Avengers: The Children's Crusade is a frustrating book - high quality, infrequent publication. And the nine-issue bimonthly series skips March for a side-story explaining why Iron Lad turned up at the end of the last issue. So rather than Latveria, the latest slice of Young Avengers we're offered begins in the far future, on the planet Moord. Surrounded by the corpses of an entire race, the Badoon, Iron Lad is fighting Kang the Conqueror, the man he's destined to become. The paradox, at least according to Kang, is that every time Iron Lad travels through time to act against Kang, he brings himself a step closer to becoming Kang.
My head doesn't hurt, but it's shaking. The whole Kang thing has become far too complicated. Kang began his villainy as Rama-Tut and his future-er self is Immortus and at one point he pretended to be the Scarlet Centurion and his real name is Nathaniel Richards (but that's not the same time-travelling Nathaniel Richards who's the father of Mr Fantastic) and his teenage self was Iron Lad, who gifted his brain patterns to the young version of the Vision. He's probably also me. And you.
Anyway, Iron Lad is just about to see off Kang, when who should show up but the Young Avengers. The adult Young Avengers. And they claim Kang as a member. They explain to an understandably nonplussed Iron Lad that during the events of the Children's Crusade, when they were at war with the senior Avengers, they escaped into the timestream with the aid of Kang. They've spent years, by their reckoning, travelling throughout time and space, fighting the good fight. Given that they admit helping Kang destroy the Badoon - admittedly, a bad lot - Iron Lad isn't convinced.
He reminds them of how they came to be named the Young Avengers, shortly after he emerged in the 21st century and recruited Wiccan, Hulkling and Patriot for his war on Kang. It's not a story we've heard previously, as Young Avengers creator Allan Heinberg comes up with a pain-free continuity implant to fill a dozen or so pages.
It's Saturday night and the nascent team battles Spider-Man villain Electro and don't do too well. But they do rescue imperilled citizens and soon the Daily Bugle is calling them the Young Avengers. The end. Well, with some nice characterisation, a lesson for Iron Lad and a cameo by the pre-Hawkeye Kate Bishop. But it reads as filler - very nicely drawn filler, thanks to the presence of penciller Alan Davis and inker Mark Farmer, but filler nonetheless.
Flashback over, Kang tells Iron Lad a lie that has him rushing to the past and, after he's gone, there's a final twist which had me scratching my head. The framing sequence, with its peek at a possible future for the Young Avengers - complete with babies on the way for Speed and Hawkeye, and a family for Patriot - is intriguing, but so sketched in as to be of minor interest.
This being Heinberg, that's not to say the future team won't factor in down the line, but the 'go into the past to put things right which once went wrong' set-up pretty much guarantees we'll never see them again. And while this special does feed back into January's Children's Crusade #4, I'd have been OK with Iron Lad simply popping up because he saw he was needed. Or better still, not showing up at all - for me, the character's convolutions make him a troubling presence.
But then again, Davis and Farmer are on top form as they execute Heinberg's perky script. The layouts are imaginative without getting in the way of the storytelling, the players are attractive and powerful, and there's a sensational training session spread that works on two levels - you can read the conversation across the pages, while following the individual skirmishes with Sinister Six holograms from top to bottom. And the future character designs, especially Ted as Captain Marvel and Cassie as Stinger, are first-rate. The colours by Javier Rodriguez pop, especially during the Electro scenes, and Cory Petit has fun with the lettering (FOOM). So this one-shot is enjoyable enough.
Is 'enjoyable enough', enough? It should be, but I'm itching to get back to the main event. I can't see any Young Avengers fan skipping this book, but Im pretty sure I know what most would rather be reading.