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.
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.
Eli 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.
There’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.