For a long, long, long time in the world of comics there have been team books. In 1941 Marvel even had a book that teamed together all of the side-kicks of the Golden Age and had them fight Nazis just like their adult counterparts. And as far back as the launch of X-Men there have been books about young super-powered individuals being brought together to assure that they would become the heroes of tomorrow. New Mutants, Legion of Superheroes, Teen Titans, Young Justice, Infinity Inc., Generation X, Gen13, Young X-Men, Young Avengers, Avengers Initiative ... the list goes on and on. But this week Marvel has two different books coming out that high-light the exploits of young heroes who have had a rough go of it and who are in need of being pointed in the right direction.
First up is Young Allies from one of the best writers that comics has to offer when it comes to detailing the adventures of young characters super-powered or non: Sean McKeever and his recent partner in crime (they worked together on Nomad: Girl Without a World as well as the Nomad back up feature in Captain America) David Baldeόn. The two have clearly got a good sense for how the other likes to tell stories as they communicate the story they are presenting. The pages seem to have a natural flow to both the dialog and the visuals. The story they are telling is the formation of the team of Young Allies which happens to have also been the title of the team book that I mentioned before that began in 1941. The team, so far, seems to consist of a rag-tag group of characters that have had a certain level of popularity at times but have all (or mostly all) fallen by the wayside. Among them is Nomad (she used to be known as Bucky [the one created by Rob Liefeld during the Heroes Reborn days ... I know ... I thought it was going to be a terrible idea to use her as well ... but McKeever has proven that she can be an engaging and interesting character and so I trust him on this front]), Araña (a character that I was not sure warranted a return ... but again I trust McKeever), Gravity (a character that McKeever created with Mike Norton back when he first started working for Marvel back in 2005 and a character that I don't think was ever really given a fair day in court because he is a cool character), Firestar (yes, the one from Spider-Man's Amazing Friends), and a new character that McKeever has created for this series named: Toro (which is also the name of the sidekick of the original Human Torch from the 1940's, who appeared in the first Young Allies book).
The book is charming and instantly has the feel of "THE GATHERING OF THE HEROES" but still manages to do so without feeling overly cliché. The dialog is appropriately aged and has a genuine feel. The villains in the book are "The Bastards of Evil", which at first sounded like the most spectacularly lame name in the history of comics, until they reveal that each of the characters are the bastard children of super-villains and then it carries a certain emotional weight even if the characters are mostly, if not entirely, unlikable considering their motivations, which I will not spoil here, by which I mean they are the kinds of characters that you love to hate, they are the kinds of characters that I hope become longtime foils of the Young Allies. There is an interesting dynamic between them as they fight in the streets of Manhattan.
I highly recommend the book even if you haven't read Nomad: Girl Without a World, or any of the other books that introduced these characters. It's a solid read from beginning to end. McKeever's already got the kind of experience that is required to keep a book like this fresh and interesting (his run on Teen Titans was really great and is terribly under-read) and Baldeόn's artwork is consistently getting better and I think that he has the chance of becoming one of the artists about which the title of "Most Underrated" might start getting thrown around.
The other book that Marvel is releasing this week is Avengers Academy which comes to us from writer Christos Gage and artist Mike McKone. Gage, fresh off his run on Avengers Initiative (the spiritual predecessor to this book) brings a head of steam and the right kind of momentum to this book. McKone is one of my all time favorite comic artists and has worked on some of my favorite team books in recent memory (his runs on Exiles, Fantastic Four, and Teen Titans were all incredible not to mention that he was the artist on the first book I ever special ordered "Vext" from DC Comics). These are two high caliber creators teaming together on one of the highest profile launches of a teenaged Avengers launch since Allan Heinberg's Young Avengers.
The book lives up to the hype that has been built up around it as well. This is also one of those books where becoming a team isn't going to be second nature for any of these characters, it's got a "learning on the job" kind of feel as well. There is something about this book that makes me really excited about it's prospects. All of the characters are potential powerhouses in their own ways and it's clear that both the other characters and the creators understand this possibility and will be exploring this concept as we watch these characters learn about what it is to be a hero, because as has been proven many, many times before it takes more than super-powers to be a super hero.
The characters are all interesting and what I think is most interesting is the cast of characters who are going to be the "Teachers" of these young characters. Among them are Hank Pym, Justice, Speedball, Tigra, and Quicksilver. These are all characters with a history who have had problems in the past and have a dynamic concept to the process of teaching these rather powerful characters. The young characters again have a feeling of being genuine young characters, they don't seem like young figures delivering the dialog of adult characters like so often happens in books like this. Gage has more than proven his talent for writing the dynamic of teams and has a clear grasp on how to properly pen the characters he has created for the series.
There is a whole lot going for both of these books and I think that it shows a positive indication for the Heroic Age when it comes to new team books as both these as well as Avengers and Secret Avengers have all been strong stories upon debut and leave nothing to indicate that they won't continue to be strong books. So perhaps the time has finally come where Marvel's team books are going to be performing on the same kind of level as many of their solo character books had been over the last few years.
Get excited people!