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Take Some Time with the Young Avengers

Kieron Gillen discusses the Hulkling-Wiccan relationship, Jamie McKelvie's art, the return of Leah and much more!

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Young Avengers #9 cover by Jamie McKelvie

By Ryan Haupt

Have recent events drawn the Young Avengers closer together or driven them apart?

It’s just one of the weighty topics Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie tackle each month in YOUNG AVENGERS, with issue #10 on the way September 25 providing a focus on Mother, the villain of the piece.

We spoke to Gillen about what’s going on between Hulkling and Wiccan, bringing Leah into the book, writing comics like music, working with McKelvie and much more.

Marvel.com: Hopefully at this point everyone has read YOUNG AVENGERS #9, which had seemingly, a break-up.

Kieron Gillen: Yeah, it’s a break-up of sorts. The scene immediately afterwards shows that they’re just apart. Hulkling wants to understand how he feels away from Wiccan. It’s about trying to understand the relationship. Billy and Teddy are still desperately in love, they just need to be apart for a little while.

Marvel.com: Did you anticipate people being upset about this?

Kieron Gillen: Definitely. This is one of the most beloved couples in comics. I’ve really got romance right at the heart of my YOUNG AVENGERS run. In fact, I can’t think of any mainstream super hero comic where romance is as important to it as YOUNG AVENGERS.

Young Avengers #10 cover by Jamie McKelvie

It just seemed a natural extension. It’s something that Teddy has been worried about for a long time now, since Loki had him thinking. He can’t believe it yet he can’t work his way past it. He’s been seeing a therapist and trying to process what this really means. He’s gone from a this close to death experience in Mother’s realm, his escape, and his encounter with David. That stuff would do a number on you. I don’t think that’s the major influence but the advice of maybe being apart for a bit was. That made him think. One of the things you see when he comes out the other side is that Teddy hasn’t been listening to the debriefing. Billy’s telling him what’s going to happen next. Teddy’s clearly got his mind on this but he doesn’t want to do this. It’s something he doesn’t want to do but somehow feels he should and because it’s the only way he knows whether it’s love or some kind of weird brainwashing. It really is a metaphor. Everything in YOUNG AVENGERS is metaphorical.

What do people in a perfect relationship worry about? Is our stuff too perfect? Am I actually in love with you or is this something else? That’s my sort of thinking. It felt like a very natural sort of thing to do to them.

Marvel.com: Since you’ve mentioned that YOUNG AVENGERS is all about relationships, it seems like those relationships are not just romantic. There are all kinds of different young people relationships scattered all throughout the dynamic.

Kieron Gillen: Definitely. The romance is part of it. There are so many friendships. It’s a social group book. They push and they pull. They have these unrequited crushes on one another. There are also a lot of secrets. By the end of issue #9, it’s pretty clear everyone has a secret worry, something they’re not telling somebody or that they know something the others don’t know. Miss America and Loki both know stuff. They’ve said it in issue #9 but Miss America still won’t say why it matters to her. You also have Noh-Varr and you also have Kate worrying about whether or not she’s too old to be on this team. These are all existential fears of teenager-dom fitting in with the super hero metaphors. That’s kind of what we do. That’s what the book is about.

Young Avengers #10 preview art by Jamie McKelvie

Marvel.com: The one relationship that I can’t figure out is Miss America and Loki.

Kieron Gillen: They get on! They’re fun. I think there’s something quite appealing about the annoying-ness and toughness and how they bounce off each other. That sort of interplay I find really interesting. It’s a bit like Loki and Leah. Kid Loki bounces off someone who doesn’t put up with his crap and I like having one person on the team who doesn’t put up with his crap in a physical way. And Loki’s scared of her. Loki works much better when he has someone to be scared of.

It’s also a reason why I have Prodigy on the team. Prodigy and Loki are kind of intellectual rivals. They’re both very smart but in different ways. They’re probably more intelligent than the rest of the team. I don’t mean that to say that anyone on the team is thick; there [are] some really bright people on the team. Kate’s incredibly sharp. But they’re not Tony Stark geniuses. It’s that kind of thing. When I was putting the team together in the beginning, I was thinking about those kinds of dynamics. One of the reasons why I had to write Tommy out is that I didn’t want to use Tommy as part of the core team. Tommy’s role is to be abrasive and he was kind of a sociopath in the original Young Avengers team. Speed is not as hard-edged as Miss America, Loki, or even Marvel Boy can be. Marvel Boy, it’s almost like he doesn’t care. He’s just enjoying himself.

Marvel.com: It seemed like the core team was established in the first few issues but then you brought in Prodigy. Was that the plan all along or did you find that you needed an intellectual counterpart to Loki to play that role?

