I’ve spent the last
month or so quarter of a year thinking a lot about what I’m going to write in my last thing about Young Avengers. I had thought I was done, mostly in the sense that although the series had more to go, I’d got so behind in writing about it and was tired and busy and things kept happening but well. Hello. This …thing. Mogolith. Whatever. Has ballooned to more than 35,000 words at one point, been stripped back down to slightly under 5,000 and encountered every state in between. It’s not definitive but I think it’s what I want to say.
Saying I’ve been thinking about it that long makes it sound like this is going to have structure and depth and insight, like Tom’s brilliant piece. I spent ages thinking about songs and themes and I thought I was keeping some rough notes about it all in my work notebook (since these things tend to come to you in flashes of brilliance during a Tuesday afternoon meeting) so that I could pull it all together when I finally bought a new computer and had a chance to write.
I looked up said notes when I started writing this, in what feels like so long ago it must have been the paleolithic era. They were a bulletpoint that said “only feels.” Well, ok.
This isn’t quite a FreakyTrigger piece. I should probably put it on my Tumblr. I kept thinking I needed to write something that wasn’t personal, to detach it but I can’t and I don’t even want to now. Tom said the proper stuff, my original remit was gross sobbing and if it’s maybe more ‘sniffly, tearful, hopeful smiling’ then that’s cus a year and a bit has gone by.
I loved Young Avengers. Some people seem to have hated it but this isn’t for them. This is thousands and thousands of words that aren’t always dead-focussed on dissecting the comic (because this isn’t Silent Witness and it’s not a review) but if you wanted meta, well that’s all you had to say.
Roughly this time last year four of FreakyTrigger’s finest and/or keenest to sample alcoholic beverages on a Wednesday evening trundled our separate ways across London to Clerkenwell, to go to the Young Avengers launch party. I had written exactly two things about comics at the time; one about Journey Into Mystery, the other a wildly inaccurate summary of the back story of the Young Avengers. I felt like a fraud. I was feeling particularly useless and down on myself and angry that day because I had suddenly acquired a new manager, who was in a role I’d been doing for awhile and the step down burnt but I thought ‘well, I am going to a comics launch, look who is cool and important now, eh?’
Nervously I pottered into the Craft Beer Co (which is a ridiculous and intimidating bar that has somehow managed to be the scene of multiple change points in my life) and got the Thor-a-like barman to serve me a pint of something that I was fairly convinced might not kill me. Then went upstairs and sat very nervously trying to work out Who Everyone Was and What Important Comics Thing They Did and When They Would Work Out I Was Not A Real Journalist And Throw Me Out.
Six hours or so later as we all attempted to find tube stations, I realised, through hazy memories of saying deeply unfortunate things to everyone, that I seemed to have gotten away with that one. Phew.
ALL I WANT TO GET IS A LITTLE BIT CLOSER
When Kieron and Jamie and Matt last worked together, it got them their name; Team Phonogram. Actually that might not have been the last time they worked together before this but let’s not pick bones. They are Team Phonogram.
Phonogram is a book about heavy drinking, heavy smoking people you know in clubs you have been to. If you are a certain sort of Brit, anyway but I hear it translates- to parties, if not clubs, maybe or perhaps it simply is that universal. Phonogram is about people you know and people you are. Responses to it are hugely personal, intimate, horrifiedly so- people are alarmed to discover themselves laid bare on the page, terrible secrets unearthed. Phonogram is about magic and music and the equals sign between the two- the definition point, yourself as the foil of the earphone speaker. It is the moment in a pop song where you and the hundreds of thousands of other people who buy it recognise something horrible and true about themselves, something personal and agonising and energising.
Young Avengers is different, although not estranged- a cousin, perhaps but certainly no kind of junior edition. There had to be a sense of universality, a feeling of a particular age and particular sensations, a sense of scared fearlessness, of teetering around yourself and growing into power you’re suddenly not at all sure you want. Pop music is about romance, though, especially when it’s magic.
I don’t necessarily mean the sort of romance that involves kissing, I mean that we make music, weave melodies and dancefloors and the universal moments that we have between the two, out of a sense of romance. Your magic moment with music is, terrified and exposed and sharp though it might be, a moment of staggering romanticism.
Being a teenager or a young person is not romantic. Now more than ever and now more than ever is it hopelessly romanticised- you can’t have a furious, riotous meltdown without thousands of older people gazing at dramatic photos of young people illuminated by flames and thinking of what it is to be young. Which is, of course, absolutely nothing to do with what it is to be young- to be young is to be desperate and furious, scared and incomprehensible, with that incomprehensible one as the primary one.
