Young Avengers, and Why I Can’t Relate

September 13th, 2006 by | Tags: ,

Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s Young Avengers ended up being something of an out-of-nowhere hit, despite fandom assembled’s idea that it would be something stupid. People rave about the awesome characterization, the realistic depiction of relationships both platonic and, uh, not platonic, between teenagers, and a careful attention to Marvel lore.

I can’t relate. I don’t like it. Let’s start at the beginning, all right?

I’ll be honest. When I first heard about Young Avengers, I couldn’t have cared less. The Avengers have almost always been Marvel’s version of Dad Comics to me. A bunch of characters I don’t like fighting villains I’ve never heard of. Young Avengers was about as interesting to me as a new Wonder Man or Ms. Marvel series.

Then, I read somewhere that it was going to be tied to Marvel’s Truth: Red, White, and Black miniseries. I found that mini to be quite enjoyable, so hurrah! Marvel hadn’t forgotten its black readership!

It turned out that Patriot had some form of tie to Captain America. A blind man could tell that he was tied to the Isaiah Bradley. Sweet! This would be a great replacement for Priest’s late, lamented The Crew, which was reportedly canceled before the first issue hit the stands. It featured Josiah X, son of Isaiah Bradley as a main character. He was interesting, and it was a shame that the series was not only canceled, but never collected in a trade.

So! My interest is piqued. I was just hoping that they weren’t going to call the black kid “Bucky,” you know? The first issue hits. Ehh… it’s okay, I guess? The first story arc is pretty much a whirlwind of Marvel minutiae and Avengers continuity. The only thing I know about Kang the Conqueror is that he has a stupid name and may or may not be Immortus from the future, okay? So, Young Avengers becomes one of those books. You know the kind I mean. The kind you read because everyone else is reading it and raves so maybe you’re missing something.

youngavengers7-24.jpg I stuck with it, which goes against my rule of “Don’t spend money if you don’t love it.” I stuck with it through the first arc, read issue 7, and quit the book. Young Eli, the super-soldier Patriot, possible leader of the team is not only a crap leader, but a lying junkie. Are you serious?

I’m not one of those guys who demands that black characters in comics be representatives of the entire race and squeaky clean. That’s boring. I love Luke Cage, even his MAX series. I like Static, The Falcon, all those guys. Look, I can even prove it. Papa Midnite is on my list, despite his grass skirt and top hat past. I listen to Slim Thug, UGK, and T.I. just as much as I listen to Hendrix, Mos Def, and Atmosphere. I don’t think that a poor portrayal of one person from a group is indicative of a bit of the old bigotry. If there’s a trend, then sure. But, this bothers me. It colors my whole opinion of the book.

Let’s run down the Young Avengers.
Iron Lad: Will one day grow up to be Kang the Conqueror, but is fighting his destiny.
Hawkeye: Was attacked in a park, so she trained and learned to be prepared for next time.
Stature: Inherited her father’s powers through exposure to Pym particles, became a hero with her new buddies.
Wiccan: Probably a son of Scarlet Witch and Vision. He almost gets beaten up by a bigoted jerk when he tries to help a kid from the same fate, but nearly kills the guy when his powers activate.
Hulkling: Used his shapeshifting powers to get by at first, but found the strength to be himself after visiting the wreckage of Avenger’s mansion. He learned not to hide himself.
Patriot: Used to get beat up a lot because he was weak, gets tempted into using Mutant Growth Hormone to get revenge, and finally uses it so that he can be a hero like his grandfather.

One of these things is not like the other.

yas-01-030.jpgEli was a coward. He was weak and his idea of overcoming his hardships was not, like the rest of the team, putting in that leg work and making yourself into a better person. It was to take the shortcut, get hopped up on MGH, and then lie about being a super-soldier to the people he called his friends. He’s just another failure. He’s 1970s Luke Cage, Ebony White, and Bishop. He’s Captain Marvel getting demoted and drummed out of the Avengers.

It’s weird. I’ve always loved those black characters that were true to life. Race is big in the life of almost every single black person I’ve ever met, but the biggest black character at Marvel, Storm, rarely ever had to address it, at least in my experience. Also, make no mistake– Storm is black. Her father was American. Bishop was from far enough in the future that I guess it didn’t matter, and I haven’t read enough Cloak & Dagger to really tell.

yas-01-031.jpgThere’s a quote from the Harlem Renaissance that I’ve been trying to remember. I want to say that it was in response to Countee Cullen wanting to be a poet, and not a “negro poet.” The quote I have in mind boiled down to the idea that successful blacks tend to be removed from the race as a whole by outsiders, and being kind of the exception that proves the rule. “You speak so well for your kind!” and like that. That’s kind of how I think of Storm back in the day. It’s immature and borderline ignorant, but she wasn’t really black. The straight hair and blue eyes didn’t help at all, I will admit.

