super powers or dealt with crazy smothering mud monsters from another dimension.
So when talking to writer Kieron Gillen about the next arc of the book, as well as the just-announced at Comic-Con “After party” two-parter, it was easy to get lost in the conversation.
For After party, covering the issues in December and January, Gillen and his artist Jamie McKelvie will let several other artists in on the fun: Becky Cloonan, Joe Quinones, Ming Doyle, Christian Ward, Emma Vieceli, and one more unannounced artist will each be doing five page bits centered around one of the Young Avengers as they have a New Year’s Eve party to wind down from recent interdimensional adventures.
Read on for more from Gillen about everything from Prodigy’s extremely necessary return to the mystery of Miss America and well beyond.
Newsarama: Kieron, I’m going to start this interview as unprofessionally as possible, and in the spirit of Chris Farley: How the hell is Young Avengers so freaking awesome?
Kieron Gillen: We sold our souls to somebody! We’re not sure who yet. We don’t think it’s a demon, we think it’s some manner of an extradimensional creature. So, the whole thing with Mother is the story of how we came to do the comic. So that’s quite sad. (laughs)
I don’t know, I’ll tell you what, we’re amazed with what we get away with on Young Avengers. Every issue we try things and we’re amazed when they say “yes.” Like this Afterparty idea, I came to [Editor] Lauren Sankovitch and said “What I want to do is get like six artists, friends of ours, and we’ll do two issues, one the week before, one the week after New Year’s. We’ll have a single night, a New Year’s Eve party and it’ll be great!” And she just said “yeah, let’s do that!”
So I guess Marvel is giving us a long leash to hang ourselves with.
Nrama: Do you ever feel guilty taking up every amazing artist all at once like that?
Gillen: It’s only five pages each, so it’s all right. These are people we’d all happily buy drinks for, that’s an easy way of putting it. We love their work. We had a big long list of people we were thinking about as well, and worked out who would fit best for the character – and who would say yes. We mentioned five in the solicit, but there’s another one who can’t completely say yes yet, so we didn’t want to mention their name, but they’re great as well.
Nrama: That’s the “and more…” in there.
Gillen: Yes, the great And Moore. Actually it’s A. Moore. Alan Moore’s going to do it. Alan Moore’s return to Marvel and cartooning. (laughs)
Nrama: It’s been interesting reading Young Avengers and seeing how you’ve woven their interpersonal relationships in with the action and the adventures they’ve been having. What is your approach to that, are you going for the plot, the adventure first and seeing where their relationships come out of that, vice versa, or how do you approach it?
Gillen: I know the emotional arcs across the “season” as I put it. The final two issues of the season are entitled “resolution.” Issue 12 and 13 are basically, we save the day and all our big character and emotional arcs, they have this big enormous explosion of everything, all the action and emotional stuff become one. So the fact that I’ve always sort of known the thread means yes, the character progression comes before the story – the story is structured to illustrate this in that way.
You’ll see that quite clearly in issue 8, which is out in a couple weeks’ time. The series of adventures that they go on is to illustrate certain moments in their past, in their lives to that point. A lot of these alternate dimensions are places where things have gone wrong, where things went bad after they left, or they went bad. That’s a useful way to talk about the characters and what they fear. Using the superhero genre to talk about the emotional stresses of being 18. That’s the stuff we keep pinned to my monitor, metaphorically speaking. That’s our magnetic north, and I try to follow that.
Today I started writing Issue #13. That’s me plotting out, I have 20 pages, and I’m finding “on this page this emotional thread comes to an end, the sort of structuring you have to do to get to that point. It’s an interesting one, the further we go the more intricate it becomes. So we’ll see how it goes.
Nrama: That’s interesting, is that something you’ve done before in approaching a comic, or is that unique to Young Avengers?
Gillen: In terms of Marvel, I think the work which most connected with fans was Journey Into Mystery, and with JIM say the last, say from #641 to the final issue, across “Everything Burns,” pretty much from killing Leah as if she was a kind of f***ing hell, and there was an escalation of emotional stakes and all these things I’d set up. And I had spent, you know, 15, 16 issues putting all these dominos in play, and I knew the end of JIM at the start of it, and was always dovetailing to that.
