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Miniseries Review: Avengers: The Children's Crusade #1-9

A comic review article by: Shawn Hill

How long has this been going on? Let me check: Lonestar says the first issue dropped in September 2010. Which means July 2010.  So it's been coming out for around 20 months. A lot has happened in the Marvel Universe in 20 months. For one thing, this series began as a way of rebuilding Marvel's "Heroic Age," a noble goal and trade dress that seemed to last about half a year. We're dipping into Avengers vs. X-Men now, and we've had spider islands and sieges and deaths in the Four and all sorts of calamities. The book was prescient in setting up the mutant-hero conflict early (conveniently giving Cheung practice time for the big battle splash page adverts he's still so great at turning out).

What's great about Heinberg and his devotion to these characters is that, despite the delays, he's never lost focus on the core of the story. In earlier series Hawkeye, Patriot, Stature and Iron Lad all had their focal moments, but this story has been about Wiccan, Hulkling and Speed. Two twins, one of them gay with a lover and a pretty big mommy issue. Was Billy going to turn out just like his mom? Were his powers going to go out of control? It didn't help that his magic was more based on intuition than training (just as hers had always been), and that his spells were all nascent wish fulfillments that either came true or not.

But Heinberg had more in mind than just answering the question of Tommy and Billy's parentage (clearly they were always already Wanda's sons in his mind); so he added a rogue element to the mix: Victor von Doom. And Doom wasn't just there for local color, he was there as the rogue scientist and lord of a medieval European backwater of the Marvel universe. In all his majesty in other words, which Cheung sent home every time he zoomed in on the calculating eyes behind the metal face-plate.

Heinberg has done something really tricky here, if anyone noticed: he's explained House of M not as a case of hysterical Wanda losing her marbles, but as a case of driven Wanda getting wild and dangerous with a new kind of energy accessible only to her Nexus being status (not Chthonic energy or Chaos Magic this time, but Life Force, which might as well be a variant of the Phoenix force for its transformative, reality-altering powers) through wild magic, taught her by dark sorcerer Doom before "Disassembled" ever happened. 

See what he did there? Doom caused "Disassembled," which he confesses to proudly, implying that Wanda was never more than his dupe, and that he saw an opportunity to destroy the Avengers and took it. I have absolutely no problem buying it, especially after Doom steals all the "life-force" from Wanda in #7 and becomes, not only handsome, but kind of a purified messianic version of the Beyonder, until at least Stature and Patriot and Wanda make big sacrifices to stop him. It's as awesome a development as Wanda claiming Billy as her son, finally in her right mind and memory in the previous issue.

It also leads to Billy’s impassioned defense of her, when he reminds the angry X-Men and the guilty Avengers that many of them have criminal pasts, including murder, as well, and have been forgiven already. Why not Wanda, too? Heinberg has considered every angle, though thankfully he’s far from objective about it.

Of course we got moments along the way of Wanda and Emma having a psi-war, but Magneto was rather pleasantly toned down for most of the series, simply standing at his daughter's side, even as it brought him into renewed conflict with recent ally Cyclops. The high point of the consistently strong series was probably issue #6, when Rictor's powers were given back to him by Wanda. It was her first act of atonement, and Rictor (against the advice of his worried lover Shatterstar) made it clear that he wanted her help, that being a mutant was who he was and who he was still meant to be. Peter David had done a great job of making it clear that he was still a mutant even without powers in X-Factor already.

That's what mutancy stands for in the Marvel Universe: powers as innate formative factors of identity, special gifts that can be scary and dangerous, but must be embraced and channeled rather than feared and destroyed. That's the basic metaphor that made the X-Men so popular when they added racial diversity to the mix in the 1970s.

It's not, as Bendis usually has it, that mutant powers are a curse that creates suffering and misery, period. Sure, that's true too, but it's not as fun to read, and the idea of powers as a horrible burden can only go so far. The Young Avengers, whose series this really was, embrace their difference and their youthful exuberance to solve things and make their own way. That's a message of hope, even as the team voluntarily disbands in the wake of the double tragedy. It's almost worth it just to see Teddy and Billy affirm their continued love for each other with a proposal and a very satisfying romantic kiss.

Cheung’s detailed pencils make sense of each of these figure-filled scenes, and let us keep track of the numerous players from beginning to end. He's something of a king of dramatic splash pages, showcasing best versions of the X-Men and the Avengers and X-Factor and the Young Avengers as they try to work out (mostly through argument, sometimes through letting loose) their oppositional stances. They're aided incredibly in this by a conscious and reasonable Wanda, who moves from being Doom's loving fiancĂ© to her sons' proud mother to ultimately facing Doom as a hero when he inevitably goes much too far. Cheung favors full body panels even in more crowded pages, and his calm, measured form of storytelling is always clear, full of detail, and frequently beautiful, no matter what's exploding.

I'm grateful for the things that happened in this series, many of them very long-awaited. Reading it was a healing process, not just for Wanda but for any longtime Avengers fan. Heinberg's love for all the Marvel universe can be and once was is palpable on every page. He's trying to stitch something coherent out of damaged narrative shards, and the whole series is the best argument ever for the return of the heroic age being a worthy goal. Is it a series out of time, getting to its point far too late, or just in time for Wanda's role in whatever the new status quo will be after the summer? I certainly have no trust that Bendis will do the right thing with a character he's never understood, but Heinberg couldn't have made a better argument in her defense.

 


 

Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.

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