Even if you aren't totally aware, if you've been watching Disney Plus' Marvel Cinematic Universe streaming shows WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki, you've been watching Marvel Comics' teen team the Young Avengers start to assemble right under your nose.
In fact, Young Avengers characters have been popping up in the MCU since as far back as 2015's Ant-Man, with the debut of Cassie Lang - better known in comic books by her superhero names Stature and later Stinger.
Since then, no less than four more Young Avengers have appeared in the MCU, with at least three more already planned to appear, as well as two core members of Marvel's other teen team the Champions who may well be incorporated into the team's line-up if and when (let's be honest, when) the Young Avengers assemble for real.
Most obviously WandaVision introduced Wanda Maximoff and Vision's magically created twin sons William and Thomas - comic book Young Avengers Wiccan and Speed, respectively - who showed off their powers and even fun Halloween costume versions of their comic book costumes in the show.
But several of the Young Avengers who are assembling on the screen - and the comic book connections they have to the biggest burgeoning plot points of the current phase of the MCU - may have flown slightly under the radar.
There's Kid Loki, whose presence in the Loki show was obvious, but whose role in forming one incarnation of the Young Avengers is less well-known. And then there's Eli Bradley/Patriot, who had a brief cameo in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. And of course Kate Bishop/Hawkeye, Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, Riri Williams/Ironheart, and America Chavez/Ms. America are all scheduled to make their MCU debuts sooner rather than later.
Given the origins of the Young Avengers are tied directly into the Skrulls, who will play a role in Secret Invasion, and Kang, the time conqueror whose variants seem to be all over the MCU right now, it's a particularly poignant time to look at exactly who the Young Avengers are, and how the team came together in comic books - as well as the legacies they represent.
Young Avengers Assemble
The first incarnation of the Young Avengers formed in the wake of Avengers: Disassembled, the story in which Wanda Maximoff suffered a nervous breakdown and killed several Avengers, including Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Scott Lang/Ant-Man, and the original Vision.
The original team, composed of Eli Bradley/Patriot, Billy Kaplan/Wiccan (who first went by the codename Asgardian), Teddy Altman/Hulkling, Cassie Lang/Stature, early recruits Kate Bishop/Hawkeye and Tommy Shepherd/Speed, and finally the mysterious Iron Lad, all take inspiration from classic Avengers characters.
Some of the Young Avengers have direct familial connections to Earth's Mightiest Heroes, such as Cassie's dad Scott Lang, Billy and Tommy's mom and uncle Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and Eli's grandfather Isaiah Bradley (not an Avenger, but an unsung hero who once stood in for Captain America). Kate Bishop, meanwhile, inherited the codename Hawkeye from Captain America himself, later sticking with it when Clint Barton returned. As in the upcoming MCU Hawkeye show, Kate went on to become Clint's protege, solidifying her status as a true legacy hero.
But it's the secret family connections of Teddy Altman/Hulkling and the sorta-Tony Stark-inspired Iron Lad that form the biggest conflicts of the Young Avengers founding - and which bear some of the strongest connections to upcoming MCU plotlines.
Before we go on, it's interesting to note that both Hulkling and Iron Lad, two of the most important Young Avengers characters, have been absent from Marvel Studios' announced plans - the keyword there being "announced."
While we'll get into some possible ways comic books could provide insight into their potential introduction into the MCU, first we'll explain exactly what their connections are, and why, even if Hulking and Iron Lad themselves don't make it to the MCU, there's a solid chance their stories might.
First off, there's Hulkling. Though at first Teddy Altman believes himself to be a mutant with shapeshifting powers, shortly after the formation of the Young Avengers, he discovers that his parents are actually Kree warriors hiding on Earth in order to keep Teddy out of the hands of the Skrull.
Why do both the Kree and the Skrull, ancient enemies whose comic book conflict Avengers: The Kree/Skrull War, formed the basis of the Captain Marvel movie, want Teddy? Well, it's simple - he's secretly the son of the legendary Kree hero Mar-Vell (AKA the original Marvel Comics version of Captain Marvel and Carol Danvers' mentor) and the Skrull princess - both of whom perished in the years after his secret birth.
Though the Young Avengers (and some of the adult Avengers) have to fight their way through both the Kree and the Skrull when Hulkling's secret is revealed, he's left on Earth among the Young Avengers alongside his boyfriend Billy Kaplan/Wiccan with the promise that he will someday fulfill his destiny to end the war between the Kree and Skrull.
Since then, that day has come in the form of Marvel's 2020 event story Empyre, in which Hulkling united the Kree and Skrull into an alliance by taking the crown and mantle of Emperor Dorrek VIII, ending both their war with each other, and their respective conflicts with Earth (and marrying Billy along the way).
With Secret Invasion on the way, Marvel Studios is sure to find a way to incorporate aspects of the story of Hulkling - if not the character himself - into the show on some level. In fact, it's a bit of a mystery exactly what the show will turn out to be. In the MCU, the shapeshifting Skrulls, whose infiltration of Earth disguised as human heroes formed the basis of the comic book Secret Invasion, are already allied with Nick Fury and Captain Marvel - hardly the set up for terrible villains.