Cus everyone’s been young once or more, varying amounts of time ago. And that time, those moments and decisions and the lasting images have become important to us- we use them as reference points, as memories, as the things that (along with lots of cement and bandages and other poultices of adulthood) make up that things-happening-vulnerable nucleus of ourselves. And they get their own meanings because the definition of being old is having worked out your own narrative.
Being young is all about people trying to thrust you into narratives- any of the 9,000 articles published in any given week examining what it means that ~millenials~ take pictures with the smartphones in their hands rather than paying anyone for a photoshoot. And being young is all about the furious, urgent need to get a hold of those narratives, to demand that adults see the struggles you’re facing, the fights you’re conquering that they can’t understand. The things they’ll always write off as the growing pains, as the little hiccups of life, that you carefully, tenderly shield them from at the same time as the things threaten to destroy you.
Being young is all about having to, at some point, get a grip on those things so hard you don’t need an adult to narrate them, acknowledge them for you because you are that adult, it’s about reaching to an endpoint and then discovering that there wasn’t a finish line when you’d be awarded grown up. It’s about discovering the teenage wasteland leads to an additional wasteland, like the world’s most annoying Pokemon game and you never seem to successfully run away from any of the fights.
But how to actually get that into a narrative? How to write young people and it not suck? Every conversation I’ve ever had with Kieron about it was “not legacy.” No nostalgia, unless it’s fashionably incomprehensible enthusiasm for vintage. Young people reappropriate things but they don’t revere the past, not after it’s hurt them. Not after the adults have proved again and again that they’re toxic. Each year a new and most likely horrible one. And the young element is at the tossed edges of that, the careening moments of survival and those times when you have to be wise, when you have to be understanding, when you have to punch tanks at the moon and the difference between the three.
Young Avengers did it for me. It got it right. This is why I think it did.
EACH OF US NEEDS AND EACH OF US THEREFORE OWES
When you are young, indeed, when you are old but as with all these things, especially when you are young, you have that one friend for whom things seem to always work out. They’re a reckless fool, they ruin other people’s lives and yet they somehow seem to bounce back. They seem to get away with everything, somehow- not well, maybe but they survive it in ways that you know you wouldn’t.
I was hanging out with my friend Sophie a few months ago and we got onto discussing our certainty that some fears of ours aren’t totally irrational- statistically unlikely, sure. But I kind of know that if there is any way on earth anyone is going to get trapped in a gondola cable car, travelling for miles at great height while the hook detaches itself from the cable, with two enormous spider crabs, it will be me. Sometimes you just know you are not that person who’s going to get away with the chance, however miniscule.
And yet there are lots of things I most certainly do get away with. I am adept at being charmingly, winsomely monstrous and I’m sure someone, somewhere is wondering how I manage to dance this line without everything collapsing in on itself. Because we’ve all got that thing we can get away with and frankly if yours was ‘teenage hijinks’ then I feel bad for you, son (got 99 problems but actually my ongoing struggle to behave like some approximation of society’s expectations of an adult is really a pretty big one).
But being able to get away with some things is not quite the all-consuming, occasional, rockstar-like ability to seem briefly untouchable. And it is brief, always- nothing can survive like that forever. Because ‘getting away with it’ isn’t sustainable- eventually either something you were blagging, achieving by chance becomes a skill (if say, you initially had a lot of luck getting away with ‘running away from lions’) or it gets you. ‘Getting away with it’ isn’t just seat-of-your-pants, it’s bargaining off the seat of your pants in exchange for a charming tutu and hoping you won’t need any more pants-seating in the near future. Getting away from it is luck and chaos and no hugs or learning- you don’t get away with something and gain some important knowledge about how to do so again because probably, if you had to get away with it in the first place, the key point to not having to do that again would be not to do the thing you had to get away with in the end.
No, getting away with things is totally different to the strange barrage of the universe. And getting away with it, when it’s happening, has an inevitability to it. Like watching a cat walking around the edge of a bath, you know that not only is the doom assured but that it will be of your own construction, somehow. You know someone’s parents are going to get called, that it’s going to all end in tears.
It’s the rollicking bits of Breaking Bad, it’s the tiger you know they’re never going to pull off the dismount from. But while your stupid, reckless friend is doing this balancing act, they are simultaneously the worst person you have ever known and the single most exciting, alluring person you have ever known. You constantly throw things at them saying ‘NO, we can’t do THAT god your ideas are awful’ and then somehow it happens anyway. They’re thrilling and they’re terrible and you know damned well that this is going to somehow, some way, end up in a cable car with two giant crabs. Or fire. Whichever you fear more.
