It’s fair to say that if you announce a new comic by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, we’re going to jump up and take notice. Unfortunately, this also means that if you announce a new comic by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, we’re going to have unrealistically stratospheric expectations for it. Unfair? Perhaps, but if you’re going to have the temerity to produce Phonogram, then that’s the curse you have to bear in return.
So, did Young Avengers live up to the burden of being a new GillenMcKelvie book? Not quite. Was it still a great comic? Yes. Was it one of the best of the year? Just about, but to which extent is largely dependent on just how much you were able to engage with the ongoing story. And if you happened not to care about Billy and Teddy’s relationship (sorry, Tumblr, but I couldn’t give a monkey’s), or couldn’t quite click with Mother as a strong enough villain for a thirteen-issue long story, then there might well have been times where this didn’t feel like the slam-dunk-brilliant series it could have been.
But a GillenMcKelvie comic is simply incapable of existing without at the very least flashes of inspired genius – and there were enough of these throughout the run that hinted at a more joyous and freewheeling series living just underneath the surface of having to set out to appeal to fans of Allan Heinberg’s original and (in this correspondent’s opinion) somewhat overrated run with the characters. Double-page spreads such as the “Being a superhero is amazing” sequence or the utterly stunning Noh-Varr “airplane diagram” gag, and other sequences like the Instagram montage, showed a writer-artist (and, come to that, colouring and production and editorial) team dedicated to pushing the envelope of comics storytelling for nothing other than the sheer joy of doing so. It was exactly the kind of exuberance we hoped for from a book called Young Avengers made by these people, and it’s only a shame there wasn’t a little more of it.
Whenever the character work was allowed to extend to the newer members of the team, however, the book felt truly on song – whether that be the Noh-Varr and Kate romance, the teasing hints into the character and background of Miss America (The Sensational Character Find of 2013? Almost definitely), or the continuation of the Journey Into Mystery-initiated Kid Loki story (surely one of the best long-form character stories in recent comics history). Any or all of these storylines could have made for a great series of their own – but in Young Avengers they found themselves jostling for attention just a little too uncomfortably.
In truth, though, it’s far easier to nitpick at something, or for it to come across as a disappointment, when you already have those unrealistically high expectations. Young Avengers was, for the most part, a thrilling, funny and energetic series, with often astonishing art from someone who’s already there or thereabouts at the top of the game but continues to get better anyway. By any normal standards it was at the high end of a very strong crop of books put out by Marvel this year – and after its imminent ending, it’ll be missed as much as the next Gillen and McKelvie project (whether that be Phonogram 3 or something else inbetween) is keenly anticipated.