Still spoilers ahead
And we're back! If you landed here first, go catch up on Part One before proceeding.
This begins the final half of the first Young Avengers volume, and the start of a new arc. We know we've hit a fresh story because we start with a callback to the original opening page that kicked us off!
Young Avengers vol. 1, Issues #7-8
The first thing you'll notice about this issue is that it isn't drawn by Jim Cheung. Penciler Andrea Di Vito is on art duty (along with a new inker, Drew Hennessey) for this and the next issue to give Jim a breather, which is a common practice for books that ship monthly. Jim does remain on covers, though, which was arguably much more important at the time to selling issues before interior previews became as widespread as they are today.
There are some things you'll immediately miss inside, like the way Jim renders hair, and some glaringly odd choices that you can't ignore. Like this TV report screen:
If you're wondering what Spider-Man, Luke Cage, and Captain America are all doing hanging out in an apartment – they're part of the New Avengers! They were coming together at about the same time the Young Avengers were over in Brian Michael Bendis' New Avengers, but didn't officially become a team until recently (which is why they weren't all around to help with Kang earlier). New Avengers, which is what gave Luke Cage his first spot as the team leader, would go on to run for a very long time (64 issues!) and be a fascinating book and new status quo for the Avengers' line.
But I digress – Cap wants to shut the kids down again, though both Peter and Luke are much more understanding. Luke, especially, is fond of seeing another black superhero on the streets – even a teenager – when there are so few to begin with.
Cap decides he's going to contact the kids' parents. Little does he know the kids already decided to tell their parents, knowing full well that as soon as they put on those new costumes it was only a matter of time before they got told on.
Billy is still working up the courage, and Teddy is coming over to pick him up for school. It's nice to see Teddy get such a warm greeting from Billy's mom.
Billy and Teddy go back and forth about spilling the truth on their superhero identities. When Billy decides to finally go through with it, it doesn't exactly go as planned – it turns out that when you are very clearly dating your best friend, and you haven't come out of the close to your parents yet, they jump to conclusions when you start a sentence with "Mom? Dad? There's something you should know."
This may be the most wholesome, loving, and accepting coming-out on page in Marvel comics (there aren't many to compete with). One of the things I love most about Billy and Teddy's story is that they never had to go through Queer Trauma™️ centered on their identity or lack of familial acceptance.
From the very start they have been one of the rare examples of characters whose stories consistently highlight and elevate their relationship and queerness without trying to shoe-horn in a cautionary tale about homophobia and rejection. Those stories have value, but so does the simple representation of thriving. Add in the fact that Billy and Teddy will go on to individually be two of the most powerful people in the Marvel universe? And they'll headline the main cosmic cross-over event this year while simultaneously giving us the gayest one-shot ever AND an entire wedding special? Absolutely iconic, unforgettable, truly the queeroes we deserve.
The other kids don't quite work their way up to confessing just yet. Elsewhere, Iron Man explains to Cap and Jessica Jones that the Vision built out of the Iron Lad armor that Nate left behind is functionally a brand new android distinct from the original Vision. For all intents and purposes, he's a teenager. Cap debates with Jessica over snitching on the kids. Please accept another very strange art choice, Jessica Jones in hoop earrings:
The kids all meet up – minus Eli – and commiserate over failing to reveal their secret lives to their parents. There's definitely a metaphor to read into there, but we don't really need to because we get actual textual representation of queerness and coming out – who'd have thought?
And to counter-balance the cursed image of Jessica above, please accept this close-up of bantering boyfriends:
When Eli doesn't show up, the kids get worried. Billy decides to cast a locating spell on Eli, and we get another sweet little detail of him holding both Teddy and Cassie's hands as he floats off the ground in full casting mode:
They find Eli in a warehouse where MGH (Mutant Growth Hormone) is being produced, and Eli is already in the middle of a tussle with the Big Boss, Mister Hyde (another scientist turns very strong, not-so-smart monster type).
They're surprised to see that Eli is bleeding, when he's supposed to be invulnerable. The kids engage Mister Hyde, and Eli scrambles away. Billy finds him a few moments later, injecting MGH into his arm...
It turns out that Eli doesn't have powers – previously he'd claimed to have gotten a blood transfusion from his grandfather, the original Black Captain America, granting him super-soldier status. Instead, Young Avengers decided to reveal their only Black character to be the one among them that shoots up illicit drugs in order to gain powers. It's not the best look. Even the imagery, which I won't reproduce here, is especially troublesome – Eli hunched over, craven, injecting from a syringe despite the fact that we've usually seen MGH in the much more innocuous pill form (including a couple issues ago).