But the thing is, that person can be one of the most important people you ever meet. They’re also a shitty person, don’t get me wrong- they’re a shitty person and they might even get you killed. They are pure bad news and if you are unlucky enough to encounter one, they might be the making of you- even worse, they might be the friend you still know ten years later. Mine was. We all have a Loki, is what I’m saying. Use them wisely.
And treat them carefully- for you but also your Loki- they’re so on fire because they’re burning and not only will they scar you, if you stoke the flames they’ll consume themselves. And as awful as your Loki is, as much as they’ll fuck you up and you won’t speak to them for years, you’ll care about them and not want to see them immolated. Not all the time, anyway.
You’re not stupid for getting yourself a Loki any more than they’re smart for being one (although they’ll look it and they’ll tell you so) but the process of getting away from them is the bit that’s important. And you not only don’t have to but can’t help them escape themselves.
FOOD AND SAD FEELINGS
Someone asked me what Young Avengers was about on Tumblr a few weeks ago. I still haven’t answered it (sorry!) because I’m still thinking about how to put it. Partly cus it’s such an open invitation for me to bang on about feelings for a few thousand words and partly because I don’t know how to put it into words.
I’ve felt this run very deeply. It came at a good time, I guess- mid-twenties questioning of whether (now I’d got over the survival horror run of the first half of the decade) I wanted to do what I was doing for the rest of my life. Whether I’d accidentally built a totally different and more grown up form of survival horror that would be a lot more in my own head and a lot harder to escape.
This run’s been about trying and failing and sort of succeeding at something else at the same time. About making huge, towering schemes and self-sabotaging them, about finding yourself in a baffling and confusing mess and using every tool at your disposal to dig yourselves out. About split-second errors that threaten to collapse… well, reality at their endpoint but certainly everything you know. About influences and legacies and forcing out your own hard-fought-for, garbage-compacted space between the two. And other such grand themes.
One of the new, brilliant friends I made because of Young Avengers is Charlotte Geater. We met up one afternoon in a park in Bethnal Green and ate sausage rolls in the rain, while expressing emotions about Billy Kaplan and incapable adults and now she is one of my best friends who I feel able to steal phrasing off for the title of this section. We hang out. In a diner, a couple of months ago, even. Cus it’s not uncommon to find yourself lost and young-feeling again long after you think you’ve processed most of the stuff, especially if you read comics.
(We’re running a convention, which is pretty much the fan equivalent of announcing yr nuptials <3)
These things have a frontloaded commonality at the point of being young, as I said. You're more likely to be moving from exam-hall to dropout to life choice to dead end to retake and all of it being constantly forced on you as Your Whole Future And Hopes And Dreams At its heart, it's raw and vital and oxygenated core, Young Avengers has been about the beats where the world isn't exploding.
Sitting around with your friends and your frenemies and your food and your sad feelings is a huge part of… well, ok, look, this is so incredibly not unique to being young, I'm afraid. But it's something that the demographic tendencies of youth give you more opportunity for- if you're feeling like you're at a dead end, with gaps of downtime (be it from studies or shift work) you can't really seem to use for anything, you’re more likely to end up hanging out with friends in similar states. Not the panicked after-work 8pm dash towards the nearest purveyor of alcoholic beverages to insist they fire Jagermeister directly into your face until you stop feeling things or the way that time just gets consumed by the boring admin of adulthood, I’m talking about when you don’t really have anything better to do. Or rather, can’t do any of it for one reason or another. So. Hanging out.
Hanging out is not the same as meeting up with your mates. It’s a deeply intimate thing, which is partly why it tends to go with times when intimacy can be more casual; company by default but fondly. You eat because you’re eating, draw it out because you don’t have anywhere better to go after the diner or cafe or Wetherspoon’s or whatever your local equivalent.
Hanging out is not the fizzy, white-hot edge that you get sometimes, the thing that makes your friends feel electric, a searing energy boiling around you as your individual make ups alchemically combine in something raw and creative and scary. Hanging out is a mutual understanding just as essential but more static. You all have all these sad feelings and the hangout is a safe enough space to never bring them up. You don’t have to. No one’s hanging out in this type of joint, in this sort of way because they’re just contentedly enjoying each other’s company.
