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.
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?
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
â€¨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.
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.
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.”
â€¨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.
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?”
â€¨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.
With Hawkeye, I’m pretty much following what David Aja is doing on the main “Hawkeye” book. I’m using the costume he designed and things like that. Dave has done such a great job with her style and that’s definitely something I’m keying into.
I’m trying to capture the teenage style and feel to the characters. I really want them to be distinct from other characters in that respect. So I’m looking through a lot of style blogs and things like and trying to bring that sort of feel to it. With costume and character design I always feel that the best costume design stems from a character’s personality and powers.
For instance, with the recent Captain Marvel redesign that I did, hopefully it’s apparent that it stems from her military background combined with where she got her powers from. So basically we’re applying that to a bunch of teenagers.
I’ve redesigned Hulkling, Marvel Boy, and Miss America. Loki and Wiccan are keeping their current costumes.
I imagine Hulkling must be interesting to design for because his shapeshifting power could essentially give him any costume he wants.
McKelvie: Absolutely. I deliberately kept his costume quite simple because that’s not his focus. He’s a shape changer like you said, but his focus is on how the rest of him looks.
We’ve talked about the characters as individuals, let’s move on to them as a team. What kind of dynamic will this new incarnation of the “Young Avengers” have when they first come together?
McKelvie: I don’t feel like Miss America gets along with anybody.
Gillen: She’s much cooler than everyone else. When we first meet her in the “Marvel NOW! Point One” issue she’s in an alternate dimension, 212, which is an infinite New York. The mountains are made out of Empire State Buildings and things like that. That’s my way of reinventing the concept of someone from a cooler place than where you are. It’s like that if you meet someone from New York for the first time if you come from somewhere shitty like Stafford. You’re a bit starstruck because frankly you’re brought up with these ideas in the media that they are in some ways more interesting and worldly than you are, and in may ways they probably are. [Laughs] In a totally in-canon way, Hulkling and Wiccan are glorious big geeks. America Chavez isn’t. She’s totally bemused by half the stuff they talk about.
Jamie, let’s talk a little bit more about how Miss America walks.
McKelvie: She’s definitely got the hip swinging thing going on. She knows that she’s cool and she shows that in the way she acts. Hopefully that comes across.
Gillen: Miss America is quite mysterious, and it’s quite deliberate. Where’s she’s from? What does she want? What’s she doing? Why does she care about Wiccan? Why does Loki appear to know more about her than anybody else? She’s the classic mysterious lady. We play that straight and we also play games with it.
She looks great and Patriot was basically unavailable. So I wanted to have someone in the Captain America role and I had just finished reading “Vengeance” by Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta. I loved that series and I thought she was a great stars-n-stripes style character. Plus she’s completely different from Wiccan and Hulkling. They’re very nice and she’s not. [Laughs] You’ve got a culture clash there.
â€¨That’s especially one reason why I wanted Hawkeye in this book. She’s a rich girl with no powers as opposed to Miss America who is somebody from a much less privileged background and has lived a much harder life than Hawkeye has, but has all the power in the world. There’ s lots of interesting conflicts in that way.
What about in terms of their personalities? It seems like Hawkeye is a little more level headed and Miss America Chavez is a lot more emotional?
Gillen: She’s got a temper. You’ve seen the panel for the “Point One” issue, yeah?
Of her punching Loki through the wall? Yes.
Gillen: She punches people a lot. So she’s got a temper, but it’s a very directed temper. She’s just a bit violent.
McKelvie: She’s got a very strong sense of right and wrong along with it, but she does punch Loki a lot [Laughs]. So far anyway.
Gillen: We expressly state in the “Point One” issue, “He’s a god, don’t worry.” He’s not exactly vulnerable.
McKelvie: Yes, she’s not just going around punching kids.
Gillen: It’s not just beating up a 13 year-old.
Speaking of beatings and fights, what types of adversaries are you interested in pitting the Young Avengers against?