Kieron Gillen: It was always planned. You get the symbolism in the fifth issue, in the double page spread of Loki and everyone surrounding him, it’s like Loki has put this team together. Essentially, it means that this isn’t part of Loki’s plan. Loki didn’t select this guy.

Marvel.com: I just now made the connection that the original Avengers also came together because of Loki!

Young Avengers #10 preview art by Jamie McKelvie

Kieron Gillen: Yes. Completely. That’s one of the things we’re doing. It’s almost like we’re taking a classic Avengers story and doing another story on top of that. I’ve said that Mother is basically Ultron. Something created by one of the team. But you’d never know that without me saying. It’s a complete reimagining of what an Avengers book can be from the ground up. That’s a lot of what we do. We build from the same molecule but we don’t make references. That’s part of our philosophy on the book.

Marvel.com: The world that Mother is trapped in or inhabiting almost seems to be based on the deconstruction of comics as a form.

Kieron Gillen: Yeah, I would say that.

Marvel.com: How much of that was you and how much of that was Jamie McKelvie? Or was it a true collaboration?

Kieron Gillen: It’s always collaboration.

I think Mother’s realm first appeared in issue #2. I wrote this as, “Trapped in a caption box and then went around the edge,” and Jamie nailed it so much that it made me dig into it. It’s kind of an inter-dimensional parasite who embodies a very traditional idea of mothers mixed with a meta-fictional approach of how superpowers work. I think the core idea was mine but we riffed on it back and forth so much. Jamie came up with the tentacles from the white space, the idea of warping the edge. I asked for the impossible. “Can you draw them falling through non-Euclidean space, please?”

Jamie is a smart artist. I mean that both intellectually and his understanding of the medium. Jamie gets what we’re doing. I don’t mean to say that most artists don’t but on a book like YOUNG AVENGERS, there are a lot of levels to it. And the fact that he understands why we’re making the choices that we are means that he can bend from them and build on them and I can riff on him. I really love working with him, especially on a book like this.

I just got colored pages for issue #10 and my god, Leah looks great!

Young Avengers #10 preview art by Jamie McKelvie

Marvel.com: I just read issue #9 and she looks great.

Kieron Gillen: She’s grown up hot. [Laughs]

Marvel.com: It’s a Jamie McKelvie hot. He has a specific sort of hotness that he brings to characters.

Kieron Gillen: He really does.

Marvel.com: It’s very realistic. It’s not the crazy, overblown versions of the human form.

Kieron Gillen: There’s nothing cartoony about him. You would know that girl and you could have a crush on her. He’s great with guys as well. The attractiveness of Jamie McKelvie’s characters is an important part of the design.

We haven’t talked about the action sequences in YOUNG AVENGERS as pop videos. There is that one strain of pop video. Where you have that one idea and you do it. The whole thing is basically this visual gimmick or visual idea expressed. We do that and Mother is a metafictional thing. She’s a reality warper. You get a lot of visual tricks that are interesting to look at. Like in issue #2 when they’re climbing on top of the panels and stuff like that. That was a fun thing to see. It’s fun, it’s clever, and it’s touching. When I say it’s clever, I mean it’s playfully clever. It’s amusing to me and Jamie. [Laughs]

Marvel.com: Miss America isn’t a reality warper but a reality hopper. It’s very interesting to see how different her powers are visually compared to Mother. Mother is pulling apart the structure of the actual panel and Miss America is kicking through the floor in the panel and it adds a layer of depth to the way their powers work that is just fascinating.

Kieron Gillen: Exactly. I would agree with that entirely. Just because someone has the same power, not that those two have the same power, it doesn’t mean it should look the same. Thor has super strength but it doesn’t look like Hulk’s super strength. They are qualitatively different even if they’re not quantitatively different. That’s the way I look at it. The first line we say about Miss America in issue #1 is that she can kick you to the moon. She can kick you physically to the moon or she can just kick you to the moon and go there. We have a lot of those double layered puns. Almost everything in YOUNG AVENGERS has a double meaning. The difference between a book and literature is a book can be read once for pleasure and literature can be read multiple times for pleasure. That’s something me and Jamie think about. We want to really reach for the literature word. So that when you know where it ends up, you’ll be able to appreciate different parts of it on the way there. Especially with someone like Jamie who is very good at gestures and having them implying meanings other than what they’re just saying.

Young Avengers #11 cover by Jamie McKelvie

Marvel.com: His characters act really well.

Kieron Gillen: He’s phenomenal. My biggest compliment was that I could delete dialog. Ideally, I can delete as much dialog as possible. If I have to write a lot on each page, it means something has gone wrong. In issue #9, where Miss America is just glaring at Billy for trying to get the truth out of her, that originally had a line. The glare was so aggressive that I didn’t need to have it. I think the line was, “No. You want to know.” and I didn’t need her to say anything.

