Image Comics Final Thoughts – Saga, Vol. 5

Saga’s fifth volume separates our main cast, which feels like a natural evolution for the series while still focusing on its great characters and fantastic art.

With 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.

Of course, occasionally I may even explore comics outside of Marvel if they come highly recommended or simply peak my interest. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

sagaWriter: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Issues: Saga #25-30

 

The last volume of Image Comics’ magnum opus left our star-crossed family in a dire predicament. Alana and Marko were separated for the first time. The former was captured by a distraught rebel while the latter teamed up with an enemy. Meanwhile Team The Will has become Team The Brand as they search for a cure.

Saga‘s fifth volume is the most different so far, relying heavily on an intriguing but separate A-B-C narrative structure. It feels like a natural evolution for the series while still focusing on a small cast of characters, and the phenomenal writing and art I’ve come to expect. Continue reading “Image Comics Final Thoughts – Saga, Vol. 5”

Image Comics Final Thoughts – Saga, Vol. 4

Saga Volume Four focuses a bit too much on predictable family drama, but remains one of the best stories in modern comics.

With 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.

Of course, occasionally I may even explore comics outside of Marvel if they come highly recommended or simply peak my interest. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Saga volume 4Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Issues: Saga #19-24

 

The following phrases were exclaimed during my time with Saga‘s fourth volume:

“Whoa.”
“Ha!”
“Awww.”
“Oh no…”
“Wow!”
“Hehe.”
“Holy shit!”
“Crap crap crap”
“Holy hell.”
“Oh shit.”
“Oh snap – hell yeah!”

I devoured Saga Volume Four in a single day. The incredible (yet incredibly relatable) adventures and drama of new parents Alana and Marko continue to be one of the most impressive stories in modern comics.

Vaughan effortlessly builds an intriguing cast of wacky guest-stars and returning favorites, and isn’t afraid to kill or main them (or have sexy time) in a maturity level that would make Game of Thrones blush. Fiona Staples continues to be one of my favorite artists working in comics. While Saga Volume Four may be the weakest volume I’ve read thanks to some predictable family drama, that’s mostly due to how amazing the first three volumes were. Continue reading “Image Comics Final Thoughts – Saga, Vol. 4”

Image Comics Final Thoughts – Saga, Vol. 3

For 18 issues now Saga has refused to disappoint and Volume Three finally brings our various storylines and characters together in a tense, dramatic moment.

With 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.

Of course, occasionally I may even explore comics outside of Marvel if they come highly recommended or simply peak my interest. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

saga volume 3 coverWriter: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Issues: Saga #13-18

Saga continues to blow me away with every volume; soon I shall catch up to its current issue and experience the agony of having to wait for the next volume. For now I’m still catching up on back issues, and Volume Three finally brings our various storylines and characters together in a tense, dramatic moment that’s deliciously spread out between issues #17 and #18.

The end of Volume Two featured an epilogue that we now know took place a bit in the future – Prince Robot IV meeting with D. Oswald Heist, the cyclopean, eccentric author that wrote the star-crossed romance book that so infatuated Marko and Alana. The two start with verbal jabs, then relax into a casual interrogation, then go to full blown standoff. Volume Two ended with the ‘camera panning up’ to reveal that Marko, Alana, Klara, Izabel, and Hazel had already been there for weeks, and currently hiding from their robot pursuer.

Volume Three jumps back in time a bit to have out heroes first landing on the planet Quietus, and the remote lighthouse that Heist lives in. First they’re attacked by bone-creatures in a very Dungeons & Dragons moment, and Klara (Marko’s recently widowed mom) loses an ear in the fight. Artist Fiona Staples has never shied away from explicit sex or violence, but always in service to the story and never particularly gory or gratuitous. In both the strong language and portrayal of mature themes I’m constantly reminded that I’m not reading a mainstream Marvel comic, in a good way.