To be clear, the problem isn't that Eli uses MGH to gain powers, or that it comes in the form of an injectable in this scene. It's the associations and greater context in which this narrative decision takes place – far too often drug use is vilified specifically when it intersects with Black youth, and accepted in the hands of their White counterparts. But Eli will get his due as a character, and eventually he will actually get that blood transfusion from his grandfather giving him organic superpowers.
For now, this does explain Eli's particular penchant for projecting his own discomfort with non-powered teammates onto Kate (and previously Cassie).
Long story short, a super buffed-up Eli tussles with Mister Hyde and knocks him out by injecting too much MGH into the man (which is scarily reckless and dangerous). Meanwhile, Cap and Jessica have told Eli and Cassie's parents about their superhero identities, and Cap learns from Eli's grandmother that he never received a blood transfusion and has no powers.
The Avengers show up at the scene of the just-finished battle to give Eli an intervention, and Eli refuses to go with them. He doesn't want their help, he just wants to escape with friends he can trust. His friends – specifically, Billy – decide instead to subdue him.
It might turn out for the best – the Vision oversees Eli's recovery from the dosing of MGH he took, and we learn that the Vision knows each of the Young Avengers because he retains Iron Lad's brainwaves and memories. They briefly discuss the notion of using time-travel to fix the mess that Eli is in, but ultimately he decides to confront the Avengers and his friends. He comes clean about the truth – he's been using MGH to induce super-powers since the first time Nate approached him looking for a super-soldier descendant of Isaiah Bradley (he was actually looking for Eli's uncle, Josiah X, who had disappeared a year prior).
With the truth off his chest, Eli decides to officially quit being a superhero and he walks off.
Long-story short, the kids are broken up and re-adjusting to normal teenage life – and they're each itching to practice some heroism in the margins of their lives.
Teddy, for his part, stops a purse snatcher on the street with a stretchy arm grab befitting Mr. Fantastic himself. We also get another instance of straight shapeshifting into another person in order to hide his identity, both factors which serve to foreshadow a turn in the next few pages... but for now, please enjoy a proper shot of Teddy's fully pierced ears:
The group all meet up outside Eli's school to catch him on his way and stage an intervention – they want to convince him to keep leading them as Patriot, and to fight without powers just like Kate does. He doesn't bite, and the group is quickly interrupted by yet another moment of traumatic boyfriend-endangerment and Billy-panic. If this was a drinking game, it would be a dangerous one.
These boys can't catch a break.
Kl'rt the Super-Skrull and Teddy tussle in the sky, and Teddy denies the implication that he's a Skrull. As far as he knows, the explanation for his powers is a simple one: he's a mutant. And I enjoy some of the layers here – mutant is a simple, catch-all explanation that kids waking up with strange powers and oddities can reach for until confirmed otherwise. It's a word that's known and accessible, and so it becomes an easy identifier. It's not unlike reaching for the right vocabulary to describe one's own queer experience. Over time, as your vocabulary expands by learning and living and seeing and being, so too does your access to identifiers. There are new possibilities for your identity because you've learned new ways to articulate them to yourself and others.
I imagine Teddy's Skrull awakening to a bit like that. He never imagined the possibility of being a shapeshifting alien species. Or, as we'll soon learn, the hybrid of two alien species. I'm certain he never imagined he'd one day go on to become the king of space and marry a reality warping god destined to re-write the foundation of magic itself across the multiverse. But that's just the gay experience for you.
As an aide, I miss some of the monstrosity that Jim Cheung rendered Hulkling's transformations with. Hulkling is great in all shades and forms, but in recent continuity he is often depicted as a very handsome befreckled green himbo (which he is) – and I'd like to see him get the scaly demon-Hulk treatment a bit more.
We also get a little tidbit of something that will get called back 15 years later in the Empyre event, which Kl'rt features in prominently. Everyone keeps forgetting he has the fifth power of irresistible hypnotism! No spoilers, but it is a fun parallel.
Kl'rt, unfortunately, uses his surprise hypnotism to enthrall Billy, so Teddy is immediately ready to surrender to save his boyfriend. Kl'rt isn't expecting Teddy to also have super-strength (only the Super-Skrull is supposed to!) so he gets in a good sucker punch that sends Kl'rt across the city block.
When Kl'rt feels the brunt of Teddy's strength, he radios to Skrull command that the rumors about Teddy's father may be true...
The kids run off and decide to head back to Billy's place because it's the closest. Eli splits off, not wanting to get caught up in the superhero tango. Side note: because Teddy hulked-out and tore through all his clothes, he spends the next several panels running around New York barefoot in pants ripped into shorts. Somehow, it's very on brand.