Marvel.com: Getting back to the idea of it being such a multilayered book, YOUNG AVENGERS is one of those rare books where I look forward to reading every issue but I also look forward to reading the collection, where I can read it all in a single chunk and pore through the details all at once.

Kieron Gillen: Thank you. It’s a pop song. It’s meant to be enjoyable the first time. The first page of issue #10, with the captions, that’s the first time with me doing JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY style, obviously overwritten captions. I want this book to be, for some people thinking in their head that this was 2013. We want to be the “Get Lucky” of comics.

Marvel.com: That whole sequence with Billy and Teddy outside of the noodle shop that was just lyrical. The “bowl of noodles later” caption, and seeing Teddy’s inner monologue and how that interplays with what Billy is actually saying. It just really flows and it does feel like a song.

Kieron Gillen: A lot of comic writing is problem solving. You sit down to write and you know the scenes, you look at how you can execute it and how you can get the information across. How can you make someone care about this? In this case, I knew I would have to do the break-up in such a short space of time. How can I make this meaningful in such a short amount of space? At this point, all the readers know what Teddy is going to say. They know what Teddy is bothered about. You only read Teddy’s response. The rest is all about the feelings of the two. “The Streets Dry Your Eyes,” which I thought was a wonderful single, there’s a bit of dialog between him and the girl who are breaking up. I was going for a “Dry Your Eyes” feel to it in the distance of the moment you are living. I’m glad that worked for you. I was sort of pleased with how that worked out. It’s one where I thought I’d have to be more practical here because I couldn’t do it naturalistically because there’s not enough room.

Young Avengers #12 cover by Jamie McKelvie

Marvel.com: You mentioned the problem solving of being a comics writer. I thought it was interesting how Teddy walks into the situation thinking of how he can uses his powers to make it easier and he just utterly fails. It feels like a ballad.

Kieron Gillen: That was what I was trying to go for. I talked about the super heroes being metaphors. Being a shape changer is an obvious metaphor. I can be whatever I want to be. Or I can be whatever you want me to be. What’s the difference between the two? Or can I ever really change? I think Teddy’s fascinating.

Marvel.com: As we wrap up here, we’ve seen that there is an older version of Leah working with Teddy to help him deal with his feelings with Billy. What can you tell us about what’s coming up with that situation?

Kieron Gillen: Well, I would say that her lines are somewhat ominous. [Laughs] How did she put it? “Some people do harbor the most terrible grudges.”

Marvel.com: Which she says while playing with the straw in her milkshake, which I believe is a beverage that Loki introduced her to.

Kieron Gillen: Yes, it is. It’s almost as if she has something on her mind. Issue #10 is basically a villain’s issue. It’s from Mother’s perspective. It’s called Mother’s Day. It’s about all the villains of the run so far. They all get to interact and we learn a lot of stuff we didn’t know before. By now, we’ve got at least three main villains: Mother, the Patriot, and Leah. Leah is the therapist, and she’s up to something. She’s definitely been pro-splitting Teddy and Billy. I mentioned that he had a therapist two issues ago so she’s been involved with Teddy for some time. Oh, and of course, Loki. To what level Loki is a villain is up to you. That’s what the next issues is about. Leah talks about a group; a group of people who have been similarly hurt by the super hero lifestyle. I imagine we’ll be meeting them quite soon.

Marvel.com: I think that’s really interesting. You’re a bold man for creating a relationship between Loki and Leah, which I think the fans have really latched on to, and then having one of those characters be instrumental in pulling apart another favorite relationship.

Kieron Gillen: Well, you see that Prodigy put the thought into Teddy’s head. There’s lot of pushing and pulling. Marvel Boy was pro them staying together earlier. There’s a quiet joy to having that sort of male desire love triangle; the Prodigy/Hulkling/Wiccan sort of love triangle, that hasn’t been done before in mainstream superhero comics.

One of my first thoughts about Prodigy, is when I looked at the team in the first issue I thought we needed more dudes who liked dudes in this book. The problem with diversity is that if you have one gay character, you can’t do a romance plot with him. You can’t do anything about them being gay aside from the fact that they are gay and they are on the team. That’s good for representation but it’s not really good about any stories. You can’t do any stories without adding support characters. If you add support characters, it’s just a minor. If you have two gay characters, you have them either get together or not get together. [Laughs] But if you add one other person in this mix, it becomes a little more dramatically open. That’s one of the reasons why there’s less women on team than you’d expect. When you add more men to the team, by definition you’re not adding women. That’s one of the reason it’s skewed that way.

Marvel.com: It’s pretty interesting to have Prodigy, a now admitted bisexual, to be interested in a guy who could be either.

Kieron Gillen: Yes, that’s interesting, isn’t it? I’ll watch as the fandom takes that over.

Find out what happens next in YOUNG AVENGERS #10, on sale September 25 and available for pre-order

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