In true “nothing lasts forever” fashion, January’s 2014’s “Young Avengers” #15 will mark the end of Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton and Matt Wilson’s epic run. This iteration of the post-teen team’s adventures will conclude, leaving the comic shelves bereft of tales featuring breakfast rendezvous, gooey parasitic parents, and — as they say on Tumblr and therefore in “Young Avengers” — feels. “Young Avengers” will be dead, but long may “Young Avengers'” publishing schedule live!
You see, “YA” isn’t being canceled; Gillen, McKelvie and company’s story is ending. This concept is pretty much foreign to superhero comics, especially those published by Marvel and DC Comics. It’s so foreign that news of Gillen and McKelvie’s departure and the title’s end hit as hard as a punch from Miss America Chavez; people couldn’t believe it. The series has been a critical darling and a runaway hit on the Internet, where panels from every single issue lead to a combined bajillion notes on Tumblr.
The book’s also one of the most important ones published by Marvel, a company that’s now being lauded for its diverse roster of characters. “Young Avengers” stars Marvel’s most prominent gay couple, Wiccan and Hulkling, and the aforementioned heavy-hitting Miss America, the Latina powerhouse that caused every thrift store in the country to immediately sell out of denim jackets adorned with an American flag. Let’s not forget the re-introduction of the African American Prodigy, now an out bisexual, and the book’s decidedly anti-shame stance on Kate Bishop and Noh-Varr’s hook-ups. “Young Avengers” is the most NOW! book being published at Marvel; the reason it’s such a hit is because readers — myself included — see themselves, their attitudes, and their lifestyles reflected back in the pages of this book… albeit with a lot more punching.
This book is a success, so it’s not being canceled. It’s ending. And that’s something that I think a lot of mainstream superhero comics should pay attention to.
We’re living in a weird transition time for comic books. The industry is slowly finding out that the ways of yesteryear and yesterday don’t really work anymore, and “Young Avengers” picking its own endpoint is evidence of that. If this were any year prior to 2000, a new creative team would be locked and loaded on the book, already hard at work on #16. If this was anytime between 2001 and, well, now, it wouldn’t be surprising if Marvel had a new volume of “Young Avengers” on the backburner, ready to roll immediately following this volume’s conclusion. After all, new #1 issues sell. But it looks like something different is happening; it looks like Gillen and McKelvie have finished their story and… Marvel’s going to let it rest afterwards. At least for a little while.
This is because, I think, the way that readers interact with comics has changed. When I was a kid, I bought single issues on a monthly basis. It didn’t matter who made the comic; if it had the X-Men in it, I bought it. I didn’t care how big the number on the cover was. I wasn’t intimidated by it and, honestly, trade paperbacks were few and far between. The only option to read and enjoy comics involved jumping right in. Series kept on rolling, their numbers kept on climbing.
Then a shift happened in the early 2000s. The publishers starting becoming wary of those big numbers, and they started publishing trades for literally every story. Gone were the done-in-one issues of my youth; now every done-in-one was a done-in-six. Now, more than ever, new fans actually had an alternative to just jumping in with single issues. There were now numbered volumes of back issues readily available at every bookstore and comic book store in the country. This was a smart move on Marvel and DC’s part, as comic books became more intertwined within mainstream popular culture. Now issue numbers didn’t matter as much as the way the trades were dressed up.
But another shift has happened. The Internet has finally caught up with the comic book industry, and their union has produced easily attainable digital copies of back issues and collections, as well as an awareness of the people behind the comics. “Young Avengers” fans know who Gillen and McKelvie are, even if that’s only because they want to troll them. Whereas 20 years ago, creative shifts happened with little fanfare, they’re now big deals, and continuing fan favorite series without the creators that made them work is an incredibly risky move. Think about how many times you saw “Breaking Bad” showrunner Vince Gilligan’s smile on television and online in the weeks leading up to the show’s finale, and I know you haven’t forgotten the panic button the internet punched when Dan Harmon was fired from NBC’s “Community.” Fans were reading Gillen and McKelvie’s “Young Avengers,” not just “Young Avengers.”
Allowing this creative team to decide the fate of their ongoing feels right, and it feels like the future. The thing is, I don’t really know what an ongoing series is nowadays. Many ongoing series don’t make it past their sixth issue, putting them firmly in “limited series” territory. Even Marvel’s flagship titles, ones like “Uncanny X-Men” that are guaranteed to be published, don’t really hit ongoing level numbers anymore. “Uncanny X-Men” volume 1 hit #544, and then volume 2 hit #20 before being relaunched with a third volume. As soon as an event dictates a renumbering, we’ll have a volume 4 on our iPads.
But maybe new series shouldn’t be labeled as an ongoing or limited series when they’re announced. Maybe a book like the recently canceled “Fearless Defenders” should be greenlit with the intention of telling one longer, self-contained story by the same creative team, much in the same way “Young Avengers” has done. After all, it sounds way better to hear that a beloved book like “Fearless Defenders” is ending rather than being canceled. One sounds like the creative team has reached the end of their story and is going out on a high note, whereas the other one comes loaded for bear with horrible connotations and incites anger and disappointment. I mean, if I was in charge of Marvel, I would love to do away with the word “canceled” altogether. That’s one of the most negative words in comics. Put it out of our misery.
So “Young Avengers” isn’t canceled, it’s ending. The creative team has told the story they want to tell, and it’s going out on a high point — most likely filled with enough twists and turns to keep the Tumblr meme gurus busy for months. This isn’t a sad thing, it’s a great thing. Hopefully more “ongoing” series will be able and allowed to chart their course as expertly as the good captains of “YA” have.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).