"Young Avengers" #4 is a special threshold-crossing issue; it's the point where Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton have shifted from being "really, really good" to "downright great." As much as I've loved this book up until now, it's now fighting for the "first to be read" position in any week that it's being published. Why? A combination of wit and good old-fashioned high quality.
Strictly from a plotting sense, Gillen's script for "Young Avengers" #4 is good. The rescuing of the cast from the cliffhanger makes sense and also continues to bring all the characters together, the potential revelations offered up by Loki are wonderfully unsettling, and the pacing is strong as Gillen ramps everything to one final cliffhanger before next issue's conclusion. If that's all there was to recommend the writing, I feel like it'd still be quite good.
But happily, there's more than that. With Gillen there's a certain smartness and fun to his script that elevates it above just a standard solid story. Noh-Varr's interior monologue across the first four pages is a riot, flipping between explaining that Kate is his favorite Hawkeye (he'd met Clint, they hadn't made love, both Hawkeyes are fond of purple), and a running commentary on his defeating the bad guys in the club with everything from a "Dramatic entrance" to "My shoes are ruined." And that's something that we get on just about every page; these aren't lines that simply move the plot forward, they're sharp, clever and they engage the reader's attention.
The best part of the writing for me, though, is how Gillen handles Loki. A character that just out-and-out lies and is sinister isn't believable; you know he's bad and won't buy anything he's saying. That's what's so great about the way that Gillen writes Loki here. He's likable, he's charming, he's funny... and then just when you least expect it, he slips in a verbal dagger that may or may not be true. And here's the great thing: it's believable, to the point that even though you know Loki is the god of lies it's hard to keep from thinking, "But maybe he's not lying this time." Gillen's revelation about Wiccan and Hulkling delivered through Loki is devastating and truly nasty, the sort of thing that makes perfect sense even as it redefines both characters. But is it true? That's what makes it so great, because there's no way to tell just yet. Regardless of it being true or false, it does a lot of damage in the blink of an eye. Ultimately, it's very well played by Gillen.
I'm still not 100% sure how McKelvie and Norton split up the art in "Young Avengers" (Pencils and inks? Breakdowns and finishes? Full art and embellishments?) but whatever it is, it works. Both McKelvie and Norton are known for clean and handsome art, and that's on display here. Something as simple as a wrinkled t-shirt on Captain America is drawn with the same care as windows exploding as four people leap through them, or pieces of a shapeshifter's face flying back together and re-forming.
More importantly, though, just like the script, the art in "Young Avengers" is sheer fun. The two-page spread on pages 2-3 is just lovely; a center architectural plan of a club with lots of little figures of Noh-Varr and the bad guys running around them, and a numbered key with Noh-Varr's comments on each moment to not only bring your eye through the scene in the right order but to also provide an extra sense of wit to the image. At the same time, though, six of the twelve moments are expanded into full panels around the edges of the club, letting you see Noh-Varr flip, shoot, and launch himself through the fight scene.
The page layouts are also a lot of fun in "Young Avengers" #4. I'm not sure why pages 2-9 are all drawn with diagonally aligned panels, but honestly I don't worry too much on figuring out why. What I do know is that the pages end up zooming down the page in a fast manner, and with a structure that you rarely see in comics. It stands out in a good way, and it continues to help "Young Avengers" carve out its own special identity in a sea of superhero comics.
Even the cover of "Young Avengers" #4 is a treat; the two sets of arrows zooming across the page feels very retro and mod, and the contrast between bow and laser is a nice touch on the two characters. Is there anything that "Young Avengers" can't do at this point? I think not. If you aren't reading "Young Avengers" you're missing out on one of the top superhero comics currently being published. Trust me, read this book.