Our heroes make it to Oswald Heist’s and the slightly crazy but lovable old author instantly becomes a delightful character, if he wasn’t already from his introduction at the end of Volume Two. The universe is filled with all manner of inventive alien creatures, and thus far Vaughn and Staples have done an excellent job creating a truly memorable supporting cast. This creates a constant state of anxiety as, like Game of Thrones, you never know when they’re going to actually kill someone off! In fact, most of my favorite characters have been slain (The Stalk, Barr), and sadly Heist also does not survive the end of this Volume.

Saga #16

You can tell Brian K. Vaughn really loves the Heist character, as he’s an obvious cipher for many of his thoughts and opinions on being a writer, and a writer’s relationships with artists, other writers, and the audience. Much of Marko and Alana’s scenes in Volume Three are mostly just them hanging around Oswald’s place talking books, relationships, or the nature of war, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t riveting.

Of course that story is only part of the Volume. Our other team, The Will and his partner Lying Cat, has grown over the course of 12 issues to include a rescued slave girl from the sex planet Sextillion and Marko’s ex-fiance Gwendolyn. The Will was hired to track down Marko and Alana, and Gwendolyn arrived with a personal vendetta and a desire to keep The Will focused and on target, despite his recent loss of his ex-girlfriend, The Stalk, back in Volume One.

After the climactic star ship battle at the end of Volume Two, The Will and crew have been stranded on a lovely grassy planet. The Will begins to have doubts about the mission, wanting to hang up his life as a bounty hunter, but Gwnedolyn will have none of it. We get a few nice scenes of her learning to use his exotic lance-saber weapon and dealing with repair guys, but it all comes crashing down for them when they learn (too late) that the food on the planet contains a powerful hallucinogenic. The slave girl is coerced by the planet’s visions of her mom to stab The Will in the neck. Gwendolyn realizes what’s happening (thanks to Lying Cat) and saves them all, though now ironically she renews their pursuit of Marko, this time to learn a healing spell to save The Will.

Saga #14

Like the end of Volume Two our stories intersect in an exciting way. The timeline finally matches up with that scene of Prince Robot IV and Heist. A wounded Heist was just about to get through to Prince Robot IV when Klara, spurred by her feelings for Heist and her general passionate demeanor charges from their hiding spot and attacks, leaving both her and Robot IV wounded.

At this point Gwendolyn, dressed in The Will’s magical bullet-proof cloak, barges in the front door. Lying Cat pounces on Klara, and Gwendolyn and Heist see each other with weapons drawn. Gwendolyn reacts first by slashing him through the eye with The Will’s lance, killing him instantly. Nooo! Gwnedolyn’s reaction is equally incredulous as issue #17 comes to a crazy close.

In the final issue, a very distraught and upset Gwendolyn advances on Marko and Alana on the top of the lighthouse. Marko doesn’t exactly say the right things and Gwendolyn attacks, causing him to push his wife and newborn off the edge. Turns out Alana’s wings do in fact work – and she blasts Gwendolyn and everyone escapes. For a volume that was mostly talking and not a whole lot of action, these two final issues were exhilarating and fantastic, a very satisfying payoff to all the events thus far.

Saga #18

Even so, our characters are split up again and most end up surviving (save for poor Oswald). Both Prince Robot IV and The Will are very wounded and I’m not sure if Lying Cat permanently lost one of her eyes when Klara gouged it. We’re introduced to another viewpoint in a pair of journalists on Landfall asking questions and seeking the truth about Marko and Alana’s escape and possible union. Their queries get them attacked by another freelancer, The Brand, that poisons them and prevents them from continuing their investigation. At the end it’s revealed that The Brand is The Will’s sister, so our roster may be expanding even more.

So far Saga has focused almost entirely on the relationships and situations of our main and supporting cast without pulling back the scope to the greater war around us. The political implications of Marko and Alana having a baby haven’t really been explored yet, other than our two pursuers being hired to catch them. I’d love to see that make headway, as long as it doesn’t sacrifice the excellent plot and pacing that Saga has provided so far. For 18 issues now Saga has refused to disappoint and it’s quickly becoming one of my all time favorite comics.