Food is the survivalist’s comfort. It’s the last resort- whether because you’ve screwed yourself around so damned much that you’re having to use strawberry jam to perform basic magic or because you don’t have any other luxuries. If you’re living by the seat of your pants, food is one of the few things you can give yourself that makes you feel better. In Issue #8, when they’re unable to sleep for nightmares of rabbits, chasing through mayfly dimensions at unrelenting pace, the good day is Korean Barbecue Day. The food day, the respite and civility and normality and family and familiarity of sitting at a table and eating.
Only even then, you’ll reach a point where you’ve got to leave the sanctuary. Cus the thing about hanging out is that you create a brief rest point. You can’t hang out in a danger zone, you’re in some shallow indent away from it all, somewhere just safe enough to slow your stress-riddled heartbeat down from the cardiac arrest point, to give yourself enough space to shovel noodles into your face and enough proximity to not need to wonder where anyone is. Enough time to catch your breath, lose the anger, refuel and… feel sad. Because everything is fucked up and you have no idea how to sort it out and you can’t you can’t and just need this, this thing, this moment of calm where you could be planning or researching or frantically searching- you need this to just be about pancakes or you are going to lose your shit entirely.
And to show that, to show the (however insufficient, however much like putting band-aids over a huge gaping incursion into reality by a monster that is going to consume everything) self-care, the quiet spots, the sitting in your room on your computer and nervously refreshing instant messenger; this was a brilliant thing. Comics do do this, undeniably but not always so explicitly in the midst of things. A shwarma-style scene at the conclusion, sure but the bits where someone just has to sit down and find a sandwich aren’t always done as panel-worthy, presumed between the pages.
Which leaves you wondering how they could ever cope? At least beard-growing is a recurring meme.
SPACE HIPSTERS VS WARPED REALITY
One night in August I was heading home from work, really excited about going to Edinburgh for the first time off I’d had since April; I was shattered, utterly cored out but feeling very optimistic about, amongst other things, the hilarious and brilliant time I’d have seeing comedy about comics and the Young Avengers panel. Some things from the cosmic barrage arrived, however, so that wasn’t what happened.
Reality is horrible. You can’t rewind. When extraordinary, horrendous things happen in the blink of an eye you can’t reset. You walk around for days with some vague and mostly suppressed but really quite earnest belief that someone will phone you and tell you this was all a horrible mistake and an administrative error and everything is going to work out fine. Everyone can go back to their lives, now.
Not being able to reset time, not being able to take back those few horrible seconds where everything falls apart, is a gross and difficult and brutal lesson you learn in the transition between mostly-child and mostly-young-adult. Whether it’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done in your life, something that will haunt you in sweaty 2am panics even decades later or the sort of earth-shattering stop moment of disaster you’ve ever failed to really imagine.
These are moments of disbelief, when something so incomprehensible occurs so quickly that your mind simply refuses the notion that it isn’t an error. Information has come through wrong, since there is no possible way that what’s being described is true. Nearly every mutant on earth can’t have been depowered, your friends can’t have just died in front of you, you can’t have just seen your parent burn alive, this is not really happening.
At some point in your life, whether it is when you are young or when you are much older, something will happen that will completely floor you. It will stop you dead and you will have no answer, at least at first, fish-mouthed and as unable to breathe. Being entirely honest, it probably won’t just be the one thing the one time, most likely an escalating and horrifying number of things, frankly, of which (terrifying though it always is) ‘being unemployed for a bit’ is such a tiny tip of the iceberg that I used to have a dedicated Livejournal icon for reporting it.
It’s a fact of existence that people you love will die, things you considered bedrock will fall apart, even actual bedrock will literally cave in like putty where your kitchen floor should be, you will be hurt and you will also hurt people, you will with the best intentions accidentally put others in harm’s way, you will sometimes find yourself cruel. And sometimes, especially when you’ve got a little agency, a little power, there will be things that you cannot stop and that fact will be a huge part of the trauma.
No spreadsheet, no qualification, no skill or sense or practice will stop these things because if they’re happening to you, they have negotiated their way through your life-to-that-point’s defenses, they are only arriving at that point because they have found the overload or the chinks in your armor, having already withstood so much else.
I’m not being doomy here; these things will happen because things just happen; they’re not character-building rites of passage or especially meaningful, which is what makes them all the worse. Like neutrons bombarding a nucleus, it’s virtually the physical laws of the universe that at some point you will be destabilised. Not because you are weak or because you’re bad but because it’s in the very fabric of what we’re made of to react to the barrage of our surroundings.
