Sure, being a super hero means you can see and experience lots of exciting places and phenomenon, but it can also be a harrowing experience that wreaks havoc on every aspect of your life. Just ask Marvel’s Young Avengers!
In Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s series debut arc, Wiccan (Billy Kaplan) employed his magical abilities to do a favor for his boyfriend, Hulkling (Teddy Altman). But in doing so, Billy unwittingly released an inter-dimensional parasite named Mother into the Marvel U, forcing the team to flee New York City in order to protect their friends and family.
Since then, the team and its newest member, Prodigy (David Alleyne) have struggled to find a way to evict Mother from their dimension while simultaneously rescuing another of their members — Speed — from the clutches of one her mysterious associates, a strange being cloaked in the original costume of the former Young Avenger known as Patriot. Those struggles have led to difficult realizations and heightened emotions, emotions which resulted in an unexpected kiss between Prodigy and Hulkling.
In “Young Avengers” #9, the aftermath of that kiss saw Hulkling depart his frinds’ company as the team prepared for the next stage in their battle against Mother. We spoke with Gillen about these recent developments, including the kiss that launched a thousand Tumblr reposts, and his upcoming plans for the series.
CBR News: Let’s start of by talking about the kiss between Prodigy and Hulkling. What made you want to introduce this bit of romantic tension into the series?
Kieron Gillen: Because it’s fun, isn’t it? I’ve got an interest in exploring those aspects of super hero comics, and throughout the last decade the love triangle and a lot of the classic romance plots haven’t been touched much, because they don’t really fit into the paramilitary-style super hero comics. Also, when looking at the team line-up, I thought one of the more interesting and ground breaking stories to do would be a all-male love triangle.
It’s just one of those things people don’t really think about unless you have a gay member of the team. The problem is, if you only have one gay member, you can’t really explore their sexuality, because they have no one to sleep with unless you add a supporting character. But they will — by definition — be a minor, secondary character. Then, if you have two gay characters, the plot is they either sleep together or they don’t. You need more to have a level of dramatic complexity and some genuine stakes.
So I thought that would be interesting. It’s a level of complexity that we rarely even see in heterosexual relationships in super hero comics at the moment, and doing that with a male desire triad struck me as a worthwhile and fun thing to do. Plus, it shakes up the relationship between Teddy and Billy. It shows them that there are other options. It’s easy for them to stay together when they’re the only gay super heroes they’ve ever met. It allows us to explore Billy and Teddy’s relationship through a slightly different prism, and of course they each have their own problems that they’re dealing with as well.
The dialogue in “Young Avengers” #9 suggested to me that Prodigy’s place in this love triangle is something that grew out of thinking about the mutant ability he no longer possess and the ramifications of it.
A little bit. When I started thinking about what happened to Prodigy during his days with the X-Men, I thought what happened to him would be useful for a sexual awakening story. I had to be careful, though, because mutant powers are a metaphor for many things. But one of the biggest ones is puberty; the idea of you transforming into who you’ll be as an “adult.”
â€¨That and the idea of by being around someone you discover something that’s already true about yourself struck me as a really useful metaphor. We couldn’t really just do a story about him discovering he was bisexual, because everything in “Young Avengers” is about the teenage experience through the metaphor of super heroes and super powers. I wanted to make sure readers of “Young Avengers” #9 understood that Prodigy’s power didn’t suddenly make him gay. What happened to him was literally a sexual awakening. There aren’t many bisexual male characters in comics, and it just seemed to fit him in many ways.
At the end of issue #9, Hulkling and Wiccan discuss their relationship, and we get Hulkling’s thoughts about that talk instead of the actual dialogue. In those thought captions, though, he does say that he tells Billy everything. Does that mean Billy knows exactly what happened between Hulkling and Prodigy?
Their discussion was not, “We should break up and this is why.” It was more, “I need space because I’m worried you’re controlling me.” That’s what was meant with Teddy saying, “I tell him everything.”
OK, I’m mainly curious because Billy is emotional guy. Would knowing about the kiss between Hulking and Prodigy cause him to lash out either consciously or subconsciously at David?
