Dec 13

Young hearts run free

The Brown Wedge11 comments • 1,357 views


It’s the 13th issue of Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie’s run on Young Avengers tomorrow. Aside from a foreboding moment for triskaidekaphobic fans, it’s the start of the end of this season. A season I have miserably failed to live up to the initial commitment of writing about every issue of. For largely boring adult reasons like ‘needing to do the washing,’ ‘never seeming to get a minute to think,’ ‘being very stressed and tired’ and worst of all ‘not really being able to get away with writing at work.’ All of the responsibility and none of the capacity.

If I saw myself as a grown up, from the vantage point of some reality-trashing portal back to youth, I’d be thoroughly appalled. Where did all my conviction go? “No, shut up,” my older self would plead, “it’s incredibly complicated trying to remember to function like a normal human being” while my sullen, accusatory teenage self glared at me with all the anger and disappointment of discovering that ‘normal human being’ becomes the peak of her existential ambition.

This plea for normalcy is a common trait with adult superheroes- from Hawkguy’s scheme to one day have a nap, to the traumatised inward-curling of Peter Parker, to Jessica Jones’ attempt at shedding the spandex. After awhile, whether it’s literally having seven shades of shit smacked out of you by The Rhino or the more mundanely oppressive struggle to just get by day to day, you really lose the enthusiasm for taking a beating from life. And you don’t necessarily want to give it up forever but you’re just really. Fucking. Tired. And you’re not sure what’s actually going to cure the exhaustion anymore.

Sometimes, people make the erroneous assumption that this doesn’t happen to children. Even worse, they make the hilariously misguided claim that it doesn’t happen to young people. Maybe if it didn’t happen to you at that age, it’s possible to believe.

It’s a nonsense romanticisation- young lives, possibility imagined as some kind of soul-bow burst of destiny arcing true and precise, rather than the messy sort of tentacled, unknown form that every horrible choice takes at the time. As though youth makes choices simple, rather than placing the fate of your entire life on a moment of panic as you rack through ideas of answers. As though you don’t have a whole world ahead of you to screw up.

(“Oh, we were wondering when you’d start talking about Young Avengers” – This Isn’t Fucking Livejournal Ed)

Of course, most of us can just flunk our A-Levels and make some poor quality life choices in the Jagermeister dimension. We’re not the fucking demiurge. Or a few-thousand-year-old norse god. Or a disgraced Kree warrior. Or the person destined to unite two perpetually warring races, stopping millenia of bloodshed. Or able to smash through the frail barriers of reality. Or richer than Tony Stark.

All that power, in a body that’s still trying to work out how to walk in trendy shoes and won’t know for another five years that that style of jeans was a horrible idea. Every sweaty-palmed, just-listened-to-All-The-Things-That-I’ve-Done-by-The-Killers-57-times-in-a-row-and-this-shit-won’t-go-away, is-my-tongue-really-meant-to-go-there, shit-what-the-hell-did-I-do-that-for decision, which to a normal person (whether adult or child or teen) can feel like the heartstopping drop rollercoaster that might actually kill you this time. But magnified -no, engorged to nightmarish proportions. Not metaphorically nightmarish, actually the kind of world-bending-in-itself thing you feverishly cry out in your sleep about after drinking ouzo.

Sulking right back at my young self, through fiction’s convenient space/time rip, if she asked me why I’d done what I did with my life, I’d snarl something about at least having grasped the hot metal and made the choices. Young me wouldn’t know about that, yet. Young me was much keener on the idea of consequence-free manipulation, not calling the shots.

Of course, if you were a rotten little maggot of a fiendish, fresh-faced sometimes-villain then you might want to keep hold of that. If you fancied yourself as having outwitted even taxes and death, you might think you’d gotten away with it, too, maybe. If it wasn’t for these meddling kids. It’s worth remembering that the last time our plucky little Norse menace reached the end of a season, the one we’ve got now made sure that the cards tumbled to make the house win. Back when he was running the casino. And this looks like he’s setting up shop again but it’s hard to be croupier and a player.

If I’ve quite finished mixing my gambling metaphors, that’s what’s so great about Loki being in this group, of course. Loki uses the guiles of youth- the pluckiness, the risk, the romanticised excitement of the kind of frightening, uncertain character you find yourself drawn to when you’re not sure what to do. They always have a plan, you see.

