May 13

How to be Awesome, by Diplomatic Ensign Noh-Varr age 23 1/3 (possibly)

The Brown Wedge/8 comments • 1,978 views

prv16181_pg2When the previews for Young Avengers #4 came out, there was quite a lot of hand-wringing from the Tumblr zone about Noh-Varr’s line in this panel.

I guess there was probably a lot of hand-wringing about his butt. But I probably glazed over during anything that followed the phrase ‘Noh-Varr’s butt.’ Just to get this out of the way: Jamie McKelvie is doing an extremely fine job of supplying some slightly-older-than-young-and-thus-ok-for-your-correspondent-to-goggle-at totty, here. Who knew the whole part-cockroach thing was attractive?

The question that appears to be being raised by the young people is: is Young Avengers cool enough? And indeed, if it is cool enough, is it also geeky enough? Are Billy and Teddy’s hairstyles preventing them being colossal dorks?

I don’t even want to get into the last question of that (although no, no of course they are not; they’re just vaguely dealing with being super greasy teenage boys for goodness’ sakes) but whether Young Avengers is too cool is a good question.

Y’see, Noh-Varr looks pretty cool. He’s a silver-haired alien boy for ladies in their twenties to mentally high-five Kate Bishop over. He’s got a spaceship and nega-bands and he’s been in the grown up Avengers and he’s totally done it, probably several times.

This sort of thing was not a feature of the previous Young Avengers series. They were 14/15/16 and at best confusedly enthusiastic and pubescently angry about things; even Hawkeye’s extreme levels of competence and Young Vision/Jonas’ 30th Century brain couldn’t always get them out of scrapes and they were never that far away from a fatherly intervention from Captain America.

But a lot of stuff has happened since then. And they’re older and not necessarily wiser but definitely warier. Less willing to contact a grown up, more feeling they themselves are the grown ups and having seen the extreme fallibility of people they thought of as heroes, understanding that they can’t rely on anything else.

Not that they haven’t tried- the very start of the Mother arc saw Billy and Teddy trying to -I’m sorry, I’ve just realised their names are Bill and Ted, good grief- trying to contact the Uncanny Avengers and realising that the parasite had infected everyone who could help, forcing them to stand on their own and make whatever good or bad calls they were going to- something that, when it comes to Billy’s powers, scares both of them.

Back to Noh-Varr. Ha, back. He has -oh, nevermind. Noh-Varr isn’t going to phone his mum. In fact, as it transpires in this issue, he can’t phone his mum anymore than America or Kate could. But he wouldn’t anyway- it would be enormously embarassing, for a Kree warrior and besides, he’s out past his bedtime, in an area of the galaxy he’s been specifically told to stop horsing around and shagging earth girls in.*

But is Noh-Varr actually cool, just because he’s breaking his curfew? Or is he, well, totally chancing it? He seems more grown up, because he’s got his own space ship but he’s a Kree warrior for goodness’ sake, that’s like having a bicycle and even Billy’s got one of them. And more damningly than that, he’s wildly out of his depth- he doesn’t know who Skrillex is, he wouldn’t be able to order a Subway without getting confused, he wouldn’t see the purpose of skinny jeans. (‘These clothes are skintight and yet they restrict movement, are they for recuperative purposes? I have no injuries.’)

This is all well and good if you’re Hawkeye, whose affection for anything that isn’t etiquette is well documented and who could hardly have resisted someone with no concept of it but if you’re a silver-haired alien boy trying to make his way on Earth, these things could all be problems. But Noh-Varr? Is, as Tom said in his piece on issue #1, a real true Earth fanboy. He doesn’t care about the relative actual coolness of something as per the Earth’s culture currency, he cares about whether it is aesthetically intoxicating to him.