That’s a good question, and if I wanted Teddy to have told Billy about Prodigy, you would have seen that response. I think you can assume that he doesn’t know about the kiss. You might see something about that further down the line.
The fallout from the kiss between led to Hulkling separating himself from the Young Avengers to make sure that Wiccan’s ability to alter reality was not the source of their feeling for each other. That in mind, how big of a role will he play in “Young Avengers” moving forward?
The current issue of “Young Avengers” is called “Mother’s Day” and it’s basically the villain’s perspective issue, so Mother is the lead character for the majority of the issue. This allows us to see some stuff that the Young Avengers don’t see. Teddy is more in that issue than Billy is.
As we saw at the end of issue #9, Teddy is off with Leah, and she’s clearly up to something. [Laughs] I would definitely not trust her at this point. She mentions a group of people like Teddy who have similar problems, so there might be some other character out there with Teddy, as well. It’s possible that she’s manipulating this group in a way that no one appears to be aware of.
What made you want to revisit Leah, and how does it feel to return to writing the handmaiden of Hela?
It felt right. Especially when you ask the question, “Who would Loki be afraid of?” [Laughs]
You’ll see more in the next issue about why I’ve brought Leah back in this sort of role, especially when you get a look at the people she has around her. Essentially, I thought she would be an interesting antagonist for Loki. She’s got a big grudge against him, and she’s a great visual, as well. Jamie Siouxsie Sioux’ed her up in the alt-punk style. I could have used a character like Thor, but I thought this would be much more in tune with what I was doing.
It also seems like there’s some mystery surrounding her, because when we see her on that last page of “Young Avengers” #9, she appears to have aged.
Yeah, she now looks to be in her late teens or early 20s. So now people can fancy her — it’s okay! [Laughs] All the people that have been doing questionable fan art are suddenly breathing a sigh of relief. She’s now about the same age as our older Young Avengers, like Marvel Boy and Hawkeye.
Speaking of Hawkeye’s age, Mother asks her when her birthday is, saying that she’ll be an adult soon, which means she’ll fall under Mother’s thrall. How does Kate feel after being reminded by Mother that her 18th birthday is looming?
Actually, it’s not her 18th birthday. She’s older than that. Drinking booze is clearly the coming of age that matters in YA.
Being reminded like that is another little twist. It makes her pause and wonder if she’s too old to be in the “Young Avengers.” It’s a new nagging fear to throw into the mix; the fact that a person’s age puts them in danger of becoming Mother’s thrall.
That’s an interesting metaphor for an old youth culture idea, that when you become an adult, you become the enemy by falling under Mother’s control.
That’s the implications of the metaphor flying around, and whether or not that’s true is something I very much want to play with.
The other thing that becomes apparent in this issue is that there are emotional hooks in everyone, now. There’s a proper mass of seething tensions that people have not told other people, which is ideal for this sort of book, where we look at the morass of teenage emotions. I’m having a lot of fun with that.
Of course, Mother isn’t the only powerful figure the Young Avengers have to contend with. There’s also the mysterious being dressed in the old Patriot costume. Based on the dialogue at the end of issue #9, it sounds like he’s an ally of Mother, not a pawn, working with her because it furthers his own agenda.
That’s what the characters think, and I would argue that the book is presenting that view as well. He didn’t side with Mother; he directed them toward her and then left. He’s another enigmatic figure for them to deal with.
By this point, there are at least three major antagonists in terms of people outside the group who clearly want stuff: Mother, the Patriot costume and Leah. Of course, you could also argue that there’s Loki inside the group. [Laughs]
The team spent like two and half issues running around, and all they really learned was to fail gracefully. They basically concluded, “We can’t solve this problem.” It’s the second time it’s happened to the “Young Avengers.” The first was with Mother.
They’ve banged up against some hard limits on what they can do in this current situation, and the idea now is, “We can’t do this problem, either. Let’s carry on, though, and work out a way to tackle it eventually,” which is to their credit. It’s one of the things I like about them. Just because you can’t solve the problem by punching it doesn’t mean you give up. It’s kind of telling that I’ve focused on what they can’t handle. There’s a bunch of adventures I have them deal with that happen in a panel, for example.