Gillen: Like I said, I’m sort of doing modern riffs on classic Avengers stuff. If I had never mentioned Ultron you wouldn’t know that I’m riffing on the Ultron archetype in the first arc. We’ll do a Kree-Skrull War, but you would never have guessed it’s a take on the Kree-Skrull War unless I told you. It’s a fun challenge and I wanted to make up mainly new stuff. So we’ll primarily have new villains.
I’m doing this in “Iron Man” as well. I think it’s a really good time to make up new shit. It’s Marvel NOW! And you get an enormous charge by having Doctor Doom appear, but I haven’t earned that yet. I think the third arc is where you’ll likely see some existing villains you’re aware of — I don’t want to tease that yet, though, because it’s part of a larger plot.
What about other supporting cast members? You mentioned earlier that this will be a book that’s peripatetic. Will will see a rotating supporting cast based on where the characters are at the time?
Gillen: That’s our plan. I’ve got a structure for the whole story, but I really want to be able to jam and improvise. Like I said, I want to make the fight scenes really distinctive and I really just want to play with the “knobs” on the book and see what kind of interesting effects I can get out of them.
For instance with Issue #6 I might focus on a completely different hero elsewhere in the Marvel Universe, who doesn’t appear to be related to the Young Avengers proper until the end. Then I’ll work that character in.
So I want to use “Young Avengers” as a device to talk about the youth of the Marvel Universe as a whole, mainly circling around this thing that was formed by Wiccan’s mistake. I think I had a list of twice as many Young Avengers that I wanted on the team. Then I realized, “No, I need room to have the emotion.”
Big emotions can come from super heroic scenes in Marvel Comics, but they can also come from scenes involving a character’s “normal” life. How big a role will normal life play in “Young Avengers?” Will we get scenes with the characters in school and things like that?
Gillen: We’re going to filter the human experience. The core team are very quickly in a situation where they will have “left school.” That’s kind of what I meant when I said this book was like being 18
McKelvie: It’s about your first step into the real adult world.
Gillen: The book is kind of like super heroes clubbing. The big super hero battles are kind of like going to a club. Then at 5 A.M. They all gather for breakfast and talk about what went down. That’s my equivalent of the Bendis breakfast bar scene. It’s 5 A.M. Everyone is knackered and sweaty and they’re desperately trying to get a place to feed them bacon.
We play with a lot of those sorts of scenes. When we do scenes with teenage life there will be a sense of wonder and strangeness to it. I want to use super heroes to discuss the experience of being a teenager rather than putting real teenagers in a super hero universe. It’s the flip of “Generation Hope.” Also they’re more likable than the perennial awkward bunch that was Gen Hope. At least we hope. [Laughs]
We’ve talked about characters and story, let’s start to wrap things up by talking about the overall look of the book. Jamie, I understand you’re working with Mike Norton on “Young Avengers?”
Yes. I’ve been working with him for a good year now actually. I worked with him on “X-Men: Season One” and then on “Defenders.” We’re sort of a virtual studio because obviously he’s in Chicago and I’m here. We work on pages together via dropbox. So I pencil them out and ink the figures and Mike does the backgrounds. It’s been working really well for both of us because obviously he has his own stuff going on like “Revival” and “It Girl.”
When you’re drawing backgrounds though, there’s a kind of serenity to it because it’s more technical than drawing the figures and emotions. It’s almost like a mental break when you’re creating backgrounds and he enjoys that sort of thing. We work really well together. His background stuff is incredible. The stuff he did for the opening page of our story in the “Marvel NOW! Point One” issue is amazing.
Gillen: When people see the first page of the “Point One” story they’ll get it. It’s not like anything from Jamie or Mike that you’ve seen before. It’s certainly one of the best pages that we’ve worked on together.
