The Young Avengers are a team of adolescents who formed in the wake of the Avengers: Disassembled storyline in 2004. In terms of publication, there have been two complete volumes of stories, the first by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung, the second by the infamous comics team of Gillen/McKelvie in 2013. They were initially assembled by Iron Lad who used a secret Avengers Fail-Safe Program to find them. The Fail-Safe Program was designed by the Vision, who was recently deceased in this storyline, to find and recruit the next generation of Avengers in case the worst ever happened – and the worst just had happened.
We are exploring the Young Avengers because, recently, Marvel has been introducing a lot of those characters in their Disney+ shows and films and it just feels like they are secretly building up that team.
Last week, we introduced you to the on-again/off-again team leader, Patriot. This week we will introduce you to the sorta-twin brothers, Billy Kaplan and Tommy Shepherd, aka Wiccan and Speed.
Who Is Wiccan?
Of all the characters we are going to talk about in this series, Wiccan is probably the most complicated to explain.
We previously covered this pretty in-depth in an article on Scarlet Witch’s children, but here is the quick and dirty on Billy Kaplan.
Also of note – a lot of this backstory is shared with his twin brother, the speedster Tommy Shepherd.
First things first – he was originally born to Scarlet Witch and Vision as one of two twins, whom they named Thomas and William Maximoff. Their birth takes place in The Vision and the Scarlet Witch (vol.2) #12 from 1986. They were a happy family for a number of years, with the kids even sometimes hanging around Avengers Mansion, as we see in a few issues of West Coast Avengers.
However, Vision and Scarlet Witch were never really aware of their children’s true nature – which was that their two twin boys were shards of the soul of Mephisto that Wanda unknowingly pulled out of the ether when she magically created her children. Wanda had always wanted a family and, without knowing it, she tapped into her powers essentially to wish two twin boys into existence. However, to do so, she needed souls, so her chaotic magic found two Mephisto shards to create the twins.
We find all of this out from Agatha Harkness in West Coast Avengers #52.
… Yes – that Agatha Harkness.
It’s 1989 and Wanda and Vision’s twins have been around for three years. Then, in a fight with a villain named Master Pandemonium, he absorbs the twin infants into his hands. It’s one of the more horrific things to happen in the Marvel Comic-dom. He essentially kills two twin babies right in front of their parents.
To keep Wanda from going so insane with grief that she tears the world down to its very foundations, Agatha Harkness magically changes Wanda’s memories so she won’t remember ever having the kids. And, like, all against her will.
Now, let’s fast-forward once more to 2005 where we get Avengers: Disassembled. In this storyline, Wanda learns of the subterfuge perpetrated by Agatha Harkness and her teammates, as well as the death of her children. As Harkness predicted, Wanda, in her grief, ends up taking out the entire Avengers team – hence its title, “Disassembled.”
This eventually leads to House of M, but that will be another article. What’s important here is that Wanda disappears and no one knows where she goes.
For now, that was the end of the storyline involving Wanda’s and Vision’s two twin boys, William and Thomas.
And then Billy Kaplan was born to Jeff and Rebecca Kaplan.
When we first meet Wiccan in Young Avengers #1, he is going by the moniker Asgardian and has the power to shoot lightning and fly – making him a bit of an ersatz Thor. However, we quickly learn that he actually has a sort of wish-magic that allows him to do pretty much anything if he can focus enough. He grows up a bit of a superhero groupie, with a particular affection for Scarlet Witch.
After Wiccan’s boyfriend, Teddy Altman, is kidnapped by the Super-Skrull, they find themselves needing to bolster their ranks, so in Young Avengers #10, he and his team break another young hero, Tommy Shepherd, out of juvie. However, once they get away, everyone notices that Tommy and Billy look alike – so much so – that they could be twins. Billy Kaplan admits that he’s always felt drawn to Scarlet Witch and now, more than ever, he’s convinced that he and Tommy are somehow related to her.