When you’re getting past the sort of rudderless life stage where you carve mile-wide obscenities into the city planning of New York or suddenly lose your mutant powers and have to give up being in a youth terrorism wing or conduct secret missions to save reality for personal loss and danger or half your friends died and at least one other turned evil or you seriously took life advice from Clint Barton, the sort of glint-in-the-eye idiot who is clearly incredibly bad for everything but also definitely not the ordinary can be terribly appealing.

All that guile and sass- it seems, if he can continue to negotiate America not disembowelling him, he could get out of this without forcing them to, once again, take the pain. This is the truth at the heart of it, you see- when Loki started pulling together this little band, they were (not universally but at least somewhat) discouraged- they’d taken beatings bigger than anyone could be expected to and were riding solo, laying low, building up their vinyl collections and kissing boys, hiding in their room barely able to breathe for melancholy and equally suffocated by a desk telephone cord. The Young Avengers, at the very start of this series, were being kind of grown up.

It’s not the only sort of grown up, of course -hell, it’s not any kind of good grown up whatsoever but it’s the way a lot of us find ourselves, nervously passing time and waiting for the next cataclysmic event to fall. If it’s something that they can look back on this way, it makes a lot of people wish for their parents- for a time when there was an all-powerful being who could take some of this horrible consequence away. (Cod psychology says maybe your adoptive father being Odin is what leads to certain traits persisting)

And that’s Loki’s seductive power- the brilliance of the deceit that’s so attractive it can draw even him in, that he offers an idea that this could go without casualties. I don’t mean that any of them are going to die (apart from Kate, obviously- we know Pizza Dog eats her in the first panels) but that this is going to hurt. Even if the conclusion is only horrible truths, it would be soul-searingly agonising.

The team have had a taste of something else, though. They knew all about this agony before and there’s no question that some -America and David and of course, Teddy- haven’t entirely relaxed out of it but there was that little bit, in the middle of this arc, when it was all diners and waving your shirt round your head on a podium and fighting Skrulls that didn’t even turn out to have a galactic war brewing behind them. A moment out of normal rules, full of power and with no risk of the Kirby engines running low on teenage dreams.

Candi Staton’s invocation of youthful liberation is a command; young hearts, run free! Which is exactly the kind of stupid daydream shit that adults imagine younger people get up to. In reality of course, young hearts writhe in the unbearable agonies of unguarded emotional seas and hurl themselves at every potential anchor they touch fingers with. Adults invent things like a perfect, unimpeachable teenage relationship, a purity of desire and clarity of heart that no one’s ever really had without narcotic assistance.Screenshot_2013-12-03-22-27-29-1

Teenagers and young people have terrible expectations placed on them to mean something to us. They must be role models to those coming after and beacons of white-hot excitement for the fusty creatures who have been before. We want teenagers to be perfect embodiments of things- true, real ideas uncorrupted by the daily preoccupations of adulthood. We want them to be brilliant and messed up and glamourous and unselfconscious and we stare at them eagerly all the time, through a media glare, as though they’ll suddenly perform this trick. And we’ll write damning reviews on the cover of Time magazine if they don’t.

‘Youth’ is a really popular fandom. And fandoms are possessive. This issue will signal the start of the end of Young Avengers, maybe, for a little while. It’s come in and out of regular publication since its inception- it seems to suit it, flashing in an out as academic years, complete arcs and then back into one-shots or tie-ins for a little while. So you know they’re still there but perhaps the terrible gaze of the narrative lens is off the characters for a bit.

Thing is, fandom’s glaring, red-rimmed eyeballs never sleep. And fandom is waiting- hands greedily outstretched to have the characters returned to it. We all do it, there’s no point pretending; even when you’ve been forced to wait an enormously long time for something, the first thing you want to do is write an AU or a fix it or a thousand million words of meta about how it, err, means something about something. Uh. (“Great work!” -Self-awareness Ed)

This is a pivotal moment- for the characters, for the fandom. We don’t know what we’ll have to take back, squirrelling away sad corpses or banging out filthy slashfic? And we chitter anxiously around the characters- “no, I won’t LET them do this to [X]. I boycott this!” Because these characters and their lives and their interactions have to be important; that’s how fiction works, certainly fiction fandom and they have to be perfect and meaningful and this doesn’t really have to have a consequence. We can get out of this- we can fiddle with it through the thousand reality-bending magics of fandom, we can twist it and turn it and deny it and omit it and deceive and decry until we’ve put it back into stasis. Until the meaning is pre-determined.

