Part of the appeal of the characters of the Marvel Universe is that they make mistakes, with what they do after they mess up defining them as heroes. We've seen it time and again in the origins of heroes like Spider-Man, the Hulk and countless others, and in the debut issue of Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton's Marvel NOW! series "Young Avengers," the teenager known as Wiccan made a mistake of his own, accidentally allowing a malevolent extra-dimensional entity called Mother into his reality.
Comic Book Resources spoke with Gillen about how Wiccan and his teammates will deal with that mistake and the writer's other plans for the series, which include a one-off issue featuring Speed and former New X-Men member Prodigy.
The arrival of Mother in "Young Avengers" #1 came about because Wiccan thought he was doing his boyfriend and teammate, Hullkling (AKA Teddy Altman) a favor by retrieving an extra-dimensional counterpart of his deceased mother. Instead, he summoned an entity impersonating Hulkling's mother, one who eventually demonstrated an ability to alter reality on a large scale.
"The ongoing questions in the first five issues are, what on Earth is this Mother parasite? What does it want? And what is it doing?" Gillen told CBR News. "The core idea of a strange and multi-dimensional character like Mother is exploring another good reason why you have to be careful when going dimension fishing. Of course, you always find a bad dimension, but predators like Mother are another danger. In my head, it's like an angler fish; it hangs this thing temptingly, and people bite on the lure. Billy has definitely bit into that lure."
Mother was brought into Billy's reality by the young mutant's magical abilities, powers Gillen approaches as being similar to the character's "spiritual" mother, the Scarlet Witch. "The Scarlet Witch does probability and reality manipulation. Billy is a reality manipulator. What he does is basically magic," Gillen explained. "In this case, the idea was to shuffle through some existing realities and see what was there. Billy's initial mistake isn't that he went to find Teddy's mom. It was more that he started experimenting with his powers and then comes across a reality with what he appears to want. The fact that he randomly shuffled through these dimensions makes him feel like it's now or never, and of course that's because Mother was dangling this possibility before him. She was waiting for someone like Billy take her lure. Like I said, she's an angler fish. This is what she does to feed."
In issue #2 of the series, the team's other magic manipulator Loki used his powers to free both Wiccan and Hulkling from a strange comic panel-like dimension Mother had imprisoned them in. The young god also performed several other magical feats during the course of the issue, but for the most part, they were minor spells.
"Loki's situation is explained a bit more in issue #3. He's got all the knowledge he held as an older god back. The problem is, he doesn't really have the raw power," Gillen said. "He's a 13 year-old Asgardian. He isn't the powerhouse he was when he was an adult. He knows a lot, so he can pull of some pretty fancy spells, but in the first two issues we see Loki making magic circles out of breakfast meat. That's funny, cute and Loki. It's not exactly like what Billy is doing when he's carving these magic circles in the air itself. Loki isn't really operating on a full tank. He's got his old knowledge back and an aptitude for magic like illusions and teleportation. But physically, he has small batteries, if you see what I mean."
During his run on "Journey Into Mystery," Gillen demonstrated a number of ways in which the new younger Loki is similar to his older villainous self along with the many ways he is different. Young Loki's new magic knowledge has left some readers wondering, though, if he's stumbled onto the path of villainy.
"There are people who have read 'Journey Into Mystery' and they have their own suspicions about what's going on with Loki. However, I don't want to lose the people who haven't read 'JiM.' They also have their own suspicions about Loki. He's clearly up to something, but how genuine is he in wanting to help the Young Avengers?" Gillen said. "The question is not about Loki becoming his old self, it's more about, what does Loki stepping into this role actually mean? And what does it mean for gods? We'll eventually reveal Loki's hand as we go through the story. In issues #4 and #5, you start to see more of Loki's hand as you realize what's going on with him, but for now, that's definitely one of the key mysteries: What the hell is going on with Loki?"
Some readers might be wondering what's on Hulkling's mind as well. The young hero was initially horrified to learn that Mother was masquerading as his dead mother, but he appears to have been able to push past that. But appearances, as they say, can be deceiving.
"Super heroes are able to compartmentalize a little bit. It's like, 'Okay, that was messed up, and now I see the problem. This parasite looks like my mom, but it's not actually her, no matter how much it says it is,'" Gillen explained. "It's an emotionally intense situation, but they think they can deal with it. Whether or not that's true is something we'll find out as we progress. In this case, it's almost distracting to deal with the problem. Teddy is going to do a lot of running around and when it comes time to crash, he'll crash. Plus, there's more heartbreak coming for Teddy in a different way."
Hulkling, Wiccan and Loki journeyed to Asgardia together at the end of issue #2, but the fact that Loki was able to get near Wiccan at all means that the young super heroine known as Miss America Chavez, who Loki tricked into being Wiccan's body guard in the Young Avengers "Marvel Now! Point One" one-shot, was nowhere to be found. She was also strangely absent when the Mother entity imprisoned Wiccan and Hulkling, but it's an absence with a story behind it.