Teddy is understandably worried about his mom – if the Skrulls are targeting him, they might go after his mom too. Heightening things is the fact that she's not answering Teddy's calls.
They walk into Billy's home to find that Teddy's mom is already there waiting for him with Billy's parents. She's about to reveal something to Teddy when the wall gets bust down: Kl'rt captured Eli, and is threatening to kill him.
And this is how Billy's parents first learn that their son, and his friends, are all super-heroes. When their house explodes and a floating alien with a python arm constricting a teenage boy's neck demands that they give over their son's boyfriend.
To prove to Teddy that he is, in fact, a Skrull, Kl'rt employs some device that reverts skrulls to their true forms. Nothing happens to Teddy, but his mom suddenly transforms – it turns out she's been a skrull his entire life.
These last few pages are emotional ones. Yet another person is making a final stand for Teddy, but this time it's not all going to turn out okay.
The emotional beats of this scene are so masterfully paced. I tear up every time.
And when the fire burns out, they turn to find that Kl'rt – and Teddy – are both gone.
The kids need some serious backup so they head to the Avenger's hangout, but find it empty beyond teen Vision and Jarvis (longtime butler to Tony Stark, and honorary Avenger) who are playing a game of chess and opining on Vision's exclusion from the Avengers' missions.
Jarvis exits to attempt to contact the Avengers who are off-world, and Vision offers to help the Young Avengers himself. Deciding that they'll need even more backup, Vision consults the Avengers Fail-Safe Program to find more potential Young Avengers.
First recruit is Tommy Shepard, a speedster from New Jersey and chaotic disaster bisexual that we will all come to love dearly. For now, Billy is skeptical. He doesn't see the value in adding a speedster to the team until Vision reminds him that Tommy can do more than run fast – he can also use his speed to accelerate and destabilize atomic matter. Or, as Kate translates it, he can blow stuff up.
It turns out that Tommy is being held prison in a juvenile detention center after "accidentally" blowing up his school. So the Vision and Billy both don security guard costumes (the Vision via holographic technology, Billy via ✨magic✨). Cassie shrinks down to hide on Billy's shoulder, and Eli and Kate wait outside to contemplate cooler codenames for Kate than "Hawkingbird" (which, honestly, is hard to beat).
Vision disables the power dampener on Tommy's cell that's keeping him from using his powers to escape, and the wall immediately explodes – giving Tommy his grand entrance and the readers a very... familiar face.
It's not always easy to tell in comics when characters are supposed to look eerily similar – I think partially because characters so often look similar, demanding identifiers like different costumes or hairstyles/color to distinguish them that it's impossible to know when the coincidence is intentional. But Jim Cheung does a pretty good job giving us that uncanny feeling when looking at Billy and Teddy (despite their different hair colors), and similarly succeeds at giving the Vision vestiges of Nate's face (whose form he's taken after, much to Cassies discomfort).
Tommy and Billy's twin-hood will go on to be a big, big deal and a huge tie-in to the mess spilling out of Disassembled – but we'll cross that twisty knot of continuity when we get to it!
After breaking out Tommy pretty immediately wants to kill all of the guards and scientists on site – they'd been experimenting on him to try to turn him into a living weapon. The Young Avengers keep him from making any fatal decisions and they escape. After all, they don't kill – except for Iron Lad, that one time (with a sword).
CUT TO A NONDESCRIPT BRICK HOUSE IN THE WOODS! Teddy is restrained and Kl'rt is signaling to Skrull command that he's recovered "Dorrek VIII", Teddy's Skrull name, apparently.
We get some nice abridge exposition on Teddy's alleged origin:
TL;DR a Skrull princess gave birth to an illegitimate child months after sharing a space ship with her Kree (another alien race) enemy Captain Mar-Vell (the original Captain Marvel).
Also, a couple pages after the Billy/Teddy twin reveal, Kl'rt found it fit to mention that twins Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (a wielder of magic) and Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (a white-haired speedster) also happen to be there. A long time ago in previous continuity, Wanda had given birth to twin sons William and Thomas 👀 conceived with magic (she was dating an android, the adult Vision, at the time). How does that relate to just revealed maybe-twins Billy and Tommy? That's a story for a later Young Avengers event series! Specifically, Young Avengers: Children's Crusade.
Kl'rt is about to reveal to Teddy who is rumored father is, which is obvious to us readers but himbo Teddy hasn't caught on yet, when the Young Avengers bust down the wall. Specifically, Tommy blows it up. Teddy is confused to see a white-haired version of his boyfriend, but Billy is quick to reassure Teddy that he's there for him.