In 2008’s Young Avengers Presents: Wiccan and Speed, we learn that Billy’s instinct is indeed correct. Using Billy’s magic, they are able to track down the now aged Master Pandemonium who is hiding out in Wundagore, where he tells them,
Pandemonium had no idea you still existed. Pandemonium knew you when you were but infants … Pandemonium was led to believe you were slivers of his missing soul. Transmogrified into the Scarlet Witch’s babies. But you weren’t. You were born of darker energies. Mephistopheles. After Pandemonium’s … conflict with the Scarlet Witch and her allies, you were erased from the Scarlet Witch’s memory, which — Pandemonium believes — contributed to her ultimate psychic breakdown… When Pandemonium realized what damage he had wrought, as one of Mephisto’s pawns, he went into hiding.
This then leads directly into Young Avengers: Children’s Crusade, where Billy, Tommy, and the rest of the Young Avengers team up with Magneto to go in search of Wanda Maximoff. Their search takes them to Latveria, where they discover that Wanda is engaged to Dr. Doom and has no memories of ever having been the Scarlet Witch. Billy, using his increasingly powerful magic, is able to infiltrate Latveria by himself, against the advice of his loving boyfriend, Teddy Altman – the hero known as Hulkling. Dr. Doom uses his own magic to take away all of Wiccan’s magic, essentially making him a normal human being. Despite this, Wiccan finds Wanda and tries to tell her who she is, who Doom is, and, more importantly, who he believes he might be.
In the end, Wanda escapes with Billy and quickly uncovers her lost memories, guiding her to the knowledge that she had been manipulated by Dr. Doom. This ends up being a bit of an explainer for the events of Avengers: Disassembled where the narrative never fully disclosed Doom’s involvement in Scarlet Witch’s destruction of the team. In Young Avengers: Children’s Crusade #6, we finally hear the full story as Wanda recalls everything that happens, saying,
“I remember. They call me the Scarlet Witch. My husband, The Vision, and I had two twin sons, Thomas and William. Two lost souls I’d made flesh and blood using magic. Two lost souls I was forced to set free, and for that I blamed the Avengers. I wanted the Avengers to experience loss. I wanted them to face the sins of their past the way I had to face mine. So I confronted them with their failures — their addictions — their mistakes… a fleet of Kree warships seeking revenge for the Kree – Shi’ar War … and an army of Ultron robots…”
Billy and Wanda then have this exchange, with Billy pleading with Wanda to no longer grieve her lost children:
BILLY: “… I know this may be hard to believe, but I think your children are alive, too. How else do you explain identical twin boys named William and Thomas who just happen to have magic powers and super-speed?”
WANDA: “You mean, that’s what this has been about? That’s why you started a war with Doom? That’s why you’ve awakened this power in me? Because you thought maybe – somehow – I might be your mother?”
BILLY: “You are. I know you are. Use your powers. They’ll tell you whether or not I’m your son.”
The exchange then ends with a heartwarming moment between Wanda and Billy, with Wanda asking, “What kind of mother doesn’t even recognize her own son?”
Then, in Young Avengers: Children’s Crusade #7, we get a little bit more backstory about what happened to create the chaos of Avengers: Disassembled.
“I remember everything. When I learned of my sons’ deaths, I became desperate and sought Victor’s help in bringing them back to life. He was my enemy, but his magicks were more powerful than mine — or Dr. Strange’s — and he was certainly less … conflicted when it came to practicing darker arts. And, to my surprise, he agreed to help me.
Doom then goes on to add to this, saying,
“Since Wanda is a Nexus being — a living focal point for Earth’s mystical energies — we were able to combine our magicks to acess and capture the life force itself … the only power that could give her back her sons. (The Life Force) possessed Wanda and transformed her into an entity with the reality-shaping ablities of a god. The forces we unleashed that day could not be controlled… and resulted in the crimes you described Wiccan. It wasn’t until months later that my scouts found Wanda living in Transia – with no memory of who she was or what she had done.”
In the end, it is revealed that Dr. Doom was actually behind all of it and had been manipulating Wanda from the very start. The most important thing for our purposes here is that Wanda is, indeed, Billy Kaplan and Tommy Shepherd’s mother.