And Loki is a brilliant metaphor for fandom; the mischief, the brilliance, the humour and the resilience, the wilful desire to see everything burn, the glee and the drama. But the other Young Avengers? Well, they’re not grillion-year-old entities whose lives are bound by myths. Not yet, anyway. And if we don’t wrap them up too tight, they might just escape before we eat their future.

Oh- shush. We know that there will be consequences tomorrow. Even Loki’s got some coming. We know that there will be the sort of flashpoint that we recognise from our less zeitgeist-y existences- the moments you remember with a quickening heartbeat and a hard swallow, realising the gravity of the decision you had to take all over again.

These aren’t the awful moments of adulthood, the mired-deep complications of teenagedom, they’re the moments that the electricity flows- the big change-points, the unforced choices and the scared surety of knowing that, although you can barely believe it, you’re going to do something really bold. Brave, even. The heroic times- the alchemical swell of adrenaline and horror and euphoria because some ethereal sixth sense is telling you that this is significant, you have to become what this is, face down how it’s come.

And maybe in our less dimension-hopping lives it’s like ‘oh, I picked that university’ or ‘I grabbed that person as they fell into the road’ or ‘I swallowed my own fear and supported someone when they needed it most’ or whatever our equivalent stepping-up-to-the-plate times are. I don’t know what’s happening in the issue tomorrow, obviously but there’ll probably be broken hearts both sides of the fourth wall, there’ll be smooching, they’ll be asses kicked. It will be horrible and passionate and everyone will cry, staggering blindly onwards towards a hopeful grab at a dancefloor. Metaphor.

The great thing about the Young Avengers is that they might not be a metaphor the way people who adulate youth might want them to be but they are young- the command to liberate, to cause whatever damage they must to see the night through.

Being told to run free is a horrifying command- don’t hold anything to steady you, stand without a safety rope and use your heart as a weapon while you still can. It’s not something they’ve done a lot of, truthfully, this season but being a superhero is amazing and probably really awful and it looks like it hurts a fuck of a lot and they’re going to do it anyway.

(Pictures are, obviously, from Young Avengers- issue 12, by Kieron and Jamie, with colours by Matt Willson yes I have finally learnt how to attribute this right on the last time I’m probably going to do it, well done me indeed)


  1. 1
    @piratemoggy on 4 Dec 2013 #

    Anyway, here you go, probably the last of my irregular things about Young Avengers- Young Hearts, Run Free: http://t.co/6ouvF3b8qY

  2. 2
    Andrew Farrell on 4 Dec 2013 #

    …except that it’s not the end of the season tomorrow? There’s still 14 before the after party.

  3. 3
    Hazel on 4 Dec 2013 #

    Wait, hang on- I thought #14 and #15 were the after party?

    Altho yes, sorry, that should have said ‘start of the end’ -it’s the last of the main arc, ostensibly although given who the creative team is, it would obviously be very foolish indeed to disregard the party as fluff.

  4. 4

    Young hearts run free: It’s the 13th issue of Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie’s run on Young Avengers tomorrow…. http://t.co/EgNxBhd6Ew

  5. 5
    Andrew Farrell on 4 Dec 2013 #

    No fair point, they are having a double-sized party, which as you say given the people involved makes a lot of sense.

  6. 6
    Claudia on 4 Dec 2013 #

    I… Is this article endorsing the run, or does it hate it? It seems rather bipolar about it.

    Tbh, for me, these aren’t teenagers so much as cardboard cut-outs of teenage stereotypes. They are there to perform a function, to METAPHOR! at useless intervals, and generally not be actual, three-dimensional characters. The DRAMA and the FEELS and METAPHORS! are the flashy, hollow writing of someone who doesn’t really have anything of note to bring to the table. Like Moffat for the comic book set. Which is thoroughly sad. It’s sad that the only thing Gillen sees is his chaotic, green-clad writer’s pet. There are so, so many things wrong with this run, starting with the fact this is NOT Young Avengers. It is Journey into Mystery 2, now ruining your favourite characters to tell a pretty terrible story. In METAPHOR, because we can’t write it like it is, that would be too intelligent.

    I can’t wait for this to be over, so fandom can collectively throw it all in the bin and pretend it never happened.

    And can SOMEONE please retcon that Kree can’t grow facial hair?

  7. 7
    Andrew Farrell on 4 Dec 2013 #

    Claudia, you get that ‘like it is’ doesn’t really mean anything? That there isn’t a true world of these characters that Heinberg and Cheung opened a magical portal to, and now the portal’s closed and Killen and McKelvie are frankly just making stuff up?

