Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artists: Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa
Issues: Runaways (2003) #1-18
I’ve always been a fan of the Young Adult genre. It’s full of clichés, archetypal characters and super tiresome sci-fi plot devices, but damn it if most of them aren’t super fun and full of some neat ideas and memorable characters.
Runaways was basically Marvel’s version of a YA comic series. It stars a fresh batch of teens with a decidedly YA hook – they find out their parents are all super villains and part of their own secret cabal known as The Pride. Being a comic book the kids band together, discover their own latent powers and abilities and have a series of adventures before culminating in a final showdown with their evil folks.
Writer Brian K. Vaughan has become one of the most beloved original writer in comics. By original I mean he specifically likes to write his own created characters, such as Y: The Last Man and Saga (the latter of which I recently purchased). Having a single writer tackle their own creation is immensely rewarding for a reader, creating a cohesive flow with the both the characters and overarching plot.
The initial plot hook is fun but relatively slow compared to most comic storylines. It takes several issues for the kids to formulate a plan and go on the run once they witness their parents killing a young girl in ritualistic sacrifice, and even more time to go to their various homes and reveal who they really are.
The Runaways are refreshingly diverse and pleasantly mostly female: there’s Chase the typically sarcastic teen and son of inventors (his powers are one of the lamest as he simply equips his parent’s mechanical fist things that spew fire), Karolina the haughty daughter of two movie stars that turn out to be extraterrestrial light creatures (she can fly, shoot energy and blind people, and her powers are inhibited by a special bracelet she removes), Alex the de facto leader who has no natural powers but makes up for it in charisma and leadership skills (I guess), Nico who absorbs her parents’ magic staff and can summon it when she cuts herself (bit of a weird message there), individualistic Gertrude who’s time-traveling parents give her a pet velociraptor that she’s psychically linked with (at this point I’m completely on board with the series), and little Molly who’s only just hit puberty and realizing she’s a mutant with super strength.
The entire first arc is spent introducing our new heroes and their situation, but it’s their dialogue that really makes everything shine. Vaughan has a keen grasp on how teenagers react to situations and with each other, and the way the runaways handle these sudden extraordinary events are supremely entertaining. It’s also interesting to see a comic book set specifically in Los Angeles; nearly all superhero stories take place around New York City and New England (if set in USA).
The entire 18 issue series begins and ends with The Pride but in between the runaways have a few side adventures, mostly in uncovering the mystery behind what the hell their parents are up to. Some side plots work better than others – D-listers Cloak and Dagger show up at one point for a meaningless but fun battle (which The Pride shows up and mind-wipes them afterward, literally making the whole thing pointless) and the runaways run afoul of a lame teenage vampire that nearly takes the whole group down from within.
Silly side stories aside, the main plot is still engrossing as we discover the world-changing plans behind The Pride, and like any classic villains they bicker and conspire amongst themselves. While it’s incredibly silly that all their parents wear coordinated costumes it’s neat that they remain a major force in the storyline.
The end has our young heroes infiltrate their parents’ hidden sanctum (of sorts) and come face-to-face with the giant demon-god-things that The Pride is working for. In a neat twist (though it’s kind of predictable) Alex betrays the group and reveals himself as the mole that’s been undermining the team the whole time! He quickly gets his just desserts as the Pride’s plans are still ruined, and the parents end up sacrificing themselves so the rest of the kids can escape. Then Captain America shows up and tells them everything will be alright.
Overall it was a fun read and a neat way to introduce a new generation of readers and superheroes. The ‘our parents are evil’ hook is fun and remains relevant throughout the series, though it’s a shame the side plots couldn’t quite keep up. The real seller is the excellent writing and relationships between the characters. All the kids feel like real people that love, cry, fear and hate. Most of them also had some really inventive powers and abilities (namely Gertrude, Karolina and Nico). By the end there are 4 women and 1 man on the team, which is pretty much unheard of in comics, and supremely cool.
This initial 18 issue series run nicely concludes the main storyline but due to popularity Runaways was resurrected in 2005 and penned by Joss Whedon (Astonishing X-Men – read my Final Thoughts). I haven’t decided if I want to continue following these young heroes as their actions and adventures have very little to do with the larger Marvel Universe (which is perhaps one of its greatest strengths), but I can definitely recommend this first adventure to anyone looking for a standalone YA adventure in the Marvelverse.