I’d love to recommend solely insular series for new readers, but the reality of reading comics in the Big Two means jumping in and just going for it at some point. Young Avengers provides a great point, since it introduces new characters while looking at some older characters and events.
The original run finds a few teen heroes who have modelled themselves after more famous heroes – Asgardian with Thor’s lightning powers, Patriot, wearing Bucky’s original uniform but following in Captain America’s footsteps, and Hulkling and Iron Lad, whose names are self-explanatory. They are joined quickly by Stature, who has Ant-Man’s shape-changing powers, a new Hawkeye, Speed (again, self-explanatory), and a resurrected teen Vision. The original run of 12 issues – by Alan Heinberg of The OC and drawn by Jim Cheung – finds them trying to carve a name for themselves despite adult heroes who want them to stay out of the business. The stories are good fun and hugely character-driven, and I find that Marvel’s storytelling for teen characters can be much more daring, since they don’t have to maintain a status quo. Each hero carries the legacy of an older hero (often due to familial ties), but because these are new characters, you don’t have to worry about previous continuity.
Plotwise, these are pretty standard superheroics combined with standard teen-hero fare like hiding from your parents – but that doesn’t make this boring. The first six issues find these first-time heroes going up against Kang the Conqueror, so they have to learn fast. When they get to more issue-by-issue adventuring, they also feel pressure from the heroes whose images they borrow. Cassie Lang aka Stature is the daughter of the late Scott Lang, the second Ant-Man, and she is acutely aware of the legacy she carries, but much of the plot deals with the new generation experiencing consequences of the Avengers’ past actions.
If you’ve heard of the series, chances are you know about Billy and Teddy, since the comics have been celebrated for this loving and adorable gay teen romance. The comics aren’t direct about their relationship initially, but fans figured it out pretty quickly and the creators admitted it. The other breakout star is Kate Bishop, who now co-stars with Clint Barton in Matt Fraction and David Aja’s acclaimed Hawkeye series (which, incidentally, is a great series for newbies too).
I fell in love immediately with this great cast of characters, as I do with many Marvel teens. They have a complicated relationship with these iconic heroes, as the next generation but also competition for the heavy-hitters. I’d recommend picking up the Young Avengers Ultimate Collection if you’re interested, since it features the entire original run of the series. From there are a few miniseries (including crossovers with the Runaways) and an Avengers limited series called The Children’s Crusade. Most recently is Kieron Gillen’s run, of which I’m not too fond; I don’t think that Gillen really understands the characters, he focused on two or three of them more than the rest of the team, and most of his plot seemed to be motivated by getting a reaction than anything else. Also it dragged on forever and was boring. The subtitle “Style > Substance” turned out to be an accurate descriptor of the series as a whole, since Jamie Mckelvie’s art is wonderful. Not everyone agrees with me though – critical response was hugely positive, so if this run is easier to find, feel free to check it out.
Young Avengers is a nice primer for the Avengers in general, but it’s easier to jump into as it focuses on new (adorable) characters.