Milestone comics were a treat because they did deal with race. Their characters were black, white, hispanic, asian, whatever, but it didn’t overpower the story. Most importantly, though, it wasn’t so subdued as to be nonexistent. Outside of various “A Very Special Issue of…” and Christopher Priest, Marvel and DC have been loathe to deal with race in this way. I thought that maybe Eli would be the next Kaspar Cole, or maybe (long shot) Virgil Hawkins. Instead, I get this bizarre stereotype. He’s selfish. He’s a coward. He’s weak. He’s a liar. He’s a junkie. He’s yet another young black male going down the wrong road because he was stupid. He’s a stereotype.

There was a storyline about Speedy, now Arsenal, being hooked on smack. Is there a comparison here? C’mon, they were both heroes on drugs! No, not really. Speedy had the benefit of years of stories establishing him as a hero before he went down the wrong road. He turned to heroin after his life fell apart. Eli turned to MGH when he realized that he couldn’t cut it. Speedy had natural skills before and after the drugs. Until Eli actually got a transfusion from his grandfather, he didn’t have powers. No comparison.

Thanks for trying, guys, but no thanks. I’ll stick to Static, okay? Patriot, and the Young Avengers, are toxic to me. I get enough negative stereotypes in real life. If I’m going to do them in comics, they’d better be well-done. I half-wish that Patriot had been another super-strong thug, instead of a coward masquerading as a super-soldier. I can’t relate to that, and that was part of why I feel Marvel Comics were and are so relatable. Everyone knows or is a Peter Parker or Bruce Banner. Someone who is flawed, but good at heart.

I used to know Elijah Bradleys. I probably used to be one. I want no part of that.

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13 comments to “Young Avengers, and Why I Can’t Relate”

  1. I think it’s a little unfair, since you seem to have stopped before the story finished. As the story continued, Patriot got back on his game, without powers and even took a laserblast for Cap. Cap wanted to give him his blood for the transfusion, but Isaiah did it first. In other words, at least to me, Elijah got his powers because he earned them.

    I don’t exactly see how Patriot is so different from, say, Dr. Strange who was also a bit sketchy before coming into his heroic role. Same with Peter Parker.

    In other words, he made a human mistake, he owned up to it, he got past it and now he’s earned his right to be the leader. I don’t think he should be judged for the first 12 issues, but for how he plays it from now on.

    Young Avengers is one of those comics that I really enjoy, but not enough that I’m constantly waiting for it. I usually forget how much I like it five minutes after finishing an issue. Then when the new one comes out, I feel like, “Might as well read this comic, I guess,” and the cycle starts anew.

  2. I picked it up when I heard about the transfusion thing, and that was an improvement, but bleh on the book overall. Heinberg is pretty much miss with me, ’cause his Wonder Woman is pretty much uniformly terrible, save for the Dodsons on art.

  3. Another thing that just came to mind is that Patriot is not only meant to be the new generation version of Captain America, but he’s a rebuttal to years and years of Captain America/steroids jokes.

    One of Cap’s biggest criticisms is that he more or less got his powers from taking drugs. That’s the kind of idea that Elijah’s origin deals with. The truth is, in terms of the story, Captain America got his powers because he earned them with courage. You have this weak youngster who sees a cause he believes in and even though he isn’t much, he’s willing to die for it. They won’t let him take part, but he gets to risk his life in an experiment where the reward is having to be thrust into dangerous situations on a daily basis. He believed in fighting for America and gained his powers because of it.

    Now look at Elijah. At first, he goes with the idea that Captain America is a hero because he’s full of roids. His morals and heroism are put to question once we realize the truth of where his abilities come from. Elijah quits the growth hormones and distances himself from the team.

    Then Elijah breaks through his problems and goes through the same pattern as Steve Rogers. He’s just a kid, and physically, he’s not even on Bucky’s level. Even Cap takes the role of the recruiters from his era, claiming Elijah to be unfit. But Patriot believes in the Young Avengers and he finds the courage to lead them and fight for what he knows is right. And when everything’s all said and done, Elijah gets his powers from showing the same courage as the Captain.

    It’s almost 3am here and I’m drowsy as hell. I only hope this makes some kind of sense when I reread it in the morning.

  4. Um, I’ll agree with David, for a lot of reasons. I get this being an inversion of Cap’s origin, but being the grandson of the black Captain America is already a plenty good inversion of his origin, and it was interesting enough on its own, had lots of tension in it, was worth exploring on its own. At the very least, this was too fast and too sloppy.

