It hasn't always been true of this series, but in Young Avengers #5, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie absolutely nail the team book. In the script and art both, the creators are extremely careful to give every member of their cast something to do that is tailored to their individual personalities and/or motivations. That is a depressingly rare achievement for superhero comics these days, and what's best about it here is that all six of these kids are likable and relatable characters. Some are funny, some deeply flawed, and many of them remain somewhat mysterious, but they're all strong and fully fleshed out. And, as of the end of this issue, they are completely, officially (I guess) a team, which is an exciting if late-arriving development.
I'm still not wild about the threat of Mother and her mind-controlled parent hordes. As central a bad guy, Mother is a little bland, and though some good character bits have come from these kids battling their parents, on the whole I'm just not crazy about mind-control and/or memory-wiping stories, of which this is both. But it speaks volumes about the strength of the other aspects of this book that my lack of interest in the primary villain does not at all take away from my enjoyment of the issue.
McKelvie's art, with the usual assists by Mike Norton, has been praised all over the Internet for a long time, on this series and others, so I'll try not to beat a dead horse here. Seriously, though, they produce gorgeous artwork with crystal clarity. What McKelvie does best in this issue, though, as I mentioned above, is to give the entire team their fair share of screen time. The opening panel displays Noh-Varr, Hulking, Hawkeye, and Miss America Chavez all in the thick of battle, and they each get to show off not only their specific power sets, but their individual approaches to combat. It happens again later, with Wiccan and Loki included, in the issue's breathtaking double-page spread. It is the first moment where these six characters have truly operated as a unified whole, and McKelvie delivers one of the best-looking pair of pages this title has seen yet. It's hard to describe, but essentially he splits the pages into pie pieces, one for each character, and then within each those slices he manages to include several smaller panels. It may sound cramped, and it is, but done with enough skill and care that there is no great loss of energy or clarity. It's a knockout scene in an issue full of beautiful imagery.
It took a while, but I think Gillen's writing has finally risen to match the quality of McKelvie's art in this issue. Not that previous issues had bad writing, but this time out, I felt like both creators were firmly, confidently sure of themselves and their cast. Where before Gillen was still doing a bit of character exploration alongside the reader, he now knows exactly who these kids are through and through, and gets to cut loose a little and let them all sparkle as they do their thing. Hawkeye is hilarious and calm even during the chaos. Noh-Varr is detached and matter-of-fact in everything he does (I have no idea if this is an accurate portrayal of this character, but I like Gillen's take, even if it's not true to older versions). Miss America Chavez is the self-assured badass with an unexpectedly level head and observant wisdom. And Hulkling is the noble do-gooder, very much a prototypical superhero, urged on by his love for Wiccan.
Then, of course, there's Loki. Or Kid Loki, I guess. This is the character that launched Gillen to a new level of comicbook celebrity in the pages of Journey Into Mystery, but I appreciate that the writer doesn't just assume we all know the story from that series. So he includes a recap here and while, yes, it is a page-long infodump, it's also cleverly written and, most importantly, it helps progress Loki's story at the same time that it reiterates his past. Not a lot of exposition pulls that off.
The best character, though, has got to be Wiccan, the reluctant, angst-filled superhero. Where his boyfriend doesn't seem to question their continuing adventure, Wiccan is clearly more torn, hoping against hope that there is a way to defeat Mother that doesn't involve forming a super-team. As the one responsible for Mother's existence on our world, Wiccan naturally feels obligated to help out, but it pains him to admit that he and his friends must return to their superpowered, villain-fighting lifestyle. There was a genuine hope that he could leave that all behind him, and there's visible pain in his eyes when he finally agrees to be a superhero again. Wiccan's struggle is the most interesting and well-put-together element of this issue and, indeed, this entire series.
I wasn't sold on Young Avengers as quickly as many others seemed to be, but with the conclusion of its first arc, the book has won me over completely. With the team now fully assembled, Gillen and McKelvie should now be able to raise the stakes and deepen their characters and just generally start to pile on the madness and fun. I'm expecting great things from this creative team and the superhero team they've built.