This is a bit like it, in that Young Avengers is trying to bring forward that “Leah is dead” moment, and trying to bring that into the arc. So kind of what we’ve done, the first five issues, as much as you have the big emotional shapes of it, was moving these characters and correcting this situation… issue 8 is when I kind of start kicking it all over. Issue 6 had some big stuff in, issue 5 had some big stuff in, 7 was kind of relaxed, relatively speaking, but the last half of issue 8 is kind of – when I was looking through the pages that Jamie sent me I was kind of just overcome – this is what I wanted, where almost every two pages could be the end of an issue, in that sense of emotional importance. I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic way, I mean that I have ended issues like that before, but I have now got the pieces where I can start doing this stuff in Young Avengers.
So yes, I’ve done it in Journey into Mystery, this is me trying to apply it to here, and really this character-based plotting approach was really Singles Club and Phonogram. These are kind of like that. Using character-shaped story structure and playing games with the more traditional genre.
We started issue 7 with the end of the previous adventure. It was basically like they’d been running around for two issues, but we didn’t see those two issues, fighting these Skrulls. And we pick it up here, and we cut away the stuff that was time and space. That requires having a larger picture of what happened in your head.
Young Avengers is an experimental pop song, and a pop song fails if you can’t dance to it. It was kind of like trying to at least push it.
Nrama: I love that you say Young Avengers #7 was “relatively quiet” when we had Prodigy joining the team, finding out that Miss America can jump across realities, knowing that Speed was taken to another reality by some alternate Patriot…
Gillen: I’ll tell you what, when you read issue 8, come back to me and see what you say. (laughs)
Nrama: The jumping between realities thing is something Marvel has played with quite a bit, especially in the last decade with Exiles, X-treme X-Men; what about that is so appealing to you as a writer, getting to go and explore these alternate Marvel universes?
Gillen: It’s a wonderful canvas of ideas. For me, I wasn’t looking to closely in the terms of Exiles – I love alternate dimension stories anyway. But this was very much about the multiple metaphors at one time. On one level, this issue is the backpacking issue. The Young Avengers go on a roadtrip across dimensions. They go through this incredibly grueling thing, but incredibly bonding at the same time.
This is also a way to illustrate the way that things can be different.
And the other really basic thing, is that it’s an incredible pop thrill just doing weird sh**! I can do stuff for a panel, there’s a lot of that in both 8 and 9 and ongoing, where you see another dimension for a panel and you just get this visual, a caption, and then run away from it, that leaves space for the imagination to flourish. For me it’s not just going to another dimension and exploring it thoroughly, it’s using a dimension to create a sense of wonder.
I just find it fun! It’s an enormous philosophy of ideas, and that’s fun.
Nrama: Getting back to the idea of “After party” itself, is this going to be a downtime, a pause, or will you still be using it to continue these big explorations into their characters?
Gillen: The issues are called “resolution,” and that for me kind of sums it up. #12 and #13 are the big, showiness, the really big moments on the biggest stage imaginable of character melodrama. This is them crashing out, this is the lessons they’ve learned, the final few pieces falling into position. And that makes you realize what other stuff was really going on.
When I structure stories, there’s generally the last couple of issues a few big things will drop in, and there’s a lot of that in this story as well. It is hero downtime, in that it’s gotten so big in issue 12 and 13. I’ve dragged in every teenage Marvel character that I can at this point.
Nrama: At least the ones that Dennis Hopeless hasn’t killed yet [in Avengers Arena]!
Gillen: I know, I asked all the Marvel writers which characters are available, so I know the survivors. I’m planning for that. And I have an image, if there are any of those survivors at this party, they’re kind of shell-shocked, shaking. (laughs)
But yeah, since I’ve sort of dragged so many of the young characters in for the climax, this is the after party. What do you do after an enormous, multi-dimensional climax to a story? Oh yeah, you go to the after party.
