People who know me are generally surprised when they find out I’m a huge fan of Phonogram, the ode to the power of music from Kieron Gillen and James McKelvie. Britpop does not seem to coexist easily with a love of Rob Zombie and Sparta, but only if you don’t realise that a love of any music is a love of all music. Rammstein segues easily into Blondie then morphs into I Am Kloot. For some, comics and music are two very different disciplines but for me they’ve always intertwined in a way that I can’t quite explain.
Every comic has its own soundtrack, every character their own story told in songs. One album I picked up last year generated an entire comic script in my head. And one comic I picked up at the weekend, Young Avengers #1, made me dance with joy.
Comics have their own rhythm and their own page beats, but some are a more exhilarating ride than others. Young Avengers #1 is seven pages in before it lists the credits – not that I’ve noticed after being ripped from my reality and transplanted in theirs – complete with the song title that a character starts dancing to on page three. The Ronettes are suddenly blasting in my mind, replaying the previous cute Kate Bishop and Noh-Varr interaction and hyperkinetic action sequence with that drum beat and hip swinging harmonies. It’s humming away in the background as I read through dramatic scenes and emotional smooching between Billy and Teddy (be my, be my baby), looping around again as fan-favourite Kid Loki appears (oh since the day I saw you, I have been waiting for you) and the frankly awesome Miss America bursts on to the scene (you know I will adore you ’til eternity). And finally, completely disarming me moments before the shock ending (whoah oh oh wtf).
It’s not about listing the song title, it’s about that song being immediately recognisable to everyone and enhancing what is already on the page. I see that track and I can’t avoid it playing in my head, and moving around as I keep reading. I get to the end with a stupid grin on my face and shove the comic into the hands of my partner. “Read it. Just… read.”
Beginning with Kate being secure in herself brings me excitement and relief in equal measure. Full disclosure: I don’t read a lot of Marvel. Sure, I’ve read a lot of the old stuff and kept up with my beloved Daredevil but until recently, I gave most of the more modern output a wide berth. I love the classic X-Men stories and the idea of the Avengers really appeals to me, but there’s about a million different titles to follow and I usually just smile politely and then head back to Gotham, before finally collapsing in frustration that intertwining titles and events are inescapable (and truck over to Image, Dark Horse and the indies).
Journey into Mystery changed that for me after I picked up an issue and decided from the amusing introduction text alone that this was a Very Good Book. It fitted into Marvel’s continuity perfectly I’m told but for someone like me who didn’t have a clue what was going on elsewhere, it was also just bloody enjoyable. Who was writing it? Ah, Kieron Gillen. From there I spread out and picked up Captain Marvel then Hawkeye. Comics that were doing something different and that were immediately accessible. Comics with an energy to them that made me forget the ancient canon and convince me that these were brand new creations, totally fresh and filled with potential. They’re not comics that I simply read but stories that arrive fully formed to play across my brain and leave me as energised as a brilliant film or mind-blowing game experience.
It would be tempting to say then that JiM brought me to Young Avengers. But a few years ago, when I was first getting into comics, there were two Marvel series in particular that really made me fall in love: Runaways and Young Avengers. The teams have popped up here and there since, but as a non-everything reader it seemed like they pretty much disappeared. When Marvel Now! was announced I was momentarily excited – here perhaps would be my ideal jumping on point to get on board with the X-Men and Avengers, and and… but that still seems mostly confusing with a huge number of titles (suggestions on a postcard?). Disappointment took hold, even as I looked at gorgeous cover art.
But then I saw Young Avengers. By Kieron Gillen. And James McKelvie. And Matthew Wilson. Team Phonogram. Not to mention the other names, including Mike Norton. Shut up and take my money! That the credits list other contributing roles as LOLs and FEELS will probably cause some to shake their heads in dismay. For me, and no doubt for the legion of tumblrites out there, it was a reassurance that we were back on exciting ground. Serious and playful, terrific writing and art with a sense of fun.
It’s not the Young Avengers of old. It doesn’t need to be. The change in comics over the last 10 years is nothing short of phenomenal, and Young Avengers is at the front of a lesser talked about movement: (mainstream/superhero) comics for people who don’t read comics, that still impress people who do read comics. It’s not about the continuity or the wider universe, it’s about the storytelling and the characterisation. Because there are literally millions of people out there that love these superhero universes in film form, yet find nothing accessible on paper. Bookshops are heaving with trade paperbacks that don’t tell you where to start, yet Vertigo series and Image comics are instantly snapped up. Vertigo has been playing this trick the longest perhaps with Sandman and Preacher, Transmetropolitan and The Invisibles, all appealing to those who have never stepped foot inside a comics shop (and many who consequently did). When a comic reminds me of the sheer joy that Transmet brings me, I rush out and tell everyone.
Young Avengers #1 references the past, it points to Spider-Man and has the god of mischief Loki as a child. It mentions beings named the Scarlet Witch and Galadriel in the same sentence and you need know no more about one than the other for the comic to work. Teddy and Billy are a long-term couple but you find out all you need to love them in a couple of pages. Everyone is introduced, thrown on the page with the assumption that they have busy lives, and eventually, surely, will all meet up. You don’t need any pre-existing knowledge to enjoy this book but equally, it doesn’t step on any toes. It’s a slightly more adult version of the former Young Avengers, gorgeous girls and boys with their own agency and ambitions. It’s being 18 and caught in that horrible twilight zone of childhood and adult life, when everyone around you has expectations that are equally high and low.
It’s Kate Bishop waking up in Noh-Varr’s bed, watching him dance (female gaze! holy crap!) and not feeling ashamed for not even catching his name. And then it’s panels everywhere, action all at once, no words required and The Ronettes playing the past over the future.
Read it, love it, share it. There are pages here to look at that demonstrate the art and pacing, but nothing compares to picking up this book, making it work across your vision as you turn the pages and move through the music. Enjoy.
[NB: "mainstream" comics as a phrase, bad, yes, cringe, forgive me.]
Young Avengers #1
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie with Mike Norton
Colourist: Matthew Wilson
Letters: VC’s Clayton Cowles
LOLs: Jake Thomas
FEELS: Lauren Sankovitch
Optional soundtrack: Be My Baby – The Ronettes
If you like, try: Phonogram, Hawkeye