    They’re Marvel-owned characters – if they’re still around in 30 years they’ll have had 10 different non-reconcilable takes on them, and whoever picks them up will be able to take the aspects that work best for their story and ignore the rest.

  8. 8
    Hazel on 4 Dec 2013 #

    Huh- it was unbridled sentiment about how much I’ve enjoyed the series, to be honest. Maybe it’s the Loki thing- I don’t have to think he’s allignment-good to think he’s a great plot device.

    I wanna write back but I really don’t want this to come off as grumpy; I know that some people don’t like the new run and I’m entirely cool with that. I didn’t like Infinity, it’s just how the dice roll sometimes. So this is just… meandering thought, not a rant.

    I’m not going to comment on what you’ve said about Kieron; our opinions wildly differ. But I also genuinely think you’ve missed some of the way that this series has been plotted- it’s not about Loki, it’s about internal enemies and each of the characters has had their own made clear. It’s dense and it is building into something that’s going to elaborately explode, no doubt- there are enormous numbers of unanswered questions but this is a team who revel in creating things that echo back on themselves, that circle the same room revealing more and more each time and where each separate emotional beat eventually becomes a thudding cacophony when the time comes to overlay each vellum of plot. And that time, I suspect, is today. My body is ready.

    The mechanics of fandom-as-a-concept-rather-than-specifically-YA-fandom in downtime periods are kind of really interesting to me, as someone who writes about that sort of thing. Young Avengers had downtime- big downtime, in between its arcs and that gave the fandom time to fill in and flesh out through fanon characters who, to be entirely blunt, weren’t as complete as the fan works would suggest in the first volume.

    That doesn’t mean Heinberg did it wrong, it’s just that the amount written about them in canon is massively dwarfed by the fandom creations. Fandoms used to poring over material are able to develop very specific and personal ideas and interpretations of the characters, especially when relatively little has been laid down in canon. That’s fucking awesome, obviously- I love it when fandom comes in and does this. And that’s always gonna make it weird when they come back as canon- whether it’d been Heinberg and Cheung or Bendis and Coipel or Immonen and Immonen or the Freakytrigger writers with some marker pens in the back room of a pub.*

    There’s two major differences, that I can see, in the way this volume (so far) reads to the way the first one did. One of them’s about the way it’s being read, the other’s about what it has to be.

    In terms of how it’s read, this has had the impact that the old one had once it had rolled up to its peak of mature fandom, every week, as it unfolds. That means the intense focus brought to bear on the gentle, fannish exploration of the older material is now a full-beam headlight blasting through each page each week; that’s a fuckin’ hard thing to enjoy a comic through, from a fandom perspective.

    Second really big difference is that they’re not sidekicks anymore. The first volume, every major story arc was about the older Avengers- about Captain America’s ~emotions~ about sidekicks, about how the older Avengers could deal with there being younger, idealistic versions of themselves around, etc. They literally were little versions of older Avengers, then. Even The Children’s Crusade was about what they meant to the older Avengers, about linking them ever closer to the grown ups and if I was to be harsher than I want to be about that arc (since I like it a lot) about them destroying themselves to re-power their parents. If we’d applied the same close lens that this run has received to, say, Cassie spread-eagled, costume torn, in her father’s lap after sacrificing herself to save him then… hmm, not sure how well that would have done, to be honest. (It’s a beautiful scene but it’s a fridging, let’s be real)

    The Young Avengers, by their very nature, were franchised reflections of the older Avengers. Which is a static position in which they couldn’t stay, without becoming abandoned and irrelevant. They needed this reboot, they needed to come out of the shadow of those older heroes, they needed to become their own distinct thing.

    Of course, I would’ve liked more- I would’ve wanted Eli, I would’ve wanted Tommy, I would’ve wanted half of Power Pack to join, I would’ve wanted Kate to snog Scott Summers or something. And that’s why I’d be fuckin’ shit at writing it and Gillen and McKelvie have done this incredibly justice, in my opinion.

    I don’t agree with a lot of the criticism that’s been leveled- I like Noh-Varr and Kate’s imperfect, lusty relationship, I liked David’s stupid, impulsive behaviour in the face of certain doom, I like well-intentionedly collapsing the universe, worms of doubt and the post-trauma switch between euphoria and aggression that runs through the sense of existence here. Remember, these guys have been through HORRIBLE things, all of them, recently and adults have not only been no help but actively occasioned it, especially during Civil War- to grow into their own people, they needed an escape event and a plate to step up to.