"I think the big question is, why hasn't she turned up already?" Gillen said. "That's the question I suggest people should wonder because if she was meant to be looking after Billy she should be here by now. There's an implicit question there, which we answer in issue #3."
Another notable absence is Kate Bishop's. One of the title characters of Matt Fraction's "Hawkeye" series, Bishop was in the opening pages of "Young Avengers'" debut issue alongside Marvel Boy, but hasn't been seen since.
"Matt has really opened her up and engaged her in this world with Clint Barton that he's created over in the 'Hawkeye' book, which chronicles the street level and occasionally spy corners of the Marvel Universe. What she's doing in 'Young Avengers' is something else entirely. This is much more the super hero side of the universe, "Gillen said. "She'll come back into our story in a big way in issue #4. She's got more experience than many people on the team and she's still going out and super heroing. I think Teddy and Kate definitely knew each other were doing super hero stuff on the down low. It was just that no one told Billy.
"When it comes to the two Hawkeyes, Kate is definitely the grown up of the pair," Gillen continued, comparing the young hero with her older counterpart. "You don't see Kate running off to help mysterious red-headed strangers pull off heists. She's more, 'You guys are crazy -- I'm not doing that.' I think that's one of the things I find most appealing about Kate. There's a bit later on where Teddy goes, 'You always were the grown-up one.' And she is. She's very level headed. That's probably why she's a better influence on Clint than Clint is on her."
When Kate and the rest of her teammates start to come together, they'll be thrust into a rapidly escalating series of events that culminate the first arc of "Young Avengers." "The plot of the first five issues is almost like a Katamari ball rolling down a steep hill. We've got Billy and Teddy rolling and they just picked up Loki and the ball is crushing forward getting bigger and bigger. You can kind of guess how we work the other characters in," Gillen said. "The bit with Hawkeye, Marvel Boy and the Skrulls was more of a tonal opening. It was to demonstrate what we can do in five pages. I wouldn't necessarily assume that the Skrull plot is part of the current Mother-related story. We will come back to the Skrull story eventually, but it's not in a way that you may expect.
"By the end of issue #2, with the appearance of Loki's dad, Laufey, the Young Avengers realize that something more complicated is going on because of the spell Billy cast," Gillen continued. "I haven't implicitly stated in the story that these things are connected, but you've got to assume that Loki's dead parent coming back may have something to do with the plot we're involved in rather than being an unconnected element. We're starting to see what's really going on with the spell and what kind of problems it caused. Adults can't seem to see what Mother is doing, what Mother really is or what she does or even what the YA are really doing. They can't understand the relationship she has with the Young Avengers. They're blind spots. We're dealing with a problem that only the Young Avengers can see and deal with. The spell makes some people active enemies of the Young Avengers, and the best you can hope from others is that they're just not noticing things. In 'Children's Crusade,' the Young Avengers kind of lean upon their parental figures. I wanted to do something different that circled around the parents who raised them rather than their new 'fancy' parents or the father figures like Captain America. I also wanted to do a story that took away their ability to go to somebody else. This is them having to deal with their own shit because the Avengers can't help you with this. They literally don't see what the problem is."
Gillen has had the idea for the Mother story line for a while, but "Young Avengers" was his first Marvel book where the plot fit organically. "I've realized, it's kind of making it personal. There's this apocalyptic threat that no one else can really see and it's up to you to deal with it," Gillen said. "I've talked about 'Young Avengers' being this big metaphorical construct, about being 18 and dealing with all sorts of stuff. This is part of it. This is, 'You fight the battles you see, no matter what someone else thinks.' That's their life."
June's "Young Avengers" #6 steps away from the book's regular cast to focus on the battles being fought by a former Young Avenger, Wiccan's "spiritual" brother Tommy Shepherd, better known as Speed. "The book is called 'Young Avengers,' but I don't really see that as simply the name of the team. This is a book about young Avengers. It's about being a young hero in the Marvel Universe," Gillen said. "Tommy is a great character, but he just didn't fit into the story in our first five issues. I see him as a guy who moves around a lot and gets bored. I see him as a guy who works a job, earns some money and then travels for a bit. In our metaphor, "travel" means "be a superhero." He's that guy. He does a shitty job at a company for a few weeks, gets a roll together, goes, travels a bit, does some super hero stuff a bit and then, repeat."
Sharing the spotlight with Speed is another teen hero: David Alleyne, AKA Prodigy. Unlike Speed, Prodigy has no previous connection to the team. Gillen brought the hero into "Young Avengers" because he saw the former mutant's potential when he was working on "Generation Hope" and "Uncanny X-Men," and this new story is just the beginning of his plans for the character.