So Noh-Varr looks cool. Sure. But look at this massive dork! He’s got no idea what’s going on, he literally said “Come with me if you want to be awesome” because he is such a loser with regards to how to talk Earth. He just did an amazing sequence of backflip-DJ-hopping and he’s utterly ruined it with this dorky-ass line, saved solely by his dorky ass.

And in the previous issue, we have Loki. Loki, who is a grillion-year-old, interdimensional menace. Loki makes deals with the devil and wins. Loki sets fire to Asgard and gets away with it. Loki doesn’t have a bedtime. But look at this idiot! He’s suddenly surrounded by cool, sexy young people and he’s desperately trying to stop them punching his face in or totally ignoring him. These are people he’s actually finding it (not that hard but) a little bit difficult to manipulate, en masse. Individually, he can mess around with their emotions but when he’s trying to convince them he’s on their side, he’s not very good at it. And this is a guy who, while wearing Sif’s body, convinced the entire of Asgard to shack up with Dr Doom. No, he has to resort to admitting he watches Game of Thrones for the tits- the sort of thing the assassinated Kid Loki would have been much more competent at- and he’s a powerless geek getting bullied by his dad, in comparison.

To conclude; Noh-Varr and Loki are both aliens- come to that, Teddy is an alien but he took longer to realise this- and that seems pretty cool when you give them the ‘intergalactic, time travelling ensign’ and ‘god of mischief, terror of the nine realms’ titles. But this is high school, my friends; maybe even college and you aren’t an invader or a deity here, you’re a dude who dances to old records and some stunted kid who’s gone up a few classes.

Young Avengers is a comic about outsiders and against the immense, dorkish idiocy of this pair of green-and-black-and-gold sartorial enthusiasts, Kate and Billy and Teddy are suddenly looking a lot like the popular clique. Does this make them cool? Well, sort of, they are superheroes but would that mean they don’t get shit said about them behind the lockers? Absolutely not. They’re outsiders who’ve found little places and friendships and relationships that feel a little more inside, who’ve learnt to work within their own perameters of coolness but who are ultimately external to their demographic peers.

And that’s what growing up is about. It’s what surviving that disturbing lurch between 14 and 18 is about. It’s what growing into the beginnings of the person you’re going to be is about. Which is a theme it would be extremely hard to argue with for a comic about teenage superheroes.

NB: there has never been any question about whether Ms America is cool. Please stop hitting me, help.

Of course from my eight-years-on-from-all-this-eighteen-year-old-business perspective, this is continuing as an enormously cool series and one that consistently wrongfoots me. I’ve been around this hurr fiction block enough times that, usually, I can see where things are going- this drives my other half bananas when we’re watching something with a suspense-riddled plot and I cheerily announce whodunnit- but I literally cannot guess the twists at all here.

I’m fairly confident that they’re not all going to end up dead because if so, there are some very convincingly mocked-up solicitations for the rest of the series but beyond that I genuinely have no idea what is going to happen next and am only just about restraining myself from every spoiler-y preview whenever my dashboard goes into screaming-and-crying meltdown.

*Interesting/not interesting parallel; in the first issue, Noh-Varr tells Kate he’s been told not to hang around Earth anymore for everyone’s good around the same time Billy is freaking out at Teddy for hanging around superheroing for roughly the same reasons. Billy’s controlling Mother parasite does seem to, with its faux-concern, be a twisted and destructive parallel to the worries about these Young People out there Doing Things.


  1. 1
    omni-mog on 17 May 2013 #

    Anyone who wants to flag up the fact I have forgotten to write about this since err, issue #1 can err err err EAT NEGA THINGYS.

    Relatedly and because I’ve never worked this one out and when I asked on Twitter no one said anything: is Ultimate Nullifier Noh-Varr? Or an alternate universe Noh-Varr? Or nothing of the sort and they just look sort of similar and have a similarly ‘I’m totally cool wait whup, no I’m not especially not in comparison to Ms America’ schtick.