Would Prodigy have become involved with the Young Avengers without the Patriot costume’s machinations in issue #6?
I would say not. As far as we know, there was no connection between them except for knowing Tommy [AKA Speed]. So it definitely seems that the Patriot costume has brought them together in that way.
Whether it was deliberate or an accidental thing, that’s something else. People can make of it what they will.
This issue also gives us a reason why Mother would take an especially big interest in Billy when Loki reveals that he’s destined to become a figure that will rewrite the laws of magic. With that kind of destiny, I’d think Billy would be the target of every malevolent mystical entity out there, and possibly even a few benevolent ones as well.
I would say that’s a fair assumption. Destiny is a very charged word, and fate and destiny are question marks in almost all my books. This is something people think Billy will become and he certainly has the potential to be this, as Miss America Chavez puts it. He’s a big, singular, magical powerhouse. It’s almost like a B.C./A.D. thing at this point. It’s like magic, up to this point, will be one thing. Then after that, it will be something else. So it’s a big potential destiny card for Billy.
That destiny pretty much means that he’s got a bullseye on his back.
Oh, yeah. Hell, yeah.
When we spoke about the upcoming “Afterparty” story arc, you said the end of the Mother storyline is in sight. Where does you story go from here?
Me and Jamie conceived the Mother story as a singular movement, similar to a season of a television show. Mother is the thing that draws them together, but by this point there are other antagonists involved. All of this sort of becomes a symphonic pop song. What happens in the next few issues is that it basically all comes to a climax. Mother is either defeated or not. What does that actually mean for the characters and the Marvel Universe? What does every one actually want? I think a lot of the elements have become clearer, but I think they’ll be even clearer by next issue, which focuses on the villains. I imagine several readers of the issue will be like, “Oh, shit! I see what’s going on there.” Then with issues #11-13, the story is not going to be called this, but it’s described in my notes as “The Gig To Save the Universe.” It’s the story where all the preparation and planning comes together and the cast tries to be the Avengers they wish to be.
There are a lot of cameos in these upcoming issues. We’ve got a ton of heroes from teams across the Marvel Universe in issues #14-15, but there are quite a lot of appearances in the earlier issues as well.
If this were a television season, we’d be approaching the season finale. Issues #12-13 are the real big climax to everything, then issues #14-15 are the aftermath. It’s kind of the come down, and the rhythms we’re using in “Young Avengers” aren’t necessarily always like movies or television series, even though we talk about them a lot. It’s almost more akin to an album structure, especially with the aftermath. It’s a big party, and everyone is sort of drifting away, one by one.
Issues #12-13 are very much the climax. Issues #14-15 are resolution. The arc is set on New Year’s Eve, and it’s called “Resolution.”
In a way, it’s almost the outro track.
Exactly. The first five pages of “Young Avengers” which had Kate and Marvel Boy waking up and dealing with a Skrull attack were this overture. Then the last two issues are kind of the opposite of that. It’s the outro; the fadeout.
At this point, I’ve finished all the scripts, so I’ve been able to read through the last several issues of the “season,” and it holds together. Issues #12-13 are pretty frenzied, then in issues #14-15, there’s big, emotional stuff happening all the way through. That’s what I’m most happy with. There’s an emotional intensity to everything we do. We’ve got so many people, with so many stakes on the table, that I can start knocking over the dominos. Then, hopefully every scene is meaningful for that reason.
So from here on out, the brakes are off and readers aren’t going to be able to catch their breath until maybe the “Afterparty.”
Oh, yeah, and I think there are “WTF” moments in “Afterparty” as well. Those are different kinds of big moments, though. They involve big emotions as opposed to everything exploding. They’re a bit quieter.
The scale of issues #12-13 is enormous. We’ve got big crowd scenes and it’s got an epic pop super hero look. Issues #10-11 have a certain sadness to them. Billy and Teddy are away from each other, and there’s a sense of desperation; that there’s something missing from the team. There’s action and interesting set pieces as always, but what those two issues are about is that these characters have reached their breaking points and they’re deciding what they’re going to do about it.
