Style and Substance by Rasmus Lykke is an essay on the Young Avengers run by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton, Matt Wilson and Clayton Clowes published between 2013 and 2014. The booklet came out in the PanelxPanel's One Shots series, the comics criticism magazine produced and edited by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou; unlike the magazine – which comes out monthly in digital format -, One Shots was offered to the public as paper booklets, through a Kickstarter campaign in 2020.
The focus of Lykke's analysis is on two topics that feed much of Gillen's production, one thematic and the other relating to narrative construction. The former is the confrontation with the past and the characters' search for their own path through existence, as a way for defining their own identities; the latter is the use of significant graphic structures, that visually deliver information and sense. In Young Avengers, the relationship with the past is enacted as relationship with the adults. In this view, the adjective “Young” could be read as they playing cadet roles, i.e. a role that makes sense according to the figures who inspire it (namely: The Avengers). This is the case, Lykke argues in the essay introduction, of DC sidekicks. Adults grip on the life of the young generation is personified in the villain “Mother” (no subtleties here). Her goal is preventing the Young from gaining autonomy, that is defining/choosing a norm to guide their own actions.
The research on expressive means lies in the use of graphic solutions that amplify the effect of the events shown, always therefore resonant and never gratuitous. Lykke sums up his thesis in the motto “Style = Substance“, which also highlights both the awareness of the creative team, and the irony, easy readable in the title of the second part of the run, Style > Substance, which actually also draws the reader's attention to the topic.
Lykke's essay flows smoothly, thanks to the clarity of the goals and the arguments. The only part that seems unnecessary is the introductory parallel between DC and Marvel's approach to superheroes' relationship with the past and their definition as superhuman/divine and human, respectively: the topic is far more nuanced and deserves a broader examination, but, more importantly, these considerations does not play any role in the development of the subsequent analysis.
Particularly effective is the comparison of Gillen and McKelvie's with Allen Heinberg's and Jim Cheung's Young Avengers run, and the connection with the treatment of Loki's character, that the writer had applied in Journey into Mystery. In this way, Lykke makes clear the discontinuity with the previous context and the continuity of the British authors' approach in their production.
Also important is the closing of the essay, that Lykke dedicates not so much to a simple recapitulation of the analysis as to underline the breadth of themes that would be worth addressing in Gillen's work. This invitation to investigation, at the end of an examination that constitutes an important piece in the field of treatments focused on a single work, confirms our view that a deeper understanding and appreciation of Gillen's production can only come from a view that takes into account several works, synchronically or chronologically. For this purpose, a significant perspective is needed, not limited to the search for recurring elements: it should highlight the confrontation with stereotypes and the ambition to change and adapt the expressive form of serial comics to current times and need.
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Style and Substance
PanelxPanel: One shots, 2020
64 pages, paperback, colours