    (in my defense I don’t think ANYONE knows what went on in Vengeance except that it was all deeply, deeply cool) (the link is to a review by our dear friend Martin Skidmore, who was sadly terminally ill at the time and mentions it)

  2. 2
    Scott H on 17 May 2013 #

    Of course, the Kree who told Noh-varr not to hang around Earth aren’t *his* Kree and don’t really have the right to tell him a darn thing; and if it was Earthlings who suggested that, then he can totally pull out his, “Hey, I like your pop culture, but you guys did totally blow my spaceship up and kill all of the crew but me, you damn dirty apes” card.

  3. 3
    omni-mog on 17 May 2013 #

    Hm, I hadn’t thought about that- my entire context for his ban is his line in #1 and the fact he’s no longer the Protector. I have not read the bit of Dark Avengers he was in, which is probably a considerable oversight in this respect.

  4. 4
    Alex S on 17 May 2013 #

    This is an excellent piece. And concur re: both baffling qualities of Vengeance, and sadness of one of Martin’s last reviews having to deal with same. I like Joe Casey but bloody Hell, he can’t half be needlessly confusing sometimes.

    The whole thing about Loki convincing Asgard that Latveria Is So Bracing is, I think, inadmissible – on account of having been written by the extradimensional parasite that replaced JMS sometime after the cancellation of Crusade, and was also responsible (let us never forget) for Doctor Doom crying at Ground Zero.

  5. 5
    Andrew Farrell on 17 May 2013 #

    It’s not got anything to do with Dark Avengers tho – he’s not from this universe, none of the Kree we’re likely to see are his Kree (if I’m taking Scott right).

  6. 6
    Sabina on 18 May 2013 #

    Co-signing all this. Noh-Varr is basically the equivalent of a French exchange student in the US, I think — the fount of his dork is also the fount of his cool.

    Other thing: I’m glad Loki brought up Teddy’s worrisome perfect boyfriend-ness. This is the kind of place my mind tends to go to, I guess, but the point was always obvious enough to me that it felt like YA was actively dancing around it. To the extent that Loki’s use of it to manipulate came across as pretty ham-fisted, like OK you do realize no one mentions the possibility that Teddy is Billy’s absent-minded creation because there’s no way to either prove it or solve it, it’s just socially awkward to bring it up.

    TBH I’m sort of obsessed with this recurring theme of Magnetoclan — not recapitulating the mistakes you made with your kin / that your kin made OOPS TOO LATE. Billy is Liza to Wanda’s Judy. (It’s also why I’m confused rather than excited about Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver being confirmed for Avengers 2: where do you even go with these characters if you’re not allowed to tell their familial backstory?)

  7. 7
    Sabina on 18 May 2013 #

    Like, my favourite weeps-a-lot perfect characterization moment in Children’s Crusade was when Magneto immediately declared Tommy his favourite grandchild. Because *of course* the white-haired asshole Magneto genes mean that dude and his son cannot be in the same room together, but grandson? Instant bond.

  8. 8
    omni-mog on 20 May 2013 #

    #7 -oh god yes; Tommy is the character that feels most interesting to have ‘in the wild’ with the other X-Men/Avengers, so I was quite glad he didn’t immediately reappear on this team as I’d like to read the heart-clenchingly-painful adventures of Team White Haired Assholes where him, Quicksilver and Magneto are caused to horse around together for some reason on The World’s Most Awkward Road Trip.

    I didn’t know Wanda and Pietro were in Avengers 2. That is… well, they really need the context of the other characters, don’t they? I’m not sure how that could work.

    And yeah, I was also applauding Loki’s dick move, there- it’s probably just a dick move, at its root but it’s a fucking good one, on the scale of dickery and it cuts extremely close to the bone.

    (Also HOORAY they’re not ALL in couples/love triangles with each other anymore, which I found quite distractingly annoying in a ‘stop trying to tie it all off neatly’ way in the Children’s Crusade. Unless punching counts in Loki’s case, which I guess it might)

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