We’ve talked in-depth about the story, so let’s start to wrap up by talking about what Jamie has prepared for readers in these next few issues. You guys have developed a reputation for trying interesting visual experiments in this book. Can you offer up any hints or teases about what’s to come?
[Laughs] With issue #10, the Mother issue, the idea was to do the opposite of normal. There’s some imaginative stuff in there, and a lot of it’s from Mother’s perspective. There are a lot of formless meta things in terms of panel shapes and how we use captions, which makes it visually interesting.
On the other hand, the idea of issue #10 is that it’s about the “grownups.” Mother is the grownup, so there are callbacks to our own personal mythology in terms of comic book storytelling. There are riffs on stuff that me and Jamie might have done elsewhere. It’s about age. Mother feels a little burnt out, and the only way she really exists is by parasitizing off of young people.
Issue #13 is pretty much the climax of this 15-issue season that we’re doing. Jamie knows that and knows that it’s got to have some spectacular spreads. I supply him with lists of ideas in the scripts, and when he reads them, he often comes up with other ideas and we work it out as we go along.
It’s very hard to say which one of the many ideas we put down on paper are actually going to come across. For instance, in issue #9, we have the panel where Mother has entangled all the bad dimension versions of our cast in the panel tentacles. I had a dozen different suggestions for that page, and one was similar to the perspective of the old video game, “Smash TV”; an arena style shooter.
There are so many ideas we make up and then decide not to do, and we’ve got a rule that we never repeat the same idea twice. We have to both generate more ideas than we can possibly use, and throw away more. And that’s fine. It’s all part of the gig.
I think it’s fair to say that “Young Avengers” is the most visually adventurous book you’ve done at Marvel.
That was one of the central ideas for the book. We bounce between the slice of life stuff, which we do in strict paneling, then the more imaginative and crazy stuff, where we do something fantastical. The more fantastical event that’s happening, the more fantastical the layouts are. That’s the general theory; even though we don’t always stick to it if it’d be unclear.
This decade doesn’t have a definitive super hero look, yet. We’re still operating in the fallout from the ’80s and ’90s paramilitary style. So we thought, “Let’s step away from almost everything everyone was done in that period, and try to work out a new way of doing things.” That’s one of the reasons we’re as experimental in the context of a super hero comic as we are.
In the ’60s, Marvel reinvented how super hero comics looked, and we wanted to do that. I doubt we’ll achieve it, but the idea was always that we should try. Trying and failing is kind of a worthwhile thing, which is kind of the theme of “Young Avengers.” There’s a sort of gang mentality to this book. Despite being a lot older in many ways, we creators are the cast in terms of the battles, failures and passions involved. So we had to try.
The one thing me and Jamie never had at Marvel was a book we designed from the ground up and did exactly what we wanted with. With this book, we weren’t involved with any crossovers, and the only other artists involved were ones we invited. This season will be a singular statement of what super hero comics could be according to the book of me, Jamie and Matt [Wilson, the colorist of “Young Avengers”].
I feel like a lot of the writers at Marvel have their own short signature work. Obviously, “Hawkeye” is Matt Fraction’s at the moment, but if you go back a little further, it’s “The Immortal Iron Fist.” I’ve never really had that. Even “Journey Into Mystery” was shaped by its crossovers. This season was very much conceived to scratch that itch.
Basically, it’s your way of saying, “Here’s what I can do if you give me the keys to the car and get out of my way.”
Exactly — and let me have a nervous breakdown. [Laughs] Sometimes I feel deranged when I talk about “Young Avengers,” but that’s because there are a lot of energies that are going into the book, and that makes it occasionally strained to the point of breaking, which is both a strength and a weakness. That’s what the book is, though. It’s my version of teenage hormones, I guess. [Laughs]
We’re on our way towards the end game of this season. All the pieces are set up and ready to be kicked over, and things are going to get stranger, more emotional and more exciting. If I have to say one thing in general about my work, it’s that the ends of my larger stories are better than the starts. I’m quite methodical about how I put things into place, and I think this is true of “Young Avengers.” So if you’ve liked it so far, it will only get better — unless I messed up. [Laughs]