Displays of sexuality in Young Avengers, V1 vs. V2
Or “Why the fandom is a virgin in a brothel”.
Not quite. But it seemed like a good catch-phrase at 2 in the morning. Eternal thank you to morphia-writes who was my beta-reader and editor.
Like many others, I’ve been having misgivings about the new run, trying to come to terms with what my babies became and managing to even like some parts, while still not liking others. One thing in particular that took center stage and is a recurring theme in debates and meta is, of course, sexuality. It’s not necessarily orientation, but admitting that these characters are, in fact, sexual creatures with sex lives, some more, some less.
And you know something? Yeah, the difference between the two runs is striking. And that’s when I take “V1” to mean “everything and anything that involved any of the Young Avengers characters since the first issue of the first series to the last issue of ACC” compared to V2’s yet unfinished mere 15 issues. Wow. Ok.
Let’s start with V1. We’ve had kisses and hugs and dates and a couple of love triangles. Ok, that seems cute and dandy. Standard. Some characters don’t even have that much story to them other than the romance because they lack any tangible plot-lines to sustain them otherwise. It’s cool, man, we’ve been there. It happens. It’s called “Siege: YA” unless you’re Tommy Shepherd and it’s one of your chances to shine.
But what struck me when I sat down to think about it was how they dealt with the displays of anything that went beyond it. And hey, seeing how their one undeniably canon couple that lasted from start to finish had only one on-panel kiss that was seven years in the making, even this much was apparently a lot to ask for. But when we asked for more? Man. Talk about a train-wreck.
So when did sex become an issue in the first run? Or to be precise, when was sex even brought up? Two times that come to mind aren’t all that great, and one isn’t even confirmed.
Ok. Let’s talk about the thing no one wants to talk about. Let’s talk Dark Reignand Tommy/Coat of Arms (c’mon don’t bail, there’s cookies later on). Because it’s a thing that needs to be talked about (and it helps to drive the point home, seeing how I had to go that far to find an example for this).
So we have the more obvious examples being the Dark Masters themselves. They were shown in varying states of before and after. But what’s rotten to the core about it? That they’re the obvious bad guys. And they’re the ones having sex. Hm. I’d say there’s a metaphor here but the title didn’t openly advocate those at the time.
Back to Tommy/Coat. It’s obvious they had a relationship before, the precise extent of which isn’t certain. But it’s not unthinkable, given the characters and the implications in the book, that Tommy and Coat had sex in the past.
Why this makes me quirk a brow? Because despite Tommy being a good guy, he’s still the YA’s “bad kid”, and we’re once again facing a situation where the ones who had sex are the “bad kids”. It’s Tommy, the Team Sociopath™ and the actual leader of the Young Masters who’d go to quite great lengths for the sake of her ART™. The “bad kids” who met in prison and whose relationship, including the sex, Tommy was willing to let go of in favor of his current team. The good kids. The clean kids. The “safe” kids.
And of course, the other time we ran into sex was in Kate’s background story in the first series’ special issue.
I hope I don’t have to tell anyone why that presents sex in a negative light.
The other time that comes to mind that went even half the distance is in ACC with Teddy and Billy in Avengers headquarters. They’re talking, and then touching, and they’re going to “make out” (heaven forbids they’d even talk about doing more, think of the book’s rating!) and then - the thing that became a bloody meme takes place and Tommy “cockblocks” them.
Why this makes me quirk a brow? Because oh no how embarrassing and unclean and bad, they were about to get intimate and now they were caught and Billy and Teddy basically leap away from one another. This couple who we all know are intimate with each other, the couple who were about to use not two separate beds but one king-sized bed Billy spelled specifically for the occasion (with mints on the pillows, even!), behave like what they were doing is a big no-no. Which, ok, given the circumstances makes sense, I suppose, but this is the one time we’ve seen them get this close to each other in ages if not ever. This is them talking about doing more than hugging and what happens then?
Tommy berates them this is not what they’re supposed to be doing.
Tommy. Who had a relationship before that might’ve gotten to the realm of sexual contact. Who is the bad boy of the team who’s done things the others wouldn’t even think about. Tommy, who lived with Billy and Teddy under the same roof for several weeks if not months now, and who is most likely used to their disgusting couple shenanigans. Lord only knows how many times he walked in on them doing worse.
Ok so let’s set aside Teddy and Billy jumping out of their skins at being walked in on while being a romantically involved and sexually active couple living together with Billy’s parents and three siblings (Tommy included) because circumstances. It’s not that it never happened before or anything, it’s the surprise from Tommy suddenly appearing and tension because shit man the Avengers want to lock Billy up. Ok. I can dig that. But then?