And when you know that you are destabilising, the klaxons sound. They call things traumatic for a reason- like an injury that impairs movement, is tender to touch or even get near, we call the wounds in someone’s psyche when these things come and frighteningly alter their very structure trauma. (Pitch for a forensics show that includes those injuries in their autopsies, while they’re making up science)
Because humans aren’t simple atomic nucleii (which frankly, are fucking complicated enough anyway) the meltdown and destabilisation is not a complete thing, it’s part of a functionally-infinite-in-the-sense-of-the-numbers-being-too-big-to-mean-very-much structure, half-lives of unstable elements being worked out next to an unprotected core. So you don’t necessarily go into full-blown heat-death-of-everything mode, you just end up with elements that are teetering, differently, all over you- bits that are reacting at different rates. The whole atomic metaphor is falling apart but that’s ok since it’s thematically what I am talking about.
One of the things I sincerely love about superhero comics is that they are able to show people traumatised. It is, as they say, the human element. The moment when the muscle-filled suits crumple to the floor, broken and sob -exhausted, lost and in need, is what’s often referenced for it.
Have you ever had post-traumatic stress disorder, though? I don’t mean that, in a ‘do you even lift?’ way, I hope you never have. If you have, you’ll know it isn’t in the moments when you crumple and cry- those are epic pain, transcendant and excruciating, discombobulating. They might start the trauma but the crumpling is a cathartic response, a moment of processing.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is in the creeping fears of what’s around you, the fear of losing control of anything further, losing anything more. And at the same time, judgement skews- whether into paranoia or a sort of manic aggression, fiercely adrenalised fear and guilt and shame and anger flow at full bore at the slightest pressure to twist the tap. Iron Man 3 did a fine, fine job of portraying it- Tony Stark, billionaire playboy who can build a personal tank out of scrap in a cave, falls through a portal in the wake of a nuclear bomb blast at the end of Avengers. He doesn’t crumple on the floor and howl, he quips. He gets up and eats a kebab.
And in Iron Man 3 he’s made like fifty suits or armor and he needs constant reassurance that the things that just happened are not happening anymore. Which a display screen can provide him. But what if they are happening, somewhere outside the suit? What if they are happening to people he cares about and it’s not because he cares about them, it’s not to get at him, it’s just because appalling and random things are happening? The Mandarin’s arbritrary strikes are terrifying to Tony, to the point where he has to bring it to himself just to rationalise it enough to fight. What if everything is really beginning to come out from under his control altogether? “Things happen and then they’re over.” But you didn’t say they could be, yet- wait.
PTSD takes a whole lot of different forms, since it happens differently in every person (for some reason people find this hard to believe, with mental illness or injury- ‘as though every physical hurt that falls into a category follows exactly the same pattern) and in particular the anxiety element can leave someone cored out and paralysed, utterly avoidant of the slightest risk of recreating the trauma or agitated and restless- urgently needing to recreate it, to re-do it but without the disaster, to recalculate everything and make it right this time.
Neither of those reactions is wrong; there isn’t a ‘wrong’ way to have a mental illness any more than there’s a wrong way to have a broken arm. And in the same way you might break your arm and also sprain your wrist, you don’t default neatly into one set of reactions or another. Life is messy and strange and chaotic and so are the things that have to live in it.
YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT
Largely because the average person has literally absolutely no conception of what they want. I don’t mean that in some sort of dictatorial ‘let me tell you what you want’ way but in the sense that if you had the power and agency to do absolutely anything you wanted but you could only grant things to yourself most people would be dumbstruck. I don’t know man, I don’t know what I want.
I mean, I want a place to live and enough food to eat and maybe not to have to go to work. But then what would I do if I didn’t have to go work? Sit at home writing thousands and thousands of words about comics? Drink wine at 8am? Maybe I should stay at work. Maybe I should retrain as a clinical psychologist but I don’t even know what I want so now I’m having a crisis of confidence so severe that I couldn’t possibly embark on attempting a career where I tried to help other people. A black hole of panic is already opening at the back of my mind and I’m not even trying to do this as a thought experiment.
‘What do you want’ is a central question to this run of Young Avengers- if you could freeze everything, how would you freeze it, where is your bliss point? None of the places, so far. You might never find out where your utopia is and it certainly might not be anyone else’s, which is the central point of disillusionment with the concept. You might come from another dimension, a place of transcendental enlightenment and it just… doesn’t do it for you. You might, against all advice and sense and safety, throw yourself through a closing portal through which you could never return, to go and kick the arse of another world you’d never seen.