    In a lot of media with a year+ break, you’d not expect it to really come back, except as specials maybe (which was kind of where Young Avengers was, to be honest) but with comics obviously everything is always up for grabs to come back. And a come back after a gap does mean a little reboot; the equivalent of boshing up the Dr Who theme and adding a bisexual alien casanova. It might just work or it might fall on its ass and in the same way there are surely people out there who hated Ecclestone’s Dr Who, there’ll always be people who hate a comeback, can’t reconcile it with what they’d built themselves. That’s a huge bummer for them and I understand your unhappiness (I was a massive Tolkien fan who hated the Peter Jackson films; sucks to be me) but it is, unfortunately, just part of the organic unfolding of this kind of long-form medium.

    Which, y’know, I’m 10000% not saying that it’s the fandom’s fault that a few people who were stalwarts of volume one haven’t liked this. It’s legit to not care for something, even if you liked the first stuff. And it’s sad to not enjoy something you were hyped for. But just because I spent years trying to get the images of Peter Jackson’s films out of my head so I could re-read Lord of the Rings with joy, it doesn’t mean it deserves erasing for everyone.

    (I liked Noh-Varr’s beard- it was hott! But I am a sucker for characters with a history of carving rude words into blocks and rebelliously emoting about girl groups.)

    I’d say that drama and feels are Russell T Davies, not Moffatt. :)
    Anyway, I hope that you’re not turned off the series and you’ll give the next round a chance, when it comes. And that you’ll give Kieron and Jamie and Matt a chance, too- and ESPECIALLY the party issues, because damn there is going to be some fucking amazing work in there.

    *Actually this is the plan for the new DC reboot.

  9. 9
    Claudia on 4 Dec 2013 #

    They stopped being sidekicks before ACC. In fact, ACC was both the search for Wanda AND for themselves. Every chance they got, the YA rebelled, they stated their own things while still acknowledging their legacies. They kicked back, they stood up and said ‘no, fuck this shit, we do what we want’, and they earned the respect they got. Which they did get. By the end of ACC, they had more than come into their own, they’d tasted loss, they’d confronted their demons and were Avengers. They didn’t need to rebel and fight the adult power anymore, because they’d already done that. And yet… We get a run where kids that should have matured and grown up regress to much more foolhardy mental ages. We get Kate (who is a mature, responsible, generous young woman who just lost her best friend to heroing) saying that every teen should go and get themselves killed. We get Billy and Teddy and emotional manipulation. We go from kids who were a family, a true team, united by common goals, ideals, tastes and had been through hell and back, to people who don’t really like each other much, new characters that are only around for sex or reasons unknown, no deep bonds or anything vaguely like some sort of kinship. We go from a dorky band of outcasts where even the cool kids weren’t all that cool (the delinquent and the lonely rich girl) who all felt for one another, accepted their quirks and helped them grow through the flaws – even Tommy – to… Miss America telling the geeks to shut up, she has to punch things, Noh only sticking aroud because hey, free sex! and David being an emotionally manipulative douche and the furthest thing possible from his former appearances. Not to mention a disrespect to Billy’s emotional problems that I find offensive on a personal level. These are not the characters I fell in love with. These are unpleasant, unrecognisable stand-ins. Gillen didn’t even want to write this book, he said so. I think it’s plain to see in his writing.

    And it’s not because I can’t reconcile it with what I’ve built. I have brought nothing to this fandom except bad fanart, not even meta. It’s that I can’t reconcile them with who they were. These are not the characters I read about. Yes, ACC was a HUGE life-shattering event, but people do not change overnight and become nothing like they used to be. They’re like the hipster version of the old YA. Posers.

    And, if I’m going to be frank, I do not like McKelvie’s art style at all. But that is a very personal thing, and not every artist is everyone’s cup pf tea. There’s only so many blank, disinterested, half-lidded expressions I can take, though.

  10. 10
    MW on 5 Dec 2013 #

    I always hear the occasional complaint about Gillen’s teens not acting like real teens, but honestly, as a teenager myself nothing about it seems off.

    I admit that I never finished the original Young Avengers run (I’ve read the first couple issue of the first volume and Children’s Crusade), so I am not the most well equipped to speak to the continuity of these characters’ characterizations, but taken solely in the context of Gillen’s work, they feel real to me.

  11. 11
    Alex S on 15 Dec 2013 #

    When did Kieron say he didn’t want to write the book?

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