Then Tommy calls them out that what they’re doing is wrong.
Because apparently, wanting to get touchy-feely with your boyfriend when you’re both high-strung and anxious is a big no no. Ah ha. Ok. Right. Whatever.
The Three Rules of Young Avengers:
1. You don’t talk about Young Avengers
2. Young Avengers don’t kill
3. Young Avengers only hug. Unless you lack other plot value in which case you may also kiss.
Great. Cool. Lovely.
This has been going on since 2005 up to the end of ACC in May 2012. Several months pass and we get V2.
V2 starts with a one night stand.
I could basically finish the rant here but I won’t because I love beating up dead horses with blunt sticks and there’s still a point to be made. I think.
Issue 1’s first ten or so pages already give us something V1 in its entirety didn’t do - it portrays Kate, Billy and Teddy, the three members who carried over from the last run, as sexual creatures without batting an eyelash and it does so without shaming, blaming, or otherwise degrading anyone.
Kate, the assault survivor, shows the world that she can and does enjoy sexual contact. She enjoys the clubs, and the dancing, and yes, the sex with guys she doesn’t know but she knows enough to end up with the guy who, despite his many fuck-ups, would step out of the shower and worry he woke her up. Who’d crack a joke about introducing her to his parents when they’re revived as monstrous goo constructs. Who’d be willing to sacrifice his life for her to not lose another girl he cares for.
I’d say Kate picked a winner. So who cares if she enjoys the sex? Let her. About the only thing that could make that scene even more positive is to show or imply a used condom and it might’ve happened and I just missed the metaphor, but alas, book rating. We’re PG-13 rated, ARGH.
So we have Kate, who the last time we saw her getting involved with anyone it was in Presents 6 with Tommy and Eli, and then proceeded to having a relationship that ended up in a mess that seems to have helped Eli’s many stupid decisions in ACC. I’d say the girl matured or grew, but those words usually imply something inherently positive, and I’d rather not take sides. So let’s keep it simple and just say she changed enough to be what we see in issue 1 of the new run.
And who knows, maybe she was like that all along, and the “problem” was her partners in the previous run. Eli and Tommy being younger than her and Eli being so uptight dictated a nature of relationship that is leaps and bounds different than what Noh can give her. And that’s fine. That’s what being alive and experiencing things and meeting new people is about, finding someone you’re comfortable with. And that’s something the first run didn’t tackle because it wasn’t into the whole physical intimacy gig, whereas the new run is very much about it.
Now we flip a couple of pages and we reach Teddy and Billy. Everyone’s favorite canon same-sex couple. We fast-forward the scene to them kissing, and being obnoxious with that adorable forehead-touch and HOW DAR EYUO and reach the point where Billy takes his leave. They joke about how mama and papa Kaplan will disapprove of the boys being together in the same room in the middle of the night.
This isn’t “making out”. Or, you know, talking about it. This is doing the nasty under Poster America’s watchful eye and mama and papa Kaplan disapprove because there are children in the house and the walls are thin or something.
This isn’t spelling two beds into a single king sized bed and when push comes to shove only ever show them in bed, dressed and barely even cuddling - Teddy wanted to hug Billy in the lodge in Wundagore but Billy wasn’t quite into it for obvious reasons. Oh you thought they’d be doing anything? No, lodge walls, everyone’ll hear and Grandpa Magneto’ll undo Teddy because WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY GRANDSON, YOUNG MAN.
"No it’s ok gramps I enjoyed it"
This? This is making sure everyone knew beyond the shadow of a doubt Teddy and Billy do things mama and papa Kaplan disapprove of and that’s why they’re in separate rooms to begin with. Billy and Teddy do the nasty and if anyone had doubt about it until now, have doubt no more.
"But Smile, I thought you had a problem with negatively presenting sexual contact?"
But see, this isn’t negatively presenting sexual contact. At least, the “blame” isn’t placed on the characters themselves. This isn’t Tommy going “wHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”, this is them going “we’d be at it like bunnies but house rules”. And given how the whole run is one where parents are presented as creatures who need to lighten up a bit or at least be more open about things, to downrightantagonists, it adds up to the grander scheme of things all too nicely, I’d say. Not to mention Billy and Teddy both seem to accept it for what it is - parental concern which adds up with having two younger siblings in the house. It’s hardly the same. This is “we’d so do it but we’d wake up the neighbors”, not “dON’T DO IT OMFG WHAT ARE YOU CRAZY”.
And this is on the first half of issue 1.
