Comics: The Children's Crusade

Avengers: The Children's CrusadeAllen Heinberg (script)Jim Cheung (art)Marvel Comics, 2012Among the faithful, Avengers-fever is at an unprecedented pitch, with Joss Whedon's $250 million movie set to open in theaters nationwide on Friday the 4th of May. Marvel Comics, publisher of the various "Avengers" comic books for the last fifty years, has certainly been doing its part to feed any increased Avengers-hunger fans may be feeling: new spin-off titles and graphic novels have been offered every week for the past few months, and if fans give the movie the highest-grossing opening weekend of any superhero movie in history, that strategy will only continue.This is good news for the aforementioned faithful, especially since those fifty years have seen quite a bit of top-notch creative work get done under the "Avengers" umbrella. One such piece of work is unlikely ever to follow to the big screen: the 2010-2012 (it was only nine issues, but there were absurd delays, mainly because fan-favorite writers and artists in today's comics world are pampered and coddled like widdle spitting babies) mini-series "Children's Crusade," featuring the team of teenage heroes called the Young Avengers. "Children's Crusade" has recently been collected into an oversized hardcover complete with dust jacket, a couple of supplementary issues, and some rough sketches (but no Introduction, so not even an attempt to orient non-fans).Despite their name, the Young Avengers aren't the teen sidekicks of Marvel's Avengers, as, say, DC Comics' Teen Titans were to their Justice League heroes. Instead, the Young Avengers were a collection of super-powered teens seeking, if you will, to Occupy the Avengers name. The team's adventures were first chronicled by writer Allan Heinberg and artist Jim Cheung, and that same team returns to "Children's Crusade," which is so convoluted even a summary will seem hallucinatory, but let's give it a whirl:The Scarlet Witch, a long-time member of the Avengers whose mutant 'hexes' alter reality in little pockets, once thought she'd given birth to twin baby boys, Thomas and William. Later, it was revealed to her that the babies had been an illusion, and that revelation (and a couple of others) drove her insane. She used her reality-altering powers first to create an alternate world in which her children were still alive and then, when that illusion too was shattered, she used her powers to all but entirely wipe super-powered mutants from the face of the Earth. After which she disappeared, amnesiac, to the Eastern European mountain hamlets of her origin. The traumatized Avengers briefly disbanded, and into that void leapt the Young Avengers - two of him were named Thomas and William and bore some resemblance to the Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver.Cue "Children's Crusade," in which young Thomas and William decide to find the Scarlet Witch and get to the bottom of their connection with her. Their quest brings them into contact Magneto, the reformed super-villain who's also father to the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (and who is therefore kinda-sorta the boys' grandfather, a tentative relationship Heinberg works for all it's worth in several scenes at once tender and ironic). Magneto brings them to the grave of his wife Magda, and recounts the story of his children, whose emerging super-powers ostracized them from their simple village home - and sent them straight into Magneto's arms:

So I became their champion and protector. Unaware of our blood tie, they joined my mutant brotherhood as the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver ... until my zealotry drove them away, too, just as it had their mother. Now my daughter has vanished - my son wants to kill me - and I can't say that I blame either of them. I have behaved unconscionably toward my family, taking for granted the very relationships I should have prized above all.

The boys come to like Magneto, although their teammates are far less sanguine, especially Teddy Altman, who's young William's boyfriend (the relatively enlightened way Heinberg portrays their relationsip won the series a GLAAD Media Award) and has an explosive outburst long-time readers of Marvel Comics might whole-heartedly second:

I have tried to be supportive of Billy's connection with his family, because God knows he supported me through the Kree-Skrull jamboree that was my family reunion. But you know what's even crazier than a Kree-Skrull jamboree? The Maximoff Family! You people are every bit as toxic as I thought you'd be, but you're nowhere near as smart.

Heinberg complicates matters with the Avengers, the X-Men, the return of the Scarlet Witch's memory, and - as if all that weren't enough - Doctor Doom, and when all the shooting is over and the whole story-arc has been brought to its (perfunctory and almost unbelievably unsatisfying), Heinberg and Cheung give fans the panel theyve been waiting for, a little piece of mainstream comic book history as two teenage male superheroes kiss 'on-screen':Yes, to put it mildly, none of this is going to make it to the big screen any time soon - but for the happy quirks of Heinberg's writing and the wonder of Cheung's artwork, Children's Crusade merits a place on the "Avengers" shelf of fans who were perhaps imagining this stuff long before anybody thought of making a movie.