Super powered adolescent drama has been an integral part of the Marvel Universe ever since Stan Lee and his collaborators introduced the world to characters like Spider-Man and the original group of X-Men. Over the years those heroes have grown up and a new generation of super powered teens have stepped forward to take their place and deal with the chaos of super heroic and adolescent life.
In 2005 that generation of heroes grew when writer Allan Heinberg and artist Jim Cheung introduced readers to a group of super powered teens who had banded together to protect the Marvel Universe, because the Avengers were not an active team at the time. These "Young Avengers" would go on to become one of Marvel's most popular teenage teams. This January they return in their own ongoing series as the acclaimed "Phonogram" team of writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie expand the Marvel NOW! initiative with a new volume of "Young Avengers." Comic Book Resources spoke with the creators about the series, which examines the experience of being a super powered, teenage crime fighter through the eyes of a new incarnation of the titular team.
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CBR News: Kieron and Jamie, you guys have worked on Marvel books together in the past, but "Young Avengers" will be your first opportunity to tell a Marvel story that lasts longer than one issue. Why is that? And what drew you to this series?
EXCLUSIVE: McKelvie's cover for his and Gillen's "Young Avengers" #1
Kieron Gillen: It's kind of weird. Obviously we've got this longterm indie relationship with each other and when a one-off issue of a title came up, and it'd suit his style, I'd always ask if Jamie could do it. He's always my go-to guy for a certain sort of book. We did "Siege: Loki," which was pretty much "Journey Into Mystery" issue #0, and some of the best issues of "Generation Hope" were done by Jamie.
Jamie McKelvie: I think it's just a case of the stars aligning. I've pretty much been working constantly for Marvel for like the last two to three years and I've just been doing a lot of stuff; not just with Kieron, but with different writers and different editors.
This just sort of fell into place. It was time. Obviously I love working with Kieron and we work very well together.
McKelvie: [Laughs] Well sort of.
Gillen: Yeah, it always seemed weird that we hadn't even done an arc of an ongoing. So this is a project that feels like it's totally the right time. In this case we were talking about the Marvel NOW! books and "Young Avengers" came up. I thought, "If I'm going to to do this book I want to do it with Jamie and Mike Norton." And I wanted Matt Wilson on colors. I wanted Clayton Cowles who was our letterer on "Journey Into Mystery." I wanted to make something that was completely beautiful and bespoke.
I looked at something like "Daredevil" and how aesthetically coherent it is. I don't think I've ever done anything like that for Marvel. I've done some really good books at Marvel, but I haven't done anything that's been as aesthetically coherent in the way "Phonogram" is.
McKelvie: Or something like Matt Fraction and David Aja's "Hawkeye" series.
Gillen: Right, I haven't written a Marvel book in the way I would write "Phonogram." I reference "Phonogram" because obviously it's a similar team, but there are some aesthetic similarities as well. It's a lot like "Phonogram" if we had likable characters and plots. So it's not really much like "Phonogram" at all if you think about it.
Gillen: We're really pushing things artistically. In the first issue there's a double-page spread of 25 or so panels. We're really working it. Jamie, do you want to talk a bit about it? Sorry I'm basically interviewing Jamie in front of you, Dave.
[Laughs] That's okay. I was going to get to that question eventually anyway. So let's tackle it now. Jamie, what can you tell us about your artistic approach to "Young Avengers?"
McKelvie: I guess it is the closest thing we've done to "Phonogram" in the Marvel Universe. It's very important that they are teenage super heroes. We wanted to give them a distinctive separation from the older heroes. Costume design has really been important so far. That bled into how I actually approached the story telling and the panels.
Gillen: I'm writing scripts for Jamie in a combined method. It's kind of what I'm doing with "Phonogram 3" as well. If we've got a scene that's kind of casual and downbeat or one that involves the general social scene it's very gritty and grounded, but the second action or anything that's fantastical happens we go to Marvel method. So we've got this contrast between normal scenes that are quite grounded, and when shit happens, it happens in a way that looks completely different.
I'm kind of looking at it as fight scenes as music videos. Each individual fight scene or action sequence is based around an individual hook. We present them in a certain way and it's very stylistic, but it's for the higher purpose of trying to convey how fantastical the scene is. We're trying to give a sense that this is all part of life, but some bits are heightened. We're trying to find another way to look at the classic big super hero beats and some of that involves reinventing stuff that has been forgotten in the same way that "Journey Into Mystery" tried to reinvent and reclaim the narrative caption.
Sort of like a super heroic "Scott Pilgrim?"
Gillen: You could say that. It comes from somewhere near that place. I've written about teenagers quite a bit and "Generation Hope" was basically me trying to write relatively realistic teenagers in the fantastical situations of the Marvel Universe. Here I'm more embracing the metaphor of the super hero universe. This is a much better way to approach the material, I think. I synthesized it
There's this really great essay by Chris Sims about why the early Spider-Man stories were so amazing. He talks about the super villains as metaphors for certain relationships between teenagers and adults. It's something that people knew anyway, but Chris lays it out well. This is kind of what we're doing in that we're using the super hero metaphor to discuss that. These are fantastically ridden kids dealing with hyper realized versions of that period of their life.
It certainly comes on strong. A big chunk of my favorite pop songs are simultaneously totally ludicrous and absolutely sincere, full of an awareness of how silly it is while taking it all with a completely straight face. This is very much like that. It feels properly pop in a way more than anything I've ever written. Hell, even "Phonogram." I think it's a book that after reading the first eight pages of the first issue people will either be on board or realize it's not for them.
Miss America has attitude to spare when the "Phonogram" creators kick off their story in the pages of "Marvel NOW! Point One"
For the last few years, I've tried to do two books simultaneously at Marvel. One is kind of the more mainstream book. It tries to embrace the larger scale more super heroic approach. The other is something a little more build-from-ground-up. "Uncanny" was the former, "Journey into Mystery" was the latter. Now, "Iron Man" is the former, and "Young Avengers" is the latter. Stylistically "Young Avengers is very different from "Journey Into Mystery," but it kind of replaces it in that this is the title where I'm pushing things a little bit and looking for a new way to explore the Marvel Universe and comics. It feels fresh, exciting, very weird, accessible and fun.
"Young Avengers" debuts in January as part of Marvel NOW!