Let’s now review the infamous “THEY’RE TOO GAY” scene from issue 3. Billy just got a text message from Kate about Skrulls and cute boys. Teddy admitting he likes those topics is deemed problematic and a fandom meltdown ensues.
Must be a Thursday.
Let’s set aside how likely it is that Billy and Kate were both ogling Eli whenever possible and Kate had a blast ogling Tommy and watching Billy creep out because “Kate, he’s my TWIN, I can’t lust after him with you”
Fun fact from Teddy’s very basic character concept - Teddy likes boys. Fun fact from between issue 1 and issue 2 of the very first run when the green-light was given - Teddy is a boy that likes boys.
Some girls like to talk about cute boys.
Some boys like to talk about cute girls.
So why shouldn’t some gay boys like to talk about cute boys? And why shouldn’t a straight girl enjoy talking about cute boys with her gay friends?
I know I do.
Many complaints were that their sexuality was becoming too big a part of their characteristics. Setting aside how whenever I’m near either one of three couples I know that’s what happens, sex-talks and them basically making out next to me
sob it can be argued in reverse - for a book dealing with teenagers, the majority of which are boys, the first run was too non-sexual. And don’t even bring Cassie up with me as reason for it, if they really cared she was a 14 years old they wouldn’t have let her initiate the very first kiss in the franchise, and they wouldn’t have left Kate’s age to be retconned into being older than the rest of them, something Gillen himself seems to have decided later on because when I asked him about it on formspring at the time, he put Kate, Billy and Teddy all between 17 and 19.
While we’re still remotely on the topic of the scene from issue 3, I have to ask - is it really that different from the scene in ACC where Tommy speeds-in on them? Both situations had Teddy and Billy in understandable distress. They turned to each other for comfort and due to being teenage boys they didn’t just hug, they wanted to do something more. In issue 3 they were in a club and couldn’t quite do anything, so instead Teddy put his arm on the backrest behind Billy’s shoulders and ate him up with his eyes while saying he liked cute boys. Billy even brought up the teasing topic to begin with because it’s much more fun to talk about this than it is to go “oh and we have Skrulls to worry about on top of it all”.
Very similar scenes, but no one complained about the one in ACC. Hm.
The bottom line (or the tl;dr), seems to me, isn’t that sexuality became too great a part of their characteristics - it’s that it became a part of it, period, and that’s something the first run didn’t have. Like, at all, basically. So, yeah. It’d be kind of a shock to have this change in perspective.
I’m not going to say you should be ok with all of this. I’m also not going to say things, like, “stop complaining about OOC because Kate has sex and Teddy and Billy talk about sex”. After all, they didn’t in the first run, and when it comes to writing, absence of evidence is often evidence of absence. If you still think it’s OOC, it’s legitimate and I’m only shoving food for thought down your throats unless you already threw it all up and noped out of here a couple of hundred of words ago.
But think about it like this - so often character development doesn’t come from change or growth, or even actual development, however funny it is to say. It comes from examining the same characters from different angles and points of view. V1 was innocent not because all of this wasn’t there, but because we weren’t shown it. And now V2 shows us that no, these people aren’t as ascetic as we thought. Whether or not this was there to begin with is up to the reader, mostly, but fact is it’s there now, and readers need to decide how they feel about it.
I’ll admit. There’s something unsettling about seeing something you thought was virginal and non-sexual being portrayed in a different light. It’s finding the porn collection under the bed and a used condom in the trash bin and what’s this stain on the mattress that’s a bitch to get off. It’s, in a way, disillusioning. It’s uncomfortable. But part of growing up is realizing everyone does it and it’s natural. And seeing it happen in canon as opposed to in fanfics or fanarts is being stuck in sex-ed class. YES IT’S A THING STOP DENYING IT sort of thing.
Again, I’m not saying you should be ok with it. Part of the charm of YA in the first run was, indeed, their innocence, and leaving so much for the imagination even if you knew Teddy and Billy probably lost their virginity a good while before the first issue came out. And, after all, sexuality is often something you decide how to explore for yourself, so having a more sexual narrative that is forced on you as a reader can understandably be actually a turn-off to many. So if admitting they’re sexually active isn’t your thing, it’s legitimate and ok and see you next run when someone wants to depict them more as kids again or at the very least not have 90% of the plot be about romance when we have Loki as a leading plot device. It’s also ok to want to keep pretending our boys and girls are “pure” even when you glance at AO3 and see all the smut under the tag. After all, some things are more fun to keep secret and pretend they’re not there. It’s part of the excitement, no?
Like all the chains and leather in the basement. It can be our little secret~
And yeah I lied about the cookies, sorry.