Now let’s make a quick jump to Young Avengers Vol. 2 by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. First – if you’ve not read this entire volume, we highly recommend doing it. Gillen & McKelvie’s storytelling here is not to be missed, filled with so many terrific character moments, comedic beats, and action sequences. For our purposes here, it is revealed that Billy Kaplan will on day ascend to a sort of multiversal godhood and become known as the Demiurge. At that time, he will change the laws of magic for all time – past, present, and future – and will be able to affect the entirety of the multiverse.
Throughout this entire volume, with the knowledge of just how powerful Wiccan actually is, Billy and Teddy struggle with a series of questions posed to them by Kid Loki, who was being mischievous: did Billy enchant Teddy to fall in love with him? Or, even worse, did Billy create Teddy and his entire story just so the two of them could be in love? This question works against them throughout the narrative, with Teddy eventually taking a break from the team to figure out how he honestly feels about Billy.
In Young Avengers #13, we learn that Kid Loki has been secretly manipulating the team on behalf of an extradimensional parasite simply known as “Mother,” and she wants to feast on Billy’s power in the hopes that she will become the Demiurge. As the question of his and Teddy’s love lingers, his powers wane up until the big final battle between the Young Avengers and Mother. Teddy returns to Billy and the two of them have the following exchange:
TEDDY: “(Loki) was manipulating us all along, it seems.”
BILLY: “So you think he was lying about us?”
TEDDY: “I don’t care if he was lying. We’re not.”
Honestly, Teddy and Billy have one of the absolute sweetest, most romantic, most loving relationships in all of comics and those two pages just prove it.
Billy then goes on to display just how incredibly powerful he will become one day as the Demiurge, completely rewriting much of the narrative and the multiverse that he and the Young Avengers had just endured.
There are, of course, more comic stories about Billy Kaplan and his boyfriend Teddy Altman, but for the purposes of our primer, we feel this is all you need to know.
Now, let’s talk about Billy’s twin brother, Tommy Shepherd.
Who Is Speed?
Everything you read above in regards to Billy Kaplan being the reincarnated soul of Scarlet Witch’s and Vision’s son William – the same goes here for Speed. He was originally born as Thomas Maximoff to Scarlet Witch and Vision; then he died; then he was reincarnated as Tommy Shepherd and went on to become the hero known as Speed. However, where Billy was born into the Kaplan family, Tommy was born into the Shepherd family. His parents divorced when he was young and he was raised mostly by his mother, though he was quick to turn delinquent once his super-speed powers manifested.
Much like his uncle Pietro Maximoff, Wanda’s twin brother, aka. the mutant hero known as Quicksilver, Tommy has super speed, a gigantic ego, and is a delinquent unafraid to hurt people who he believes deserve it. In fact, he was originally found by the Young Avengers while serving a sentence in Juvie for vaporizing his high school building, supposedly by accident.
Though he had more doubts about his relations to both Billy Kaplan and to Scarlet Witch, in the end, he has a similar backstory to his sorta-twin brother so we won’t go into that any more here. However, much like his brother, he has recently started an LGBTQ+ relationship with the young mutant hero known as David Alleyne, aka Prodigy. The two of them met during Young Avengers (vol.2) when they were both working together at some corporate gig that offered superhuman support to superhumans. They both hated it. Speed’s job was to come in every few weeks and assemble high-tech gizmos. Work that took him no more than five minutes time but was, relative to his perspective, about three long weeks of boring labor.
Things get exciting when a creepy doppelganger of Patriot starts breaking in and stealing some high-tech components. Speed and Prodigy decide to stake the place out, but when Speed attempts to apprehend the doppelganger, the doppelganger touches him, causing him to entirely disappear. This sends Prodigy to find the Young Avengers, which sets them on their course through the multiverse to find Speed, which puts them in direct contact with the extradimensional parasite, Mother.
In the end, after they defeat Mother, Speed miraculously returns to the Young Avengers due to Prodigy confronting the Patriot doppelganger. From here, they’ve continued to build their own romance, with Speed most recently seen attending the Hellfire Gala with Prodigy.
In our next article, we will cover Billy Kaplan’s incredibly awesome boyfriend, Teddy Altman, aka Hulkling!
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