Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung started Avengers: The Children's Crusade way back in 2010 as the epic that was set to rehabilitate the devastated character of Wanda Maximoff, aka The Scarlet Witch, and also define the origins of their creations, the Young Avengers, by establishing that Wiccan and Speed are indeed her children. After numerous delays, the final issue of the nine-part series hit stores today, and although it was once said to fold in directly with the ends of X-Men: Schism and Fear Itself, it still feels entirely like a series almost outside of the Marvel Universe proper, and it leads one to wonder if any of this is going to carry over into Marvel's big 2012 plans.
This book quietly satirized Civil War and, given the similarities between that and this summer's Avengers vs. X-Men fracas, this book feels like a satire of future Marvel books as well. Throughout the story, the Avengers and the X-Men kept coming to blows with each other while blindly posturing about who gets to adminster justice to Wanda, only serving to frustrate the hell out of the level-headed kids trying to actually solve problems and save people's lives – and that sounds like it's EXACTLY what's about to happen in AvX, only substituting Wanda with Hope Summers. Chances are that enjoying this book will very much undercut how much you'll enjoy the upcoming Superhero Slapfight Festival.
Avengers: The Children's Crusade #9 is almost entirely an epilogue. Last issue ended with what I thought wasn't going to be the sacrifice of a major character due to how much Heinberg has poked at the Event Book tropes, but alas, Cassie Lang, aka Stature, did indeed sacrifice her life in the fight against the uber-powered Doom. Effectively, Heinberg has traded her death for the resurrection of her father, and I don't know if that was the best choice. However, I appreciate it for the simple fact that he seems to be undoing as much of the Bendis Damage from Avengers: Disassembled and House of M as possible while he has the opportunity to do so, and it's hard to argue with that. Maybe Bendis can now get a taste of how it feels when someone fixes all the toys he spent so much time breaking. Not that I'm bitter. But anyway, the fact that he's patching up that mess while sacrificing two of his own creations should help deflate any notions that he's putting his ego above everything else.
The other sacrifice is his Young Avenger version of the Vision, who is destroyed by his own creator – Iron Lad – in a fit of rage at being advised against jumping back into the timestream to prevent the demise of the girl he loves – the girl who had moved on to loving the Vision instead. Thus, the young Nathaniel vanishes into the timestream, realizing all the fears his comrades had that he would eventually become Kang The Conqueror. Instead, he declares he's going to be better than Kang ever was. Ominous thoughts, indeed, but it does leave the door open for Cassie Lang to return in some form. And yes, you may argue that Heinberg did not create Cassie or the Vision, and you would be correct. However, he certainly put his stamp on them by making Stature a superhero and creating a very different permutation of the Vision – and there's a certain comfort in the fact that he chose those two to kill off, because characters Heinberg himself didn't create are much more likely to find their way back into the Marvel Universe at some point in the future, especially given how much of an effect the Young Avengers have had on young Avengers readers.
The looming question is the fate of the Scarlet Witch. Cyclops decides her life is better spent in penance rather than being summarily ended, although he doubts Doom was telling the truth when he claimed all of Wanda's transgressions were actually his doing. For her part, Wanda is drowning in guilt and misery and is determined to dedicate herself to making whatever amends she can manage, refusing to rejoin the Avengers. She's determined to be there for her children, but beyond that, her future is wide open – and since she's going right back into the belly of the Bendis when AvX #0 rolls around, it might not be as full of options as it would initially seem.
For all the talk of Heinberg taking an eraser to Bendis epics, it's not to say he doesn't respect what's gone before. Avengers: The Children's Crusade has worked firmly with established continuity, and there are great little touches throught #9 that shows that he's paying attention and is a longtime fan. Cheung gives us a great moment where Wanda is darkly cradling the head of the Vision after he's been destroyed, hearkening back to the days of their marriage. She also has a moment with Wonder Man which ties into the fact that he's been crusading against the Avengers lately himself. Then there's a tiny panel after Cyclops' Big Angry Speech where Rogue – the former mutant terrorist turned stalwart X-Man – completely undercuts it by saying "He'll come around. They all will." A sentiment Madrox agrees with – although much more cynically, figuring the minute they need to fight Dormammu, they'll call her in.
The last half of the issue is Heinberg focusing on his creations, and showing us the Young Avengers slowly imploding in the face of mountains of regret and misery and sadness in the face of their losses and mistakes over the course of this series. Cassie and Vision are dead, Iron Lad is lost, Patriot feels he's responsible for costing mutants their chance to regain their powers, Kate Bishop feels responsible for everything since she was ostensibly the field leader, and Wiccan started this whole mess in the first place, so he's feeling incompetent and dangerous, too. Speed is the only one who wants to continue, and he doesn't want to do it alone. So he doesn't. The Young Avengers go into hibernation.
For months, while Billy Kaplan mopes, and we get events that establish just when the bulk of this series is supposed to occur – before Spider Island, before Schism and before the return of the Human Torch. And it takes what is essentially a proposal from his boyfriend Hulkling to shake him out of his doldrums – so we might just get a same-sex marriage in Marvel's future here – they've got to keep pace with Archie, after all.
There's a nice denoument, though, which could be Heinberg's full-circle moment to end his involvement with the characters and allow them to be folded into the AvX madness when it begins to unfold. However, given the history of the Young Avengers, how they came together when the Avengers were disassembled, now that they're disassembled, the Avengers coming together to honor them and deem them officially part of Earth's Mightiest Heroes is a nice way to end things. A long time in coming, perhaps, but nice nonetheless.
Now let's just hope some of the creators involved with Avengers vs. X-Men have read this series and respect its tone and message about what they're about to do before plucking out its characters and plugging them into their fight card. If it feels just as contrived as it sounds, those of us who read Avengers: The Children's Crusade are going to have that much more difficult a time swallowing it. However, considering the pre-sale numbers are going through the roof for AvX, they likely don't care all that much.