Friday, July 9, 2010

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #1

By Paul Steven Brown

Writer: Allan Heinberg
Art: Jim Cheung w/ Mark Morales
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics

When Young Avengers was originally announced back in 2005, the concept was received with a lot of skepticism. I was guilty of it, too. Was Marvel really going to attempt a Teen Titans version of the Avengers? Iron Lad? Hulkling? Really?

I and many others happily ate our plates of crow, when Young Avengers turned out to be a really entertaining, though delay plagued, twelve issue series. Allan Heinberg, whose main gig is writing for television, delivered some fully-realized new characters to the Marvel Universe by its conclusion and the art by Jim Cheung was outstanding. Unfortunately, Marvel Comics wanted to make sure that Heinberg would have a heavy hand in charting the development of these teen heroes, so instead of continuing their adventures in an ongoing series, the Young Avengers were left to languish in guest appearances and mini-series tie-ins which were usually tied to major crossover events such as "Civil War", "Secret Invasion", "Dark Reign", and "Siege".

It's a real shame that this has been the case for the Young Avengers for half a decade. The Young Avengers Presents mini-series gave individual members of the team single issue spotlights written and drawn by top name talent. Stature and the new incarnation of the Vision got to be part of the team in Mighty Avengers. Still, what could have been a fully functioning and successful member of the Marvel brand, not to mention the potential of cross-media development, has been left to spin its wheels for far too long.

Sadly, most of Mavel Comics new teen hero team characters in the last decade have been mismanaged to varying degrees. While having less than favorable sales, Runaways was a critical darling and it had a very loyal fan base. Unfortunately, once writer Brian K. Vaughn left the series, media darling Joss Whedon took over for six issues which were constantly delayed. There were several months between issues and the momentum was killed which did not bode well for another series relaunch for Runaways lasting only fourteen issues.

New X-Men may not have had the numbers that Marvel Comics wanted, but it had a very loyal fan base, too. These young mutants were some of the most exciting and interesting characters to be added to X-Men mythos in a long time. The replacement title, Young X-Men, had such a faulty start, that readers fled quickly and never returned, even after it course-corrected. Since the cancellation of these books, they've popped up here or there in different titles. Hopefully, Rogue's book X-Men: Legacy will be able shine a light on these kids on a more frequent basis given its new modus operandi.

My point is that Marvel Comics had three solid series concepts with some of their best, new characters in a long, long time that really could have been developed into powerhouse books. Not only that, publishers and retailers have been bemoaning the fact that it has been very hard to replenish the aging readership with new, young readers. Here's three dozen teen characters of various relatable ethnic and social backgrounds, male and female, straight and gay, without thirty years of continuity bogging them down. Such a wasted opportunity.

Now arrives Avengers: The Children's Crusade, just in time for Marvel Comics' "Heroic Age" and the big Avengers relaunch. I'm confused why the word "Young" isn't in the front. This is a mini-series that stars the Young Avengers and it has Heinberg and Cheung back in the drivers seat. It just seems like an odd decision.

Obviously, this book has been in the works for a while. It is even noted on the first page that there are some discrepancies in how Steve Rogers and Tony Stark are depicted in this issue and how they are currently designed in the other Avengers books. Instead of having it redrawn, the powers that be at Marvel Comics kindly ask us to just go with it. Their acknowledgement of this is perfectly acceptable to me.

Hopefully, this will all lead to some sort of resolution to the Scarlet Witch story that began with "Avengers Disassembled" about seven years ago. It's the one major remaining plot thread that hasn't been bookended by the ending of "Dark Reign" and the arrival of "The Heroic Age". I'm also looking forward to any revelation to Wiccan and Speed's true nature. Are they really reincarnated versions of Wanda's two twin sons? I hope that the other kids don't get pushed too far into the background with this kind of focused plot.

Jim Cheung's art is still an impressive sight to see. His characters are wonderfully detailed and realized. Hopefully, the bi-monthly schedule and the apparent headstart will enable him to make his deadlines and this book will hit the stands on time with each issue.

It's a good start. I'm happier now that the Young Avengers have the opportunity for further development. I just hope that once Avengers: The Children's Crusade concludes we don't have to wait too long for another. Please, don't drop the ball again, Marvel Comics.

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