Or – “How To Ignore Fourteen Characters To Revive One.”

reviewbubble.jpg7cwrun.jpgI wish you all a “Happy American Day Of Eating Till Ya Nearly Burst…” I had far too much pie and far too little sleep, but I’m here and ready to rock. Since it’s Thanksgiving, I thought I might go over an interesting question: What are you thankful for when it comes to comics?

I’m thankful for Garth Ennis, for “Agents of Atlas,” for the return of Shang Chi and Mon-El and Nova. Hell, there are a lot of things right about today’s comics industry. Fascinating characters, excellent writers, plotlines that are complex and adult… I enjoy the hell out of a great many books on the stands right now, probably more than any time in the last 20 years. That’s what makes the negatives so annoying: excessive decompression of stories, violence as character development, and a “throw it at the wall to see if it sticks this time” approach to characters like The Creeper and Doctor Strange. I walked into this miniseries thinking “Hey, I dig the Young Avengers… I dig the Runaways… It has to fall on the side of good things in comics, right?” Wanna bet whether or not I was being naive?

1cwrun.jpgDidja get good odds? The first three issues of this book have struggled under the weight of half a dozen different logistical nightmares: The overarching storyline of the Civil War, a new writer having to explain and characterize over a dozen main characters, including two Ultron-derived A.I.’s AND two different Skrulls, as well as reviving a Grant Morrison property that could have filled four issues all by itself. We got a scene or two that approached the usual sparkle of the characters’ home books, but mostly I found that, while the writing was good, it’s not as good as regular series creators Bryan Vaughan & Allan Heinberg. Given their skills and quality, that’s not any kind of insult.

We start this issue in a really ugly place, as various members of both teams have been captured by the warden of The Cube, a rather nasty prison that is essentially designed to hold one man: Noh Varr of the Kree, a would-be world conqueror last seen in his own limited series half a decade ago. See here for more on him. The warden being who he is (a bastard), has taken it upon himself to torture and experiment on his teenage prisoners, even torturing Hulkling in front of his boyfriend Wiccan… What about Wiccan’s own amazing powers?

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That is COLD… I find myself hating The Warden, but in that manipulative “The writer sure is working hard to make me dislike this schmuck” way. Meanwhile, the rest of both teams are left outside to freak out and speak expositional dialogue. There’s a lot of discussion of what has gone before, with characters angry, characters concerned, characters depresssed, but mostly? Characters talking, talking, talking. On the bright side, Runaway Victor Mancha and Young Avenger Stature engage in some teenage flirtation that rings really authentic and cute for me, while Runaways leader Nico decides to get educated, asking The Vision whether or not he has an onboard thesaurus… Why would she want that? Well, Nico has access to magical powers, but her “Staff of One” keeps her from being able to use the same incantation more than once.

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It just occured to me that Nico has virtually the same powers as Wiccan, making another parallel between the two teams. Even having read both books, it’s weird for me to make these connections after the face. Faced with an attack, the Warden sends off his secret weapon, Noh Varr, and returns to his vivisection. In a blinding stroke of luck, the first two team members horribly tortured were the shape-shifting alien Skrulls, proving that Coincidence ain’t just a river in Egypt, or something. In any case, as he prepares to dissect his first actual human victim, a shadow rises behind him. Xavin of Skrullia, gender-bending intergalactic warrior, has been playing possum. Unaware of his imminent squashing, the Warden taunts pacifist Wiccan into threatening to kill him, remarking that even children can be dragged into war. Having lived his/her entire life at war with the Kree, Xavin takes umbrage.

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Sing it with me! “On the Skrull home world, in a secret laboratory, they modified a chromosome and so begins the story…” Xavin’s not just a pretty girl/handsome young lad, he/she’s also being groomed to be the next Super-Skrull, and has the powers of the Fantastic Four. Noh-Varr begins to knock the stuffings out of both teams outside, and inside Xavin goes in for the kill. For the first time, the Warden has lost the upper hand, and starts to question his life-calling of torturing superhumans. Luckily for him, Young Avenger Hulkling (secretly Dorrek VIII prince of the Skrulls) steps in to stop his fellow shifter.

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Isn’t it interesting that in 1961 the Skrulls were all evil alien things, and in the 21st Century, no less than 3 of them have starring roles as heroes? You have to appreciate that kind of tenacity. Green Power! In any case, a rather stilted discussion about not killing ensues, and Xavin finally acquieses when his/her girlfriend Karolina arrives, imploring him/her not to kill. Back at the battle, Noh-Varr is handily trouncing the assembled teenagers, until The Vision takes over the computer core of the prison. Useful power, that, as it allows him to not only stop Noh-Varr from attacking, but repair the damage to the nanosystems that give the Kree his powers. I’m not sure this is a good thing, but the teams decide that, since their immediate attacker is down, it’s time to go home.

Wait, what? “We’ve just empowered an alien powerhouse that wants to conquer and destroy our planet. But our friends are safe! It’s Miller Time!” The kids all get ready to go their separate ways, when Young Avengers leader Patriot tries to get the Runaways to join up with Captain America’s resistance. This, by the way, is the only real reference to the chaos in the rest of the Marvel Universe, which makes me wonder how they call it a Civil War miniseries in the first place. Nico responds with some of the most stilted dialogue in my recent memory.

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“Hey, now I get their name!” Oy. I haven’t seen dialogue life that since… Hmm. What year did “The Facts of Life” go off the air, anyway? Meanwhile, back at the prison, the horrible Warden has gotten his just desserts, having taunted Noh-Varr for however long it’s been in Marvel time.

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So, the only really consequence was to return a psychotic genetically-modified Kree warrior to his right mind, and leave him in command of a federally funded prison, the better to take over the world with. I think I’ve made this point before, but this miniseries felt more like a test run for Noh-Varr, what the TV types call a pilot, than any sort of showcase for the two supposedly-starring teams. Sure, it kept the Young Avengers in the spotlight so Allan Heinberg could not write Wonder Woman, but nothing really HAPPENED. Xavin’s interactions with Hulkling were interesting, and the plot was kinda clever, but meh. This issue wasn’t BAD, it was just sort of… there.

Young Avengers is a clever book, with excellent characterization and a deep base of Marvel history. Runaways is a subversive and excellent look at very realistically motivated and characterized teenagers with some of the strongest characterization of any title Marvel puts out. This limited series didn’t really bring that along. The art was interesting, but dissimilar from both of the home titles, leading to that annoying “Wait, which character is this?” feeling. The only thing that felt actually wrong was the strangely pastel computer coloring, yet I still came away from the series feeling like I could have spent the 12 bucks on Heroclix and not missed much. “Relentlessly average” is probably the quickest way to describe this issue, and the miniseries in general. There’s nothing wrong with average, but I guess I expected the book to be more like the home titles. A couple of good character moments combined with competent art earn this one an unenthusiastic two stars.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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2 Comments

  1. Bruce
    November 26, 2006 at 12:05 pm — Reply

    I can’t wait til the New Super Skrull starts cruisin’ chick with Arnim Zola…

  2. November 26, 2006 at 10:39 pm — Reply

    He’s not even possible… but, what the hell? He’s Super Skrull!

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