Image Comics Final Thoughts – Saga, Vol. 2

Saga’s sophomore volume continues to teasingly expand the fascinating sci-fi world while keeping the focus on the burgeoning family dynamic and relationship between our two star-crossed lovers.

With 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.

Of course, occasionally I may even explore comics outside of Marvel if they come highly recommended or simply peak my interest. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

saga volume 2Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Issues: Saga #7-12

I’m one of those lame comic book fans that still mostly only thinks of Marvel/DC and superheroes (and Transformers!) when people mention comics. The fact is there are a ton of really fantastic sci-fi, fantasy, noir, etc themes and genres out there just waiting to be discovered by the intrepid comic fan.

I’m still in the tentative early stages of exploring comics beyond Marvel, and Image Comics’ Saga represents my first real steps outside of my comfort zone. I couldn’t be more impressed. Brian K. Vaughan’s fantastically relatable and grounded writing coming out of Fiona Staples’ insanely creative alien mouths is an amazing combination. Saga’s sophomore volume continues to teasingly expand the fascinating sci-fi world while keeping the focus on the burgeoning family dynamic and relationship between our two star-crossed lovers.

Volume 2 picks up right where the first volume left off: Marko’s parents magically teleported to his and Alana’s treehouse rocketship after he breaks the family sword. Marko introduces them to his wife, a winged Landfall woman that is his people’s sworn enemy, and they are understandably not amused. Before they can even sit down, Marko teleports down to the nearest planet, where his mom had banished the ghost teenager Izabel that was acting as baby Hazel’s babysitter and soul host. This is getting crazy to type and would be absolutely impossible to follow without reading the previous volume. Saga is definitely made in the mold of modern serialized television shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead where the ongoing narrative assumes you’ve kept up since the beginning.

Saga #7

For the first few issues our family splits between Marko and his mom Kara on a hostile planet, and Alana and her father-in-law Barr back on the ship. Barr and Alana’s relationship starts out tense, but quickly warms up as he’s surprisingly accepting of her. His skill as an armorer comes in handy as he crafts Alana a form-fitting, bullet-resistant outfit, and the two quickly form an adorable bond.

Marko’s mom is decidedly less thrilled with their actions, and the two butt heads even while running into giant naked alien ogres and creepy witches with upside-down faces. Fiona Staples’ masterful art style particularly shines with exotic and crazy alien creatures and Volume 2 presents several delicious opportunities to show them off. Thanks to a trick dream sequence we also get to see more of my favorite alien from Volume 1, the spider-like The Stalk.

While Marko’s and Alana’s stories deal with the older generation, the hired bounty hunter The Will continues on his journey to hunt them down, and gets the majority of the B-story line. He’s still thinking about the underage slave girl back on Sextillion, the one he wanted to rescue but couldn’t. A representative of the Wreath council that hired him shows up to personally persuade him to continue the job, even while he wades in despair after The Stalk was mistakenly murdered by Prince Robot IV in the first volume.

Saga #8Her name is Gwendolyn, and she happens to be the ex-fiance of Marko, whom we’d only been teased about previously. She becomes a major cast member as she joins The Will and Lying Cat, helps rescue the slave girl using both her political acumen and magical skills, and reach the tree-ship right as all hell is breaking loose on the nearby orbiting planet.

Marko and Kara had found Izabel and returned to the ship, just in time to see Barr succumb to his terminal heart condition from pumping more magical power into the tree-ship. Poor Barr, and poor Alana for briefly meeting what would’ve been a fantastic grandfather to Hazel. And poor Kara I guess, though we’re not really given a chance to glimpse beneath her stony and aggressive exterior just yet.

The planet breaks apart and hatches a giant space creature. Gwendolyn, fueled by her own personal vengeance toward the man who spurned her, fires a missile at Marko and Alana. They decide to ram the missile, knowing it wouldn’t explode that close to its own ship. The missile bounces off and hits the space creature, who retaliates by blowing a hole in The Will’s ship. The entire sequence is action-packed and exciting, and a fantastic way for our two main storylines to converge without even having the two sets of characters meet each other.