The Vision takes Kl'rt out by phasing and then partially solidifying his hand in the Skrull's chest – a comics power move that intangibles love to use, but has very dubious basis in physics/biology? Anyways, Kl'rt recovers somewhat and is about to reveal Teddy's rumored father when a shot blast takes him out!
And poor himbo Teddy is faced with another very confusing dramatic entrance and his 2nd alien claim of the day:
That's right, the Kree are here to claim Teddy as the son of Captain Mar-Vell! They rehash his conception, Teddy is shocked, and they immediately conscript him into the Kree militia.
When Teddy refuses to join them, they attempt to take him by force and blast him in the chest. We get yet another panel of Billy yelling Teddy's name as his boyfriend is injured. So, take a drink?
Kl'rt pops back up to defend Teddy (everyone is constantly throwing themselves in harms way to protect him, as they should). We get this sweet moment between Billy and Teddy, and a good show of Teddy's character – he forgives quickly and leaves no one behind.
Sadly, Billy and Teddy will be vowing not to lose each other again for many years to come.
You may have also noticed a total of FIVE credited inkers on the above panels – inkers work to clean up the original pencil art from the book's artist, and this many inkers on a single issue is usually an indication that the issue was under an incredible amount of timeline pressure to complete for publication.
The kids are on the run from the Kree now, so they steal their spaceship by having Vision interface with the controls and learn how to fly it. In another room, Billy is trying-but-not-trying to heal Kl'rt with magic as Teddy empathizes with the man that killed his adoptive-and-secretly-Skrull mother two issues ago.
Kl'rt recounts that he actually helped Mar-Vell and the princess escape after realizing he too was just a pawn in the endless Kree-Skrull war. Now, he serves to protect their son, Teddy. Furthermore, he recognizes Billy and Tommy...
The next page is about the most condensed version of an explanation of the Billy/Tommy children-of-Wanda continuity nightmare that you're ever going to find.
Tommy and Billy have fairly opposite reactions to this news.
Soon after this aside on Billy & Tommy's mystical parentage, their ship is fired on by Skrulls – they aren't aware that Teddy and Kl'rt are onboard, they just see an enemy ship. Kl'rt is about to jump out of the airlock to reveal himself, but sweet soft boy Teddy Altman doesn't want him flying while injured. Teddy decides he'll reveal himself instead, which Billy isn't thrilled about.
The Skrull ship is then fired on from another Kree ship, and all alien-hell breaks loose above the skies of New York. Caught in the middle, Teddy is just trying to calm things down and Billy is still not having a bit of it.
The fighting does stop soon after, which Teddy is very proud of himself for – but it's actually only because the adult Avengers have showed up (which both alien parties are seemingly afraid of disobeying).
Both the Kree and the Skrulls threaten to go to war with Earth if the Avengers don't hand over Hulkling. Captain America tells Teddy it's his decision. Billy, understandably, is flipping out a bit.
Please accept these tiny boyfriends embracing in the background as a balance to the trauma that is about to ensue.
Cap, good to his word, tells the Kree and Skrulls that Hulkling is staying on Earth under the protection of the Avengers.
The Kree don't take well to that, and gear up to fire on Cap. Eli sees it coming, and despite not having any powers, dives in front of the blast.
It tears right through his shield. He's very severely injured. And all hell breaks loose again.
Issue #12 – The Final One!
It's absolute chaos on the rooftop, with the Avengers and the Young Avengers caught between two alien factions and with more about to pour in from the sky.
Cap has Sentry (a fascinating character brought to prominence from relative obscurity by Bendis in New Avengers) fly Eli to safety. He wants to have Teddy flee, but Teddy and the Young Avengers refuse – knowing the Kree and Skrulls would tear up New York looking for him.
They all decide to make a stand on the roof, and we get a glory shot of Teddy's heroism and leadership alongside Captain America with a great spread:
As a finale issue, this book really delivers on the absolute chaos of a jam-packed roof-top brawl. A bunch of the Young Avengers and adult Avengers get sweet mid-battle moments together, and it does a really good job of solidifying the competency of the Young Avengers in the field and the respect they command from their counterparts.
It's a very effective book layout – for a series of 6 pages there is a full-page wordless spread of the battle on the left, and a series of "close-up" moments in the middle of the action on the right page where they fit in the character moments.
For fun and beauty, here are the three spreads:
Not pictured: Billy deciding this is the right moment to try to have the I-think-we're-the-lost-souls-of-the-Scarlet-Witch's-kids talk with Cap.
