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Breakout Youngsters

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This article is part of a series of spotlight articles on the winners of the Broken Frontier Awards 2005.

It was an idea met with mixed reaction—a comic devoted to junior versions of the Avengers. The fact that the writer was largely unknown outside of Fox’s teen drama, The O.C., did not help to relieve fears. But then something unexpected happened. Fans read the book. And it was amazing.

The Young Avengers are in many ways similar to the Teen Titans, adolescent adventurers following the example of the world’s greatest heroes. However, it has quickly become apparent that they are much more as well. They are fully-realized personalities, each brimming with inner conflict, intriguing secrets, fanboyish charm, and compelling stories to tell. It is for these reasons and more that Broken Frontier has chosen Young Avengers as the Best Debut of 2005 and Allan Heinberg as Best New Talent.

While the fantasy and larger-than-life elements of the superhero genre are essential, it is the characters that we love. Recognizing this, Young Avengers is a character-driven series that juggles superheroics with the themes of ordinary life. This is a comic where angry parents can be worse than any super-villain, where a secret identity is not just who you are under a domino mask, and where children look to mentors for guidance but ultimately find their own way.

Heinberg’s entertaining scripts are brought to eye-popping life by the talented art team. Jim Cheung’s visuals are a fine match for the wonder and fun of superheroes, classic comics storytelling with a modern touch. Cheung does not fall short in the areas of emotional drama or dynamic action sequences and he’s already been asked to design not one but two sets of costumes for each of the characters. With the enriching touches of inker John Dell and the richly vibrant colors of Justin Ponsor, the artwork on the series is as remarkable as the story.

And what a story it is. Friendship, trust, love, and loss have all been integral parts of the series and the kids have struggled with the changes of adolescence as well as their own burgeoning desire to make a difference. New heroes are frequently a hard sell but Young Avengers has hooked its readers with characters that defy expectations. Iron Lad was revealed to be the younger counterpart of a famous villain. Though Patriot wears the colors of Captain America, he is actually honoring his grandfather, the black soldier who first tested the super-serum. Stature, daughter of the late Ant-Man, underwent a massive growth spurt unusual even for a teenager. No damsel in distress, Kate Bishop ended up saving the superheroes at one point, rather than the reverse.

Each revelation has added new facets to the protagonists and the series has not shied from controversy in the process. Wiccan and Hulkling’s feelings for each other, for instance, go beyond simply being teammates. It is a testament to Heinberg’s talent that this aspect of the characters is just one of many and not the central focus. And while even this has been met with resistance from certain readers, it has also produced another phenomenon no one expected. As letters came in, a fascinating discussion arose over social issues, the role of all-ages comics, and the nature of art. If there is any argument for the preservation of the letter column in this age of the internet, Young Avengers is a fine example.

No one-trick-pony, Heinberg has already been carving a niche for himself in the comic book industry. In addition to Young Avengers, he co-wrote an arc on JLA with Geoff Johns, both writers pooling their considerable skill for characterization. In “Crisis of Conscience,” the Justice League was not simply a club of heroes but a circle of friends, one being torn apart by resentment, mistrust, and questions without easy answers. By showing the kinks in these god-like heroes’ armor, Heinberg and Johns presented the League in a very human light.

That approach is the key to why the Broken Frontier staff believes Heinberg is deserving of this award. Allan Heinberg knows superheroes but more than this, he knows people. The best superhero stories are mirrors of ourselves; tales that show us who we are and who we could be. In this regard, the Young Avengers and their creator are truly impressive.

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