Being a super powered teen in the Marvel Universe is a tough and often confusing experience. Just look at the Young Avengers. They work hard to gain the respect of their idols, the Avengers, then the entire world gets turned upside down by the Skrulls’ “Secret Invasion.” Then, Norman Osborn is suddenly in charge of a new team of Avengers tasked with making him look good while he advances his villainous agenda. So where does this leave the Young Avengers? What path will they choose now that Evil seems to have won in the Marvel U? Writer Paul Cornell and artist Mark Brooks answer these questions and more in “Dark Reign: Young Avengers,” a five issue mini-series that begins this May. CBR News spoke with Cornell about the series.
Cornell earned the “Dark Reign: Young Avengers” assignment based on the strength of his issue of the “Young Avengers: Presents” mini-series, which featured YA members Vision and Cassie Lang, AKA Stature. “Tom asked me if I'd like to do a YA mini, and, having had so much fun with the Vision on 'YA Presents,' and being such a fan of the characters, I was immediately up for it. I was given some specific parameters, which is also good,” Cornell told CBR News. “There's nothing worse than a blank sheet of paper. Well, okay, a shark attack is worse.”
As readers saw in his issue of “Young Avengers Presents” Cornell has a fondness for both Vision and Stature, but he also finds the other couples in the Young Avengers equally compelling. “I really like Kate [Bishop AKA Hawkeye] and Patriot too. I just love Hawkeye completely, and she's going to be the voice of rationality this time round,” the writer remarked. “And Wiccan/Hulkling is a wonderful relationship, so we'll see those two get a lot of screen time.”
The ideological schism over superhuman registration caused Stature to leave the Young Avengers and join the U.S. Government's Initiative program but, “Dark Reign: Young Avengers” finds the team once again back at full strength. “They're whole as a team again, the end of 'Secret Invasion' having brought them together, and ended the rifts brought about by 'Civil War,'” Cornell explained. “Cassie's still part of the Initiative, but she doesn't see much of a contradiction in meeting up with her friends now. They all basically think that sooner or later unregistered heroes, especially those who fought the Skrulls, are going to be let off the hook.”
The last time readers saw the “Young Avengers” cast was in the final issue of “Secret Invasion” when they were they were part of the climatic battle with the Skrull invaders. Fighting against the Skrulls proved especially difficult for Hulkling because of his half Kree and half Skrull heritage, and when “Dark Reign: Young Avengers” begin he’s still haunted by the experience of battling his own people. “He's very keen to get away from fighting a war,” Cornell explained. “This is a thread I'm going to touch on quite gently, but the YAs in general have a creed about being super heroes, which this mini is going to be a debate about, and one thing super heroes aren't is soldiers.”
The plot of “Dark Reign: Young Avengers” finds the title characters thrust into a role they're not used to playing. “This is a story about what happens when the next generation come along, and suddenly you aren't the new young thing,” Cornell stated. “When you find yourself saying 'if only you kids would calm down and listen-' It's the YAs finding themselves as the unlikely voices of order rather than the rebels, and being variously uncomfortable with, annoyed about and accepting of that.”
To make matters worse, the kids that the Young Avengers are trying to get to act responsibly and heroically are operating under an all too familiar name. “There's this group of new super heroes (?) who call themselves the Young Avengers. They're young rebels on the run from the establishment, feared and hated by a world they've sworn to protect. And Patriot finds, kind of against his better nature, that he really hates them having taken the name. He wants to see if they're worthy. But why should they submit themselves to that? Except that some of them really want his approval,” Cornell stated. “Only these guys--some of them really aren't so worthy. By the end of it, we'll see in greater detail the commitment and sacrifice the YAs make to be who they are, how hard it is to be defined as hero, by yourself and other people, and keep that going, all the time. Because some of these new kids just don't have that, in horrifying ways.”
The Dark “Young Avengers” are just as eclectic a group as the original Young Avengers. Only their ranks are composed of misfits and misguided characters, many of whom see the art of superheroics as being more about hurting than helping people. Cornell provided a role call and a brief description of each team member:
“The Melter: an idealistic kid who can't get a good costume together, with the organic power to melt-- anything. Which is kind of useless, right? Or maybe it could work, if only he could get a break. He finds himself the leader of the group, and tries his best, but can't get any respect either. And there's something truly terrible that happens to him, because of him, in the first issue.
“The Enchantress: his girlfriend, sort of, when she feels like it, an offhand and fly by night magician who claims she's from Asgard, but can't quite manage to keep the right sort of speech patterns going.
“The Executioner: a rich and organized urban vigilante, who hunts and kills criminal scum. And likes to hurt pets.
“Big Zero: a white power skinhead who can grow to enormous size or sink to microscopic, who claims she's raising an army in the Microverse with the aim of toppling the Federal government. Her favorite thing is to goad people of other races.
“Coat of Arms: a celebrated modern artist who chronicles the nature of superheroics in her art. She put the Melter in charge and places the team in what she calls 'scenes': foiling a bank robbery; battling another super hero team. She believes that her job isn't to lead the parade, but to observe it.
“Egghead: the team's cracked android, cruel and wayward and not above a bit of dissection.
“This story is about what happens when, taking the lead from Norman Osborn, and with a lack of established rules about some of the basics of how to live with powers, 'anything is permitted,' and young would-be heroes have to make it up as they go along,” Cornell continued. “As we'll see, the YAs did that very well, without ever realizing they had. Now they find themselves in a confrontational, then a mentoring role, meeting a dark mirror of themselves. As you might gather, with the above characters, karma and guilt and bad luck and malice all have their part to play. Can any of the new kids be saved, and do they want saving anyway? Or is the YA's way of doing things out of date now?”
Cornell is thrilled that his “Young Avengers Presents” collaborator Mark Brooks is the one bringing “Dark Reign: Young Avengers” to life. “I said on stage at the Dublin comics convention that Mark was an artist I really wanted to work with again, without a thought in my head that it would actually happen,” the writer said. “He's got those things I always love in artists: a flare for drama, for acting, for being able to finesse expressions on talking heads, so I can place silences and leave things unsaid like I would in television; the ability to do big pow pow pow action scenes; and a sense of humor and life about what he draws.”
He's just begun writing “Dark Reign: Young Avengers” but Cornell is enjoying the assignment and like all good hero stories he plans on pushing his adolescent protagonists to their limits-- and beyond. He said, “It's very dark, very hard, and it's going to be interesting to keep the light of the YAs shining through it.”