I quite like the idea of this story at the end of a year, and literally a year of publication, also at the end of the year for the characters and for us. They get together to celebrate that they’ve survived a year and sort of hope for the new one – that’s what we all do anyway.
There’s less punching people in this than in the previous arc, there’s quite a bit more of two people crashing together and having an argument in the toilet, to use a Phonogram technique. People in the kitchen bitching about what happened. But there are also moments on the dance floor, where they’re playing records. It’s visual, but it’s more people finding each other.
One of my favorite conversations in my life was on the Millennium eve, and my friend and I were having a conversation on a bridge in Bath, and it’s a lot of that. This is a genuine human moment between the characters, and all illustrated by my favorite friends and artists that I admire. So you know, it’s kind of a downbeat but also a party. The Singles Club is probably the easiest way to describe it, in that it’s multiple character-based stories in a single night in a single club. That’s its precedence.
Nrama: Are you going to be sliding songs from the Young Avengers spotify playlist into the background?
Gillen: Oh, maybe! I’m still actually writing this at the moment, so I’m kind of working out how much we’ll be doing. But yeah, this story is my baby and where will the wind end.
Nrama: Since you’re still working on it, what are you planning as far as structure goes with all these different artists? Are each going to be handling a specific character or two, or is it just going to run across the whole story?
Gillen: Issue 14 and 15, the first five pages of 14 are Jaime, then we have three five-page sections. Then issue 15 is three five-page sections, followed by Jamie doing the last five pages. It’s a sandwich of good stuff with dirty Jamie bed. And each artist uses these five pages, and they’re each primarily focused on a character. So there’ll be the Marvel Boy pages, the Loki pages, the Prodigy pages; they’re not the only character in that section, but they’ll be the lead.
There’ll probably be some time-cutting and placing like in Singles Club, where you see people in the background doing stuff, or you’ll see scenes cut and spaced depending, but in a real way each section is about that character. It’s the end of that character arc for the fifteen issues, like I said, “resolution.”
Then the last five pages are the end of the “season.” That’s the structure. I’ve got quite a bit of it written, but you have to keep it sort of molten and let it change.
Nrama: Bringing in Prodigy was probably a surprise to some people, what was the impetus there, was he a character you particularly liked from his New Mutants/New X-Men days?
Gillen: I liked him because he was sort of awkward and not entirely likeable at times! That’s normally a pretty good Kieron Gillen character. I thought his powers were really interesting, and his intelligence, he’s intelligent in a very different way to Loki. And the uses of him as a character will become very clear as we move through the story. You’ll see how he interacts. Even in the first issue he’s appeared, you have him and Loki butting heads. The thing is, Loki at this point is by far the smartest person in the group. That puts him at an advantage.
Not that anyone on the team is a dunce, but Loki is a genius. Suddenly, Loki has a genius who he has not brought into the group. That immediately is an interesting thing. As an outsider, he cracks the dynamic and changes things a bit. There’s other stuff as you will see quite rapidly as we progress.
And yeah, I had written him a little bit when I was over in the X-Office, and I saw more things than I was able to do with him. That comes to the fore quite quickly.
Those are the main things.
Nrama: Finally, probably the most mysterious character is still Miss America, and she’s just revealed this power that no one else knew she had – is that something you’ll be exploring in the next arc?
Gillen: Miss America keeps her sh** tight. People should be able to start putting… Yes, that is in there. But it’ll be awhile before I tell people up front. You’ll see it in stages. She starts smiling slightly more now. You’ll see stuff in how she responds. With her, she is the mystery – with Loki the mystery is what he’s actually up to, with Miss America, as Kate put it, it’s “who the hell are you?”
The mystery is important to her, but seeing how she acts and what gets a response is what I want people to get out of her.
The implication was there, you met her in an alternate dimension in the beginning of the Point One story, so she had to be able to do that somehow. And this was the big reveal with the magical glowing stars. I know exactly what’s going on with Miss America, the question is how much I choose to show people!