The three new members of the team (discounting Loki as a full team player) come from utopias. Actually, I guess Loki does too, if you squint a bit at Asgardia. But whether it’s an island built out of a sunken satellite for the last stand of your race, a secure world of princesses or a dimension of universal enlightenment they all came from someone else’s idea of the best place for them to be. And the thing about utopia is that it’s Someone Else’s Narrative- a lovely one, one you might well find yourself content to be part of forever or you might discover is a prison. And you might find what’s outside is, too.
One of the most important scenes, the darkest scenes of Young Avengers, happens in the DJ booth at the after party. Marvel Boy, appropriately shirtless. Sorry. I don’t mean appropriately shirtless. I mean appreciably shirtless. Anyway, he’s shirtless and he’s DJing, like the hot interdimensional alien he is and he’s being all wistful and mopey because he totally screwed everything up with the girl he liked. Because someone who lives so hard in the moment is going to kiss her at midnight instead. Because another alien, a squat little parasitic, carnivorous creature from a race polar opposite to the beautiful, gene-enhanced, zen fascist Kree, is better than him at playing the songs that people want to hear. A computer programme, in fact, is better than him at giving people what they want, cus the computer programme can make sense of those desires.
Noh-Varr is all feelings and very little feeling. He’s not incapable of empathy (in fact, he shows it quite a lot, especially to Teddy) but he’s also playing only slightly more confused and alien than he is. Noh looks like a beautiful earth boy (sort of) but he’s a garbage eating, part-cockroach warrior capable of taking on the world on his own. He was on the diplomatic mission that burnt his fellow crew up in epiphanic fire because he’s a stone cold badass and he’s been shown to have technological capabilities way in excess of potentially even the Kree in the 616 dimension. His alternate universe selves took over hundreds of earths, he could fight most of the battles the Young Avengers get into solo, in just his underwear, without breaking a sweat. (Wait, hang on, I’ve just suddenly developed an editorial problem with the way this series went.)
But he’s fearsomely afraid of being alone. That doesn’t make it ok to be a rubbish space boyfriend and kiss all the girls but that’s one of the bad solutions he’s hit on. Bad solutions are one of the many potential outcomes when you do things for fear-based reasons and they’re also the part of what we might try to romanticise as ‘youthful error’ that most continues into later life. Much later life.
Noh-Varr doesn’t know what he wants- for things to feel more in control, to have goals- if he’s not making earth the capital of a new Kree empire, what is he doing? He can’t even take over the dancefloor. And ‘What the fuck are you doing with your life?’ is the question that feels like the making of you, the one that’s posed directly at young people as though they’re going to pull the answer out of their ass with a gantt chart attached (and it has to be the right thing, of course) and it’s also the interrogation least likely to get an answer. It’s the one you pose yourself when you know that you don’t know and you want to judge yourself about it.
Noh, you’re never going to find out what you want, what you really, really want, so it’s important to be polite with ladies along the way. (Call me maybe)
OUR FOLKLORE HAS FOLKLORE
The Young Avengers fandom is strong. And riotous. It’s the most fandom-y comics fandom I’ve come across, in the sense of being more in line with Harry Potter than …uh, ok, the thing about comic fandoms are that they tend to be about comics in a wider sense, rather than a specific series, so you get Marvel fandom and DC fandom but some mega-giant titles aside (like Sandman or whatever) you don’t really get the focus.
Young Avengers is pretty focussed. And I’m not going to lie, there have been a lot of times this year when I’ve thought daggers through the Tumblr tag and gritted my teeth at general wrongheadedness. But then there have also been the amazing young women and men and non-binary people I’ve met dressed up as the characters, the amazing –cough- slightly older men and women and non-binary people I’ve stayed up shouting about Noh’s butt on the internet with, the friends I’ve made and the people I’ve obsessively liked every post by on Tumblr. You guys are the fucking best.
And one of the vainly amazing things has been that loads of people have taken my thousands of words of pretentious bullshit seriously, got things out of it and made their own things out of it. Holy hell. One of those people is Jim Hepplewhite, who is a gent you should follow on Twitter.
Jim took my post about Young Avengers as a punk band and extrapolated it to a five-song mix for the comic, here at his blog. It’s a flurry of passionate, casual anger and sarcasm and desire and it’s something I could never have had the specific punk knowledge to make but which makes me enormously happy. It’s got the breathless relentlessness of the comic and the emotions map directly back to flying through space just trying to learn how to un-fuck each other, maybe with fucking.