That sequence happens in issue #11, so we get one more to end out the volume. Issue #12 finally returns to a major character from the first volume, Prince Robot IV, who has an old-school television set for a head. I’m honestly not sure if we’re suppose to sympathize or hate his character, and his backstory and situation seem complicated and much more embroiled in the wider politics of the ongoing war compared to the others. He essentially represents the winged Landfall faction’s hunt of Alana & Marko while The Will obviously represents Wreath’s.

Saga #10Prince Robot visits his only lead on his hunt for the AWOL prison guard Alana and escaped prisoner Marko – the author of the cheesy romance book that Alana was crazy about. There’s some fun flashback sequences in nearly every issue of Volume 2, including when Alana and Marko first met. Apparently she was super into this book that represented two different alien creatures coming together to love each other. Prince Robot hunts down the one-eyed author on a remote planet, and the two have a tense and interesting conversation on the nature of war, peace, and writing.

It’s revealed at the end that the whole situation is a bit of an Anne Frank/Inglorious Basterds moment, as Alana and company hide out upstairs during the exchange. Volume 1 ended with the cliffhanger of the grandparents appearing, and I was satisfied and intrigued that Volume 2 continues with another great lead-in to the next Volume, which I’ve already purchased!

Saga continues to impress, making me fall in love with its characters and reread nearly every page to absorb the fantastic art and writing as much as possible. I simply cannot recommend this series enough if you love really creative science fiction.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Dr. Strange: The Oath

The Oath is the perfect introduction (or further reading) into who Dr. Strange is and why you should care about the Sorcerer Supreme.

With 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!

Dr Strange The OathWriter: Brian K. Vaughan

Artists: Marcos Martin

Issues: Dr. Strange: The Oath #1-5

Ex-surgeon turned Sorcerer Supreme Dr. Stephen Strange is not a hugely popular Marvel hero, yet he crops up nearly everywhere as the resident magic expert. Any time a superhero has to deal with magical foes or spells or summoned creatures, they call Dr. Strange.

Despite his usefulness he hadn’t warranted a solo series since the mid 90s, instead cropping up in a few limited series but mostly as a recurring guest star in Amazing Spider-Man or joining the New Avengers after the Civil War.

My options for exploring Dr. Strange’s modern, solo adventures via Marvel Unlimited are, ironically, quite limited. Thankfully there’s one fairly high regarded series that explores Dr. Strange’s background and origin in five issues called The Oath.

Acting as a bridge between Civil War and Stephen’s stint with New Avengers (though the timing of the series really doesn’t matter), Dr. Strange is carried into the Night Nurse’s secretive, superhero friendly office by his apprentice Wong. Strange has been shot! A mercenary known as the Brigand stole a magical elixir that Strange had procured to heal Wong’s brain tumor, and the foe was armed with the magical mojo of Hitler’s own gun, penetrating Strange’s defenses. All of this is told by the good Doctor himself via his famous Astral Projection even as the Night Nurse operates on him.

The series is written by Brian K. Vaughan, whom I’ve previously had the pleasure of reading in Runaways and Saga. Vaughan’s style is incredibly relateable and down-to-earth. Dr. Strange’s background as a sorcerer is effectively given the broad strokes treatment and we’re allowed to peer into the kind of person that Stephen is and has become, rather than focus on what he can and can’t do with magic.

Stephen Strange’s personality and story closely mirrors that of Tony Stark. He began as an arrogant surgeon that cared only for money and furthering his own career, until a fateful car accident ruined his hands. Seeking to repair them by any means, he traveled to Tibet to learn the mystic arts, tutoring under an old wizard known as The Ancient One.

dr. strange #1And that’s pretty much it. Dr. Strange becomes a powerful sorcerer and vows to help people. The oath that the title refers to is the Hippocratic Oath that all doctors take – Strange is adamant about saving the life of his faithful servant and friend Wong. Since he can no longer operate with his hands, he uses his mystic knowledge to research a cure and goes into a crazy dimensional realm and defeat a giant monstrosity to recover a panacea – all in the span of a few pages.