Also, check out this foreshadowing! 15 years later, Teddy will indeed unite the Kree and Skrulls under one empire in.... well, Empyre.
Right after, Hulkling gets snatched up by the Kree. The Skrulls are about the shoot him down – they'd rather he die than betray them to the Kree – but Kl'rt intervenes. Kl'rt pleads with Teddy to come with the Skrulls. Though it wouldn't end the Kree-Skrull war, it would, at least, take the battle away from planet Earth and spare Teddy's friends.
Teddy decides he has another option: he surrenders, and negotiates a compromise.
He'll spend 6 months with the Kree, and 6 months with the Skrulls – after which he'll decide his true allegiance. Somehow, only a few panels after the Skrull soldiers were ready to take him out sooner than let him go with the Kree, everyone is in agreement.
Teddy says his goodbyes, and we get the start of one of my favorite Billy/Teddy tropes that, yes, will also feature prominently in Empyre: Billy is watching Teddy speak, and he knows something isn't right (spoiler: it's not really Teddy).
I'll also appreciate that Cap immediately turns to Billy after "Teddy" has taken off with the Kree to check on him. It's a very simple gesture, but it's also incredibly validating. Captain America sees and acknowledges their relationship, and has empathy for what it means to be separated. Queer relationships haven't always been afforded this legitimacy on the page.
It's no surprise for Cap's character, though.
As a brief aside, Captain America was responsible for one of Marvel's first canonical gay characters in Arnie Roth, Steve's childhood best friend who he later re-connects with after coming out of the ice as Captain America. In the 80s, Arnie featured prominently in several Captain America stories along with his boyfriend, Michael. And while those stories are filled with their share of trauma, Arnie's friendship with Steve is always portrayed as significant, meaningful, and deep – and his queer identity is never shied away from.
In one exchange, a mind-controlled Arnie was forced to sing a demeaning song mocking himself and insinuating that Steve's friendship with him was an implication that Steve himself was gay. Arnie overcomes the mind-control, and Steve offers a heartfelt reassurance worth reproducing here:
Comics have always been political! And gay!
Anyways, back to the rooftop in Young Avengers.
It's quickly revealed that the "Teddy" that left with the Kree is actually Kl'rt masquerading as Teddy. And Teddy is right there beside them, in the Super Skrull's form. It seems almost everyone was aware of the bait and switch except for Steve, because if he has anything in common with Teddy (aside from excellent leadership!) it's that he too is a big blonde himbo.
Everyone goes to visit Eli in the hospital, who is getting that foretold blood transfusion from his grandpa Isaiah, the super-soldier. Kate gives Cap a dressing down that the Avengers should have accepted and trained the Young Avengers in the first place, and maybe many of the recent disasters would have been avoided.
It seems Steve is inclined to agree. The next scene we get is the kids back at Avengers mansion fixing a few statues, and constructing a couple new ones, to honor the fallen Avengers from Disassembled and before. They build one for Captain Marvel, Teddy's father (which he's still having a hard time wrapping his head around). Billy also constructs one for Scott Lang, Ant-Man – Cassie's dad killed in Disassembled.
Jessica Jones comes baring gifts for Kate – a bow an arrow belonging to Clint Barton (the original Hawkeye), and a note from Steve: For Hawkeye.
So Kate finally settles on her codename. I'll still always love Hawkingbird, though.
We also get a very emotional moment with Teddy releasing the ashes of his mother, who died protecting him and whose history he never really got to learn.
After the brief ceremony for Teddy's mom, they announce that the next item on their agenda is to locate the Scarlet Witch (who's been missing since Disassembled) to let her know that her two (maybe) sons are alive and well, and re-incarnated in the form of two super-powered teenage boys. Catch the follow-up on this in the miniseries, Young Avengers: Children's Crusade!
Moments later, the kids hear an explosion off in the distance. Vision confirms the source as being hyper-kinetic, and everyone collective mentally face-palms. I'm a sucker for Tommy Shepard content, and his entrance here is one of my favorite moments.
Speed is here to pick up his new teammates and head back to the U.N. building, because super villains are holding it hostage.
I love the look that we see Billy and Teddy share before the final send-off:
Phew, what a series.
This was a revelation to me when I was a kid reading it for the first time. And it still is years later. It's a great comic, with incredible characters, and although Billy and Teddy's relationship isn't the focal point of the series, Young Avengers served as the foundation for some of the best queer representation we'll later see in Marvel comics – both in it's second volume from 2013, and in the current mainstream cross-over event of the year, Empyre!
There's a lot more Billy/Teddy history to cover, so follow us on Twitter @biggayuniverse or subscribe for email updates below 💗