"I tried to write him into other stories, but I just never really had the space, and when I was writing 'Uncanny X-Men' I basically saw him in my head as the liaison between Cyclops and the youth of Utopia," Gillen said. "He's a guy who's overtly responsible in many ways and wants to do stuff, but in this story he's become burnt out from super heroics. I thought that was interesting.
"When we begin our story, Prodigy, a guy who knows everything, is working in a call center. It's equivalent to tech support for super heroes. He gets people phoning him up with their problems. It's the most banal thing he can imagine," Gillen said. "He's doing it because, frankly, he's pissed off at everyone else at the moment. He's pissed off at the X-Men. He feels like Cyclops used him and doesn't think Wolverine is much better. He was part of something that could be described as a terrorist organization, and he has no interest in taking any of the other X-options. So he's pretty unemployable these days."
The tech support center is where Prodigy and Speed meet and discover a terrifying mystery involving a familiar face. "It's basically about this shift in the organization and there's a big dark twist to it. A mystery emerges. We go from the crushing boredom of the job to a much more existential cosmic kind of horror," Gillen said. "This is a low key story, but at one point there appears to be someone in the original Patriot outfit. You see the person on a security camera. That's one of the mysteries that's thrust upon them. Why is someone in their old teammate's outfit?
"The 'Young Avengers' are people who have put on other people's costumes metaphorically. One of them wanted to be Captain America. Wiccan called himself Asgardian! Who is the person in this costume? I'll say now that it's not their old teammate Eli. There's a reveal on the next page that shows it's not Eli," Gillen continued. "What if someone was messing with your legacy? What if they were doing to you what you did to other people? There's a bit of that in issue #6. It's a really interesting issue and I think people are going to be intrigued by it. There's a very much insane aesthetic, but it's kind of different from our first five issues. It's our view into the world there."
Artist Kate Brown comes on board for the issue, her distinctive style bringing the unique tone and feel of "Young Avengers" #6 to life. "Kate is a friend of ours and she's done great stuff around the British scene, but she's completely unknown to the Americans. We thought that she would be a really interesting person to do a one-off issue," Gillen explained. "Plus, she really captures the feel of the issue. It's dark and grounded, and she draws really good 'lived in' people. At the same time, she's very good at making them kind of sexy. She captures the emotional realness of it. Then, when we go slightly more horror, she draws absolute terror like few people I've seen.
"She's done some great kids-oriented stuff and she's done some wonderful art for adults, like 'Fish and Chocolate.' She's an amazing artist that we wanted to introduce to a shitload of Americans. We said in the first issue that we want this to be a gang, so we choose people we like both personally and professionally and work with them."
Regular series artists Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton handle the upcoming "Young Avengers" #3-5 and then return with issue #7. "The idea with Jamie and Mike is to do something astounding every issue. We want people, when they pick up 'Young Avengers' to think, 'What on Earth are they going to do to the art this issue?' In the first issue, we did the multiple panel sequence. In the second, we went a very different way and did the whole meta going around the panel thing, and we don't want to repeat ourselves," Gillen said. "Me and Jamie pick up 'Hawkeye' every month and see what Matt and David Aja have done. We kind of want to do the same. It's that back and forth. We want to explore what comics can do. Any time we see anyone do anything interesting in comics, we pay attention. It's like, 'That looks great.' Plus, we always have more ideas than we can use.
"For instance, with issue #4, I had four or five suggestions on how to handle pages two and three. Then Jamie came up with a sixth and we went with that. We always try to do something new. It's like, 'See how they've done this? We can do that but with this!' As we alternate between more naturalistic modes and more extreme modes, you can probably see flickers of almost the whole range of unusual comics storytelling."
"Young Avengers" #3-5 explores the fallout from Wiccan's summoning of Mother, ideas which are returned to with issue #7, which takes place three months after the events of #6.
"The big thing is Mother," Gillen said, returning once more to the series' central threat. "Mother is a major problem. The repercussions of the spell that summoned her continue onwards, so there's that. There's being betrayed by the Avengers and the realization that they're on their own. Some of the best and most true emotional beats are still to come. As I said, Teddy is going to go back through the blender a bit more. Marvel Boy comes back in issue #4 and Jamie is drawing issue #5 right now. There's some ludicrous stuff going on in there. The big bad of this series is kind of the fallout from the spell. If the series has a connective element it's the spell and what comes after it. That takes us to some very unusual places."
Gillen realizes the reason he gets to explore these places is because of the vocal and supportive fanbase of the "YA" characters, and he's eternally grateful for the book's readers. "There are elements of the book that we know work, and we know we get better and better as we go on doing that kind of stuff. We're very happy with where we are now, and if everything goes the way it has been going, it could be astounding.
"I'm very very excited about this book and hope we don't fumble it. It just feels so full of potential. Any time I get up in the morning and get to write 'Young Avengers,' it's a good day."
"Young Avengers" #3 is on sale now.