McKelvie: Collaborating with Mike has been quite interesting and I suppose it’s been a quite successful collaboration in that not many people realize that it was two people working on those stories. Mike does a great job of matching everything and his textures are way better than mine. Plus he loves drawing rubble and I hate drawing rubble. [Laughs] So that works out well for both of us.
Kieron, it sounds like Mike and Jamie’s work on “Young Avengers” will be drawing stories set sort of in the deep end of the Marvel Universe?
Gillen: It’s its own part of the Marvel Universe, but it’s also entirely embedded in it. We’ll do our own thing for this year, as in people will be able to pick it up and just read it by itself even though it’s completely tied into the rest of the Marvel Universe and resonates with everything else. I don’t think I’ve ever done that; write a book that hasn’t been part of a crossover. So I wanted to try and make a singular aesthetic statement. I think that’s why “Young Avengers” worked in its first iteration. I’ve really tried to reinvent that in our image.
So this is what the book is and whatever comes next will resonate from that. We’re trying to build a structure that other people can go and riff on. Plus there’s stuff I want to riff on. There’s a lot I want to do, but I’ve got to get this series of stories done first. So It’s definitely a book I’m looking forward to writing. I knew the final scenes of “Journey Into Mystery” when I started it and the last few months of me writing those scenes was a joy. So I’m really looking forward to writing certain “Young Avengers” scenes in six to seven months.
McKelvie: I’m having a great time on this book as well. It’s great to be able to launch an ongoing. There’s a sense that it’s our thing. With “Defenders” I was inheriting it from Terry Dodson.
And it’s great to have Matt Wilson on colors, because this is the best he’s colored me. We’re taking a slightly different approach than how we used to, and it’s paying off. So it’s really exciting to have everybody working together again like this.
Gillen: In terms of a personal Marvel book this is as personal as I’ve ever done. The scripts even include stuff which I’ve never put into a Marvel script. I’ve got this weird hieroglyph system that I use for certain pages to explain stuff to Jamie in a shorthand that only him and I know. I never did this with the previous Marvel scripts Jamie and I worked on because frankly I didn’t want the editors to think we we’re insane.
So I put them in and I had to explain to our editor Lauren Sankovitch that, “An X means this. And an O means that, etc, etc.” I think people at Marvel think we’re considerably less sane than they used to. [Laughs]
McKelvie: [Laughs] It’s not a bad thing.
Gillen: I’m really going for it. “Young Avengers” isn’t just designed to be my final word on teenage superheroes. It’s almost certainly designed to be my final word on teenagers full stop.
Finally, I know many fans are excited to see you guys working on your first long form Marvel project together, but I know many of them are also wondering what this collaboration will mean for the third installment of your creator owned series, “Phonogram.” Can you give us any updates on the status of that project?
Gillen: The traditional professional thing to say would be production difficulties. The less professional thing to say would be life has set about our genitals with polo hammers.
If you think about the production schedule, “PG3” was meant to be out by November. “Young Avengers” is January. So “Phonogram” was already going to be late before “Young Avengers” appeared. The problem isn’t really going forward — it’s the last seven months since we announced it. The plan was always that Jamie would work on other stuff alongside “PG3,” but the problems prevented that. So now Jamie is picking up the plan where we left off — except that basically puts us seven months behind schedule. We delayed on announcing it because we wanted to have a good release estimate. As we ticked up to this, we realize we still don’t have one we’d like to put out there.
â€¨So basically, sorry. We’re really embarrassed by this, and wish we hadn’t announced it back in February. It’s still happening. It’s all written, so even if I die suddenly it’ll still be drawn. Jamie will work his way through it, and swear at me for doing a first draft then dying. And I will be happy for annoying McKelvie from beyond the grave.
McKelvie: I don’t have anything else to add, I am too upset at the thought of being haunted by Kieron. Imagine. Finding mysterious chocolate hobnob crumbs all over the floor every morning. It’s just chilling.
“Young Avengers” debuts in January as part of Marvel NOW!