And the other thing you should do, must do, somehow and in some way, is get yourself to a con. I don’t care how old you are, you need to get yourself to a con. You need to dress up as your preferred Young Avenger. You need to panickedly sew your own leg to your costume and generally feel self-conscious and you need to arrive and immediately start running around finding other Young Avengers cosplayers and preferably some self-conscious creators and do this:
Because it will make you feel so happy you won’t know what to do with yourself. Promise.
(Thank you SO MUCH to Niamh, who was an INCREDIBLE Kate, sadly not in this shot and who was awesome enough not only to take this photo but let me use it)
(Please let me know if you’re in this picture! I’m afraid I don’t know who the Speed and Hulkling are- Wiccan is Lauri McAlister, I am on the far right as Noh-Varr, next to me is Abigail Brady as Kate and the chap cosplaying David Kohl in the centre is Kieron Gillen)
FEAR KISSES, EMBRACE TERROR
Kissing is a terrifying sport. It’s up there with blind skiing- only ever a hair’s breadth away from disaster and you have to put a lot of trust in someone else to do it. Which is why it creates cosmic horror monsters and also cures them.
Smooch your demons.
WEAK BECOME DEMIURGE
Those things I talked about at the start of this? The barrage, the atomic assault of micro-and-macro events that will push and tug at your core again and again? Fusions and fissions that endanger the integrity of a self.
If I was Professor Brian Cox, I could get away with smiling sincerely at you and saying that the comforting thing, the amazing thing is that in all of this- those things will happen, you will fall apart, you will reach meltdown and grow cold and explode and it’s because like everything in all of existence, you are made of stars.
Unfortunately I am not Professor Brian Cox, so you’ll just have to assume I was very, very drunk and gazing forcefully at you while gripping your face as I said that, merlot-stained mouth and some of my face-glitter transferring to yours, so that you can take me seriously about it.
And here’s where Young Avengers joins with Phonogram because you will get your moment, many moments, when you’ll get that transcendental thing. You could be in a club or on a bus or having an orgasm or finishing a marathon or clutching someone at 3am while they sob or punching people in the face or some extremely amazing combination of all of that but you will have times in your life when you are greater than yourself. Just as you will have times of utter helplessness, you will have moments when you discover things in yourself that you could never have said with any certainty were there. You will get up and do things that you did not know you had the strength for, you will speak up when you thought your voice would strangle and you will have such strong emotions about pop music you will think your ribcage will burst.
Reading the final issue of Young Avengers volume 2, I felt like my chest was suddenly filling with some glowing thing- a Chinese lantern of something pink and orange and beautiful. All the synaesthetic, crystalline colours conjured by Tegan and Sara’s Heartthrob album swelling and bursting in glorious technicolour alchemy. Not the pounding-heart butterflies of a crush but an enormous sense of wellbeing, wonder and joy and overwhelming affection for everyone involved. It wasn’t falling in love with the comic, it was being in love with the comic.
And that’s the key thing with Billy and Teddy’s love; they don’t fall, they are. And being is fragile and chaotic, like I said but it’s also glorious and extraordinary and full of glowing multiverses and bigger than anyone can ever really comprehend.
AND IF YOU WANNA BANG HEADS WITH ME
Miss America is so important. I was at London Super Comic Con this weekend and saw more Americas than anyone else. Hell, I sort of was one. Not very well, since my main qualification for it was ‘conveniently already having eyebrows redesigned by McKelvie’ and I am wholly too unsavoury to pass for any kind of butt-kicker on the side of good but I really, really want to be her and I’m not the only one.
America and her popularity do something to start filling the gaping void of superheroes that aren’t white, male or straight. And that’s important, that would be enough to ask of a character.
But America is more than that. America is the superhero I’d most want at the helm of my fantasy international response unit to protect teenage girls*.
America is a very thorough character, so full of things I love that it’s hard to pick them out enough to be coherent. She’s able to throw tanks at the moon and fly past the speed of sound, across galaxies; that’s awesome, obviously, it goes without saying. But she’s also pretty embarrassed and apologetic about being banned from a Korean barbecue restaurant for causing chaos. And she might not do hugs but she’s got your back, always. She’ll tear across space-time to kick a Norse god on your roof, she’ll be mostly civil to you the rest of the time. She’ll roll her eyes at your kissing and cry with emotion about your love. America will never, ever let you down –she’s not bound by codes of honour for it, she’s just down for good. America walks around like she’s going to punch someone (and indeed, probably follows through on the threat) because she has to, because she might be nearly indestructible but this is how she survives. America is every Little Mix song ever.
