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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!
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We've talked about your approach and outlook on the book. Let's move into the cast of "Young Avengers." What makes the characters you're using interesting as individuals? And what makes them interesting as a group?
The original volume of "Young Avengers" was a phenomenally successful book. I remember when it was announced and people were really cynical about it. Then the book came out and it had a completely respectful view of the long history of the Marvel Universe. It worked brilliantly.
I couldn't write that book. I couldn't base a story around a tiny bit of continuity from 30 years ago. I completely respect people that can do that and I love those stories, but that doesn't mean I can.
So I took a different approach. In this world the Avengers are almost civil servants or firemen or police. They work for the government and they're this enormous organization. But at the core? The real core of the Avengers? It's saving the world, because someone has got to, and that's what "Young Avengers" is about. They're called "Young Avengers" even though they're not Avengers. This is fundamentally about the ideal. It's about being a super hero. It's about saving the world because somebody has got to do it.
So instead of picking up continuity and weaving it in. I'm doing weird riffs on it. I'm taking notes from the Avengers mythos and doing them in a completely different way. The first arc is pretty much Loki puts the Avengers together. And of course Loki did inadvertently put the original Avengers together, but why is he actively trying to put this team together?
The first arc's major plot is basically a riff on the Ultron story, but it's not about Ultron. It's based around Wiccan and involves magic. It's your basic Hank Pym fucks up-style story [Laughs]. That's what Wiccan does and then they deal with it.
So teen Loki from "Journey Into Mystery" brings them together and Wiccan gives them something to battle. What about the role of Miss America Chavez?
The readers know that Loki is bringing the group together. The characters don't. There's a sense that Loki is clearly the manipulator here.
So the "Marvel Now! Point One" story is pretty much Loki trying to recruit Miss America Chavez to do something bad and she doesn't want to do it. So she pretty much tries to kill Loki [Laughs], which of course leaves Loki thinking, "Great. Now she's in." She would never do anything Loki told her, but by messing with her mind he can get her where she needs to be.
We start our first issue with Wiccan and Hulkling. They're our core traditional Young Avengers and everyone else gets gathered around them. As everyone who's read "The Children's Crusade" knows, Wiccan is pretty fucked up. He's lost a lot of friends and doesn't want to be a super hero anymore. He's very angry and emphatic about that. Hulkling and the other Young Avengers are out doing it on the down low though.
So when Wiccan discovers this in the first issue it's almost like he's found out that Hulkling has been cheating on him and his mistake comes from that. He tries to do something and as he does it he realizes that he's actually being kind of selfish. Because if you think about it even for a second Wiccan hasn't got a bad life. He's got extra sets of parents. He's incredibly powerful and his mom is the Scarlet Witch. As Hulkling puts it in the first issue, "That's kind of like realizing Galadriel is you mom."
Conversely, Hulkling had his parents burned alive in front of him. He's got nothing except for Wiccan. So Wiccan slowly realizes he's being an idiot and then he makes a mistake. That mistake is the thing that gathers the rest of the team around them.
Miss America is basically protecting Wiccan from Loki, and Loki is trying to stop Wiccan from what he's doing. That leads to them all coming together to try and clean up this mess.
So what I want to do in "Young Avengers" is build a kind of larger metastructure that you can use to explore any part of the teen leaning Marvel Universe outside the traditional doctrines of the larger government side heroes. I have a real strong vision for 12 issues. I have no idea if I'll be staying on after that or going, but I have 12 definitive, brilliant issues, or maybe 13. [Laughs]
After that "Young Avengers" will be set up as a device where you can go to any of the Marvel Universe locales where teen heroes live and work like the West Coast with the Runaways or the Jean Grey School. It's a very wide ranging book in that way. For me it's super heroism as a metaphor for talent and deciding what you want to do with it. There's a line in my original proposal for this that the original "Young Avengers" book was kind of about being 16. This book is about being 18.
[Looks over at McKelvie] Oh my god, Jamie! Why did I even invite you on this!
McKelvie: [Laughs] No, you're doing fine. You've always got more to say.
Gillen: Talk about the art style on the book and I'll shut up for a few seconds.
Last week's teaser for today's YA announcement
McKelvie: Well we haven't gone through the whole team yet.
Gillen: Oh god yes! Sorry. Those four are the original core that we begin with. I wanted to keep the team much smaller than what I did in "Uncanny X-Men," but as I said, I wanted a device to talk about the larger state of youth in the Marvel Universe. So there are other characters I want to bring in later who I don't want to name obviously.
The other two characters that we start with are Kate Bishop, Hawkeye, and Marvel Boy, Noh-Varr. We've seen Kate in Matt and David's "Hawkeye" series so we know that she's super heroing again.
Noh-Varr has obviously been kicked out of the Avengers. He's been told to leave Earth and the Kree hate him. So we're going to see what he's doing now. I kind of jokingly describe him as alien hipster boy. The idea is that he just loves humans, but he has this weirdly patronizing view of humanity. You know how there are people obsessed with the cultural output of one country? Noh-Varr is completely obsessed with the cultural output of Earth. He thinks, "How could I leave a place as beautiful as this?"
So he's completely passionate, but in a slightly patronizing, distant way. A couple years back Brian Bendis reinvented him as the Protector and there's something patronizing about the word protector. It's like, "Who died and made you the protector of Earth?" So I'm kind of moving towards Grant Morrison's original conception of him as Namor. He's an interesting romantic and even sexual figure. He's alien hipster boy on the run and hated by everyone.
He almost sounds like a more condescending version of Doctor Who.
McKelvie: [Laughs] Although he's even younger than the actor currently playing the Doctor.
Gillen: That's one of the things that people kind of forgot about Marvel Boy when he was in the Avengers. He's about the earth equivalent of a 19 year old. Miss America is also slightly older than most of the Young Avengers and part of the reason I included them on the team is that they're two people who have been super heroes and they've been doing things both inside the mainstream in the case of Marvel Boy or on their own in the case of Miss America. So these are hero figures their own age. When Wiccan and Hulkling and to a lesser degree Hawkeye meet them they're bit a like, "Woh." It's the meeting of a friend who's a bit more worldly then you are.
So we have this idea that your hero figures don't have to be Captain America. Your hero figures can be someone your age or, in other words, your hero figures could be you -- if you get your act together. So this is a very optimistic book. Under the comedy "JIM" is dark as hell. This is very much somebody has to save the world and you're somebody. The responsibility is yours. Their talents, ability, and beauty are blossoming and yes the world hurts, but it's worth fighting for.
Jamie, which aspects of these characters do you really want to capture and bring forward in your art?
McKelvie: That's a good question. With Marvel Boy, his costume is a slightly more adult version of the one he wore in the original series. I'm definitely bringing an alien feel to him. David Bowie in "The Man Who Fell to Earth" is kind of how I think of him.
Pinta copado, como como la bosta de Avengers Arena.
Pero Loki no cambió en Journey Into MYstery?
"There's a reason why you lost, you pissed me off"
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