    I’ve got similar problems with Hawkingbird being attacked in a park. I was interested already; I didn’t need that.

  5. I quite like Eli and the storyline about his problem with MGH but man, I agree with you about Kate. Have a blog post over on myothercomicbookblog.blogspot.com if you’re interested.

    Anyhow, I’m quite interested in the potential for romance between these two characters as well. They’ve got a bit of the sparks Namorite and Nova used to have.

  6. I had the exact same reaction to the whole “Black kid on drugs” thing with Eli.

    But I completely disagree with you about Milestone, and I don’t mind saying so. In my mind what they did with Eli was no different then what they did with the super-stereotypical characters in Milestone. To me, hearing anyone Black complain about one form of stereotyping while having forgiveness for another – especially when it’s produce by Blacks, irritates the heck out of me. I am Black and I am clear on one thing – we can’t have it both ways. We can produce stereotypes but complain about the production of stereotypes. We can complain about Michael Richards while praising Jay-Z, especially when they say EXACTLY the same things.

    I drop Young Avengers when they pull the drug thing. I don’t by Garth Ennis becuase he thinks he has some special license to use the N-word. I tried to get through New Avengers, but the whole “Luke Cage becomes “civillized” into the great white group after he gets a white girlfriend” irritated me.

    This does not mean Alias was bad – it means that I don’t use the N-word, I don’t play stereotypes about my people, I don’t want to hear any white tell me “I’m a good one.” I know these are comics, and I get that being a Fanboy does require some compromise. But as Val Kilner said in “Tombstone” “My hypocracy only goes but so far.” Because I won’t get caught in the same trap you catch yourself in. If you’re going to come down on Young Avengers, which they deserve, how can you simply gloss over some of the aweful things Milestone did with Black characters?

  7. If you’re going to come down on Young Avengers, which they deserve, how can you simply gloss over some of the aweful things Milestone did with Black characters?

    To be honest, I don’t think that I have an answer that would please you.

    It boils down to how I feel about how the story is told. Milestone’s writers and artists, in general, came from the black community. They know the tropes and stereotypes and how to subvert/invert them. They understand what they are doing when they do certain kinds of stories. it didn’t feel negligent when they did the bit about Rocket being pregnant, it felt honest. Young Avengers struck me in the opposite way. It felt like no one had even said “Hey, wait, maybe this isn’t right?” That’s the difference between Michael Richards and Jay-Z. Jay-Z has lived it, and is speaking from a position of knowledge. Richards was speaking from, if not hate, ignorance and bigotry.

    I don’t think that it is an either/or situation at all. I’m a fan of both Saul Williams and T.I. I understand that one is ignorant in the extreme and the other is on the opposite end of the spectrum. I enjoy both on different levels.

    I know stereotypes. I am, or have been, a stereotype. I understand that both being a stereotype and the opposite of that have their pros and cons. I’m somewhere in between the both ends.

    I’m not sure, man. I don’t think of it as hypocrisy at all. I’m not 100% sure how to describe it to you.

  8. […] the meantime, though, I got a lovely email from Lene Taylor of I Read Comics. She found my essay on Patriot via Kalinara and found it worth reading! It touched her enough that she talked about it on her […]

  9. For what it’s worth, Heinberg has said that he based the story on his own problems with drugs. It had nothing to do with Eli’s race.

    “Since I had personally had a recent (and regrettable) experience with steroids, steroid use was something I wanted to write about. For better or worse, Eli’s race was never a factor in those storytelling decisions, and I hope that by the end of this arc, Eli’s story will be an inspiring one to all our readers.” (see http://www.brokenfrontier.com/lowdown/details.php?id=328)

  10. I realize that the origin of the story had nothing to do with Eli’s race, and I believe Heinberg when he says it had nothing to do with it. I’m just saying that the story, and I can understand how it might be a good story, bothers me when paired with Eli’s race and the experiences and motivations of the other members on the team.

    I do not believe that Heinberg is racist. I just think that it was a poor storytelling choice, whether or not it was an inspiring story in the end.

    Thanks for the link. I don’t agree with everything in it, but it was an interesting read.

  11. The last Asian (male) character’s I saw was a frakkin green blob alien in New X-men and some Chinese guys invading America (in both the Ultimates and some other Marvel series). Your lucky black people are at least considered American.

  12. […] had some harsh words about Patriot a while back, and I stand by them. His origin makes him a sucker and a weakling on a team full of […]

  13. […] in 2006, David Brothers posted about his problems relating to Young Avengers, specifically Eli Bradley: Let’s run down the Young Avengers. Iron Lad: Will one day grow up to […]