America Chavez is the brave, self-sacrificing, beautiful, iconic, funny character that teenage girls deserve. I am so happy that they have her. <3
THE BLOOD IN YOUR HEAD, YOUR FEET ON THE GROUND
Potentially the most interesting, most damaged member of the volume 2 roster is… well no, hang on. They’ve nearly all been imprisoned and tortured and mind controlled and seen people they love die or turn into supervillains. It’s not a fucking competition. But ok; let me talk to you about Prodigy.
David saw his classmates get blown up by anti-mutant terrorists. Senselessly, cruelly- they weren’t even mutants anymore. They’d already been decimated- in a group of outcasts, at a school for those who were in urgent need of somewhere to go, they were already further thrown out by the cruel twist of M-Day taking their powers. They were just kids and that was one of their biggest problems, having already gone through all the pain of being rejected, excluded and threatened as mutants they weren’t even allowed to make that pay off.
And David Alleyne is a young man with a right to be angry, as a consequence. Especially since the destruction of the X-Men’s island home, Utopia, has forced him out into a world that hates, fears and underemploys him.
And if love is the real magic (and it is) then David hasn’t gotten a lot of it. He’s been around it enough that he gets it, as a memory- like a remembered magic word without power behind it. He’s not got Noh’s fear of being alone but solitude doesn’t make him happy. Exclusion doesn’t make him happy, it’s just a thing he’s become accustomed to, adopting the hedgehog position of never exposing himself again. Which is why he kisses someone when he thinks he’s about to die, since the hurt isn’t going to last, might even sweeten the mortality deal.
Young Avengers has been about becoming what you always were, not through magical special destiny but through your own, determined choice. Magical special destiny is rejected as a concept- yes, some idiot goof boy is going to one day rewrite the laws of magic (or maybe not) but that doesn’t mean anyone has to accept a fate. Yes, you’re going to somehow make a cosmic horror monster, yes, you’re going to chase a friend across worlds, yes, Norse gods will hit on you. But it doesn’t have to mean anything you don’t choose yourself.
David’s narrative was the one that was most closed-off. He’d lost his human life, lost his mutant life with his powers, lost his team, lost the costume. He was dropping off the edge of things, not because he wanted to but because he’d been dealt a hand that made him life’s odd sock. And not just forgotten but because of who he was, because of who he’d been, having to keep total control at all times because being a former mutant on the edge of society is to be in constant and extremely real danger. Just existing is a tightrope balancing act that takes all your energy.
But some of that barrage arrived, at great speed and a cosmic horror monster told him not having powers was no barrier to being a Young Avenger. And David saw some things he could actually work up enough excitement over to want- friends, love, hot make out time, pancakes- all the trappings of the modern Young Avenger. Something bigger than a dead-end, albeit it might turn out that the road ahead was made of nightmares.
David as a dimension-hopping, sarcasm-dripping, phonebook-owning, knowledge-packing superhero is so important. Where the other Young Avengers are tearing away from things (dimensions, parents, their own disturbing past), David is suddenly finding the desire to grip, to grab onto things and refuse to let them go. Where the others are becoming limited (by interdimensional monsters, both literal and those very insidious ones in one’s own head) David is expanding, increasing.
David’s an undervalued genius. He’s got a brain the size of a planet, which no adult is going to congratulate him on. He’s got knowledge beyond knowledge of stuff he can’t use, definitely can’t pass an exam in. He’s got no achievements ahead of him (a little like Noh, in that respect) and if he’s going to be isolated for the rest of his life, does it even matter? David’s going through motions out of a sense of unhappy politeness when we first see him- and at the end, he saves the world.
If you were bullied in high school, you may have found that when you got to work or university, you suddenly found your feet. You fucked up a lot, no doubt and there will be moments that at the time and even with long retrospect make you want to crawl into a hole and just die. But you’ll be making yourself, not just passively becoming and that’s why Prodigy matters- a name so apt, for a character who showed such promise as a child and has to grow their own values to follow through as an adult.
(Will someone PLEASE cosplay him. PLEASE.)
When I went to the Young Avengers launch, I had written two articles about comics. I had never cosplayed as a comics character, I hadn’t been to a con for over a decade, I’d only read a couple of series.
One very heavily hammered Comixology account and eighteen months later and I’m running a convention in August. This comic, this stupid, beautiful, thrilling comic has been my adolescence through the medium and I can’t think of any better way of doing it. SMOOOOOOOCH!
(All pictures are copyright Marvel and were made gorgeous by, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, Kate Brown, Becky Cloonan, Joe Quinonones and Maris Wicks, with some words by Kieron)