There's also Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine in the mix, recruiting heroes such as John Walker/US Agent and Yelena Belova/Black Widow onto a Dark Avengers-esque team to combat a hidden, impending threat - something that may be part of Secret Invasion.
If she's forming her own team, a sort of Dark Avengers comprised of older, more vicious heroes, could Contessa's team and the Young Avengers come to blows over the legacy of the original Avengers? Such a confrontation took place during the comic book origins of Loki's Sylvie - so it's not unprecedented.
Iron Lad's Legacy
When it comes to Iron Lad, he may have an even more convoluted path to the MCU than Hulkling, but there's still a great chance he'll show up in some form or another. So who is Iron Lad, and what's his big secret?
Well, the Young Avengers mostly know him as a youthful genius with a highly advanced suit of armor, and the organizer of the team who found most of them using the Vision's memory files, which he stole from the ruins of Avengers Mansion (which was destroyed during the aforementioned Avengers: Disassembled).
But as it turns out, he's actually - wait for it - a teen 'variant' of Kang the Conqueror, who learns of his future as a villain and travels to the past to prevent himself from turning evil.
Whew. Comic books!
Unfortunately, the fully-formed, villainous Kang discovers Iron Lad's whereabouts in the timestream, traveling back to bring him home and ensure his own existence - sort of an even more twisted and superhero-y Back to the Future kinda deal. Though the Young Avengers are able to fight Kang off, Iron Lad eventually returns to his own era in order to ensure the stability of the timestream.
In his wake, he leaves his advanced armor - which he empowers with the files and personality of the Vision, turning the armor itself into a new version of Vision who calls himself 'Jonas.'
There are a few elements of Iron Lad's story that make it seem a bit unlikely he'll come to the screen exactly as-is, but given Kang the Conqueror is now part of the MCU thanks to the appearance of his onscreen variant He Who Remains, we're not going to be at all surprised if a young, Iron Lad type variant plays a role in forming an MCU version of the Young Avengers.
For one thing, Cassie Lang will undoubtedly appear in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which could be particularly important for two reasons. First, Kang is the villain of the film, though we're betting not just one Kang, but multiple variants. Second, in the early days of the Young Avengers, there was actually a budding romance between Cassie and Iron Lad.
Could any of that come into play in Quantumania? What about the already rebuilt new Vision? Could his story intersect somehow with that of the Young Avengers, a la Iron Lad giving way to Jonas? Time will tell...
We are the Champions
Then there are the other Young Avengers who we know will appear onscreen. First off, there's America Chavez, who will make her debut in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. America joined the Young Avengers in their second incarnation, which was organized in part by none other than Kid Loki, who appeared in (where else?) Loki.
Though he's not confirmed to return, Multiverse of Madness will pick up on threads from both Loki and WandaVision (as the title and the inclusion of Scarlet Witch herself in the movie also imply). Could Kid Loki show up, perhaps alongside America Chavez, and maybe William and Thomas?
In the story that formed their incarnation of the Young Avengers, Loki mentors Wiccan in magic in order to defeat a mystical threat that destroyed America Chavez's home dimension. That sounds like a plot that could quite easily make it to the MCU in some form, given all we know.
What's more, the last hurrah of the original Young Avengers, told in Avengers: The Childrens' Crusade, puts the team on the path of the Scarlet Witch, missing after Avengers: Disassembled, only to find her in the clutches of Doctor Doom. Could the concept of the Young Avengers rescuing Scarlet Witch from a dark power that wishes to control her - maybe like the Darkhold, the book of dark magic Wanda obtained in WandaVision - come into play?
And of course, that leaves last, but hardly least, Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, and Riri Williams/Ironheart. Though they're both teen heroes, they're much more associated with the Champions and haven't ever served as Young Avengers (though Kamala was briefly part of the main Avengers, before joining the Champions).
Kamala's comic book origins are tied to the Kree through the Inhumans, so there seems to be an obvious way to bring her into a story that may touch on the Kree and Skrull as the basis for the formation of the Young Avengers.
Riri, however, is less well known in comic books, which means there may be more wiggle room in how she comes to the MCU. In comics, Riri is a teen genius who becomes Tony Stark's protege after she builds her own suit of armor in her garage. Shortly thereafter, Tony dies, leaving an AI with his personality to continue her training and mentor her as a replacement for Iron Man under the codename Ironheart.
Many of those elements could be adapted exactly from the page into the upcoming Armor Wars show, which reportedly brings Ironheart into the MCU, as well as her subsequent confirmed spin-off show. But could Riri Williams also be part of bringing Iron Lad's story to the screen?
Subbing in Riri as the Young Avengers' resident armored hero seems to make a lot of sense, with the progression Tony Stark's legacy has already taken. But could she somehow wind up with a connection to Kang, to fill that narrative place in the tale of the Young Avengers? That may be a question for another day…
Whatever the case, the MCU is wasting no time in bringing the members of the Young Avengers to TV and to film, often in subtle ways. Considering the way the MCU managed to break ground by assembling the Avengers into their own movie over the course of multiple solo films, Marvel Studios may be trying to pull a similar trick with the Young Avengers without viewers even necessarily realizing it.
Marvel film fans are going to need to understand the multiverse to fully 'get' Phase 4. Good thing we've got this guide to the Marvel Multiverse and the importance of the number '616'.