September 15, 2012

Review: Avengers: The Children's Crusade


Avengers: The Children's Crusade
Avengers: The Children's Crusade by Allan Heinberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars




This is really a three-star collection of comics, but I gave it an extra star because of the gay teen relationship between Wiccan (Billy) and Hulkling (Teddy) more or less at center stage.

Although I don't read much contemporary costumed heroes comics -- I get bored with the endless retcon reinvention and the constant deaths and rebirths -- I was seeing so much Billy/Teddy slash shipping yaoi (or whatever the term is) online that I had to check out the source and witness the relationship that the gay fanboys seemed to be getting so worked up about for myself.

But I found The Children's Crusade, a collection of nine comic books, rather disappointing. The characters, including Billy and Teddy, don't really have personalities. They're defined mainly as rip-offs of old Avengers, and by their powers. They don't have inner lives or character. The teenagers don't act like teenagers, and the adults don't act like adults. They all act like old-school comic book characters as written by someone who didn't pay attention to real human beings. In particular, I have to contrast these characters in the Young Avengers to interesting characters like those in the X-Men, or New Mutants, or even the Teen Titans. Those were far more believable teenagers.

So, while it's sweet and progressive and important that Wiccan and Hulkling are boyfriends, and they look adorable together, I also didn't ever feel why they liked each other, never mind anything to do with love. Because I didn't get to know them as people, I couldn't experience their romance. And so their big kiss late in the book is seriously anti-climactic and even dull.

But this lack of inner life was an issue for all the characters. Because of the machinations of the plot, some of the teens had to make difficult decisions, or they whined about their tasks or role . . . but it meant nothing because we'd seen no development of their interiors. A few of the superheroes even die, and I didn't give a shit, because who cares if a generic kid in a costume dies? I didn't know him, I didn't know her, so I'm not affected. Really, they all come off as boring duds.

I said earlier that the characters were sometimes defined by their powers, but another problem was that the powers weren't consistent and weren't really put into play. The Scarlet Witch can control the fabric of reality, for example, but in practice she just levitates and glows and shoots beams of red energy. Same thing with Magneto: he controls metal -- he doesn't BLAST the enemy. Stupid, and a waste of moments when power could have been connected to character.

The artwork is good comic illustration throughout, with excellent coloring and printing. The pages are vibrant. But most of the art is realistically-rendered, except in a very few spots where suddenly the facial expressions shift into manga-style caricature, like the Teen Titans TV show did (to much better and more consistent effect). It just comes off as lazy shorthand here.

For a book about a magical gayboy and his antagonistic brother searching for their mother, the lack of interior emotion really causes the whole plot to fall flat. Plus that storyline is based on really iffy "soul transference" points that are elided and barely mentioned, probably because they made so little sense. It reads as a work-around, but it's awfully important to the story, and should have been a better-thought-out kernel of truth at its core instead of a vague placeholder that defies suspension of disbelief.

Wiccan and Hulkling -- and all the Young Avengers -- deserve better.




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