This week saw the release of a new “Avengers Arena” and other than a “shocking” last page not whole heck of a lot happened. Despite all this, my fanboy heart will NOT let me drop this book, because I LOVE Super-teen books. For those unfamiliar, “Avengers Arena” is a Battle Royale/Hunger Games-style book that has the super-villain, Arcade, pit random (and I do mean random) super teens of the marvel universe against each other in a fight to the death.
For some, these characters are just random as hell, so their loss is rather insignificant, but I’ve been stalking these characters for decades. I asked myself, “Why?” but that’s a complex question. If I had to guess, the first part of its due to my guilty pleasure viewings of teen dramas like The O.C. or 90210 and so on. These books match the flair for the dramatic, or more so the melodramatic.
Grey’s Anatomy creator Allen Heinberg actually wrote the first volume of Young Avengers. Breakups and breakdowns are commonplace for a Super-teen book. There’s Robin dating in and out of costume. Wonder Girl dealing with the death of Superboy, or Patriot’s inadequacy leading to him abusing drugs. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities for a love triangle to take precedence or for a character to get grounded. Its tongue-in-cheek, but it’s relatable, especially when you are (or were) a young adult yourself at some point.
Teen characters in comics are also more likely to draw those “relevant,” “topical,” or “taboo” story lines. Speedy was a heroin junkie, Robin helps his girlfriend decide between abortion or adoption and there are enough gay characters to have a monthly parade. It has a humanizing effect in that regard: there are things you may not deal with but that you know exist. Here, these problems are more likely to occur than in a larger-than-life book like The Avengers or Justice League, and in some small way that allows you (or me at least) to feel connected.
The X-Men Academy/New Mutant/Generation X series showcased teen characters dealing with genetic mutations as well as hormonal changes. New Warriors showed a team selling their rights to a reality TV producer and have them fight bad guys across middle America. The “original” Nova had him balance working at a burger place, going to high school and fighting crappy super villains (Diamond-Head is a pretty good example). There are countless examples of books that showcase teen spirit and angst, usually in a topically humorous light.
The biggest reason I love these types of books is because, well, I want to be a superhero, and when I picture myself as one I don’t jump right to Superman. I think of potential abilities and how I’d use them in my daily life, or to make ends meet, or to pick up chicks. Teen books make it seem that any one of us could be a hero… or a villain. It’s hard to shut off the part of our brain that’s grounded in reality, and these books create a happy medium for them to live.
Sometimes, it’s just a little easier to play pretend.