Turns out this elixir not only would cure Wong’s cancer, but all cancer and illness everywhere on Earth. Dr. Strange first has it analyzed in a lab (though he practices magic, his background as a surgeon makes him amiable to the sciences) and it’s there that his secret is betrayed and he’s robbed. Strange goes on a quest with the dying Wong and the resolute Night Nurse to recover the elixir and discover the one who sent Brigand after him.

After some nifty scenes of spell-flinging and mind-ripping, Strange learns the identity of his true foe, an old colleague of his, Nicodemous West. Dr. West had been tracking down Strange to try and bring him back to the practice, and in doing so learned the same magical arts from The Ancient One. Thus Dr. West becomes the anti-Strange, a former surgeon turned magician, only West is still concerned with himself and money as he takes orders from a shady board of directors at a pharmaceutical company.

West and Strange’s confrontation is fun and satisfying, as they both get to sling guilt-trips and regrets at each other, as well as the interesting moral and scientific ramifications of suddenly introducing a mass cure to society. Ultimately their battle takes them to the rain-soaked rooftops (as all climactic fights should) and West produces an artifact that nullifies their magic. The two go mano y mano, and Strange reveals that Wong is both his apprentice and his master. After sustaining a few blows he proceeds to kick West’s ass with his superior kung fu. West slips and falls off the building, shattering the elixir on the ground below.

dr. strange #5

Predictably there is only a single drop left and our hero is forced to make a choice – take the time to reproduce it and provide a cure for all the world’s sicknesses, or heal his dying friend. Wong’s state had deteriorated over the course of the series lending a sense of immediacy and urgency to Strange’s quest, and by the time West falls he’s completely unconscious.

Strange saves the life of his dear friend, gains the respect and love of the Night Nurse (who never reveals her name) and warms his way into my heart. The Oath succeeds in delving into Dr. Strange’s background and personality while still providing a fun, action-packed adventure. New readers worrying about delving into a psychedelic, magic-fueled ride need not fear. Vaughan uses the magic stuff sparingly and keeps it easy to follow, while the focus remains on the strong characters and excellent supporting cast.

The only real bummer is the art style. Martin’s work isn’t bad at all, I just didn’t find it very memorable. I think it tries to evoke an old, Silver Age Jack Kirby style but mostly comes off as a little plain. Still the overall series is the perfect introduction (or further reading) into who Dr. Strange is and why you should care about the Sorcerer Supreme.

Dr. Strange #4

Image Comics Final Thoughts – Saga, Vol. 1

With 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.

Of course, occasionally I may even explore comics outside of Marvel if they come highly recommended or simply peak my interest. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Saga #1Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Issues: Saga #1-6

The story of Romeo and Juliet is the classic tale as old as time. It’s note quite as cliché and overused as Man Gets Revenge for Murdered Family, and the actual tale of Love Conquers All usually takes a backseat to the tragedy and hardships that both characters face. In Saga, comic superstars Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples successfully craft the timeless tale of two star-crossed lovers in a wildly creative sci-fi universe by grounding all the characters and events in very human emotions.

The biggest wrench that Vaughan throws into the story serves as both the opening hook and brilliant past-tense narrator: the birth of Hazel, the love child between former prison guard Alana and prisoner of war Marko. Alana is a winged native of Landfall, the largest planet in their galaxy and technologically advanced. Marko hails from Landfall’s only moon, Wreath, home to a race of horned magic-users. Both races are distinctively different yet still very humanoid, and I especially liked that there’s a lot of racial diversity within the groups (different kinds of wings and horn styles).

With two such different people in relative close proximity, war was inevitable. Since directly annihilating one side could send the other spinning out of orbit, the war between Landfall and Wreath has been mostly been outsourced to other planets, and other races.

Saga #1 actionThe first six issues follow Marko, Alana and Hazel as they attempt to find a spaceship and get off the backwater planet of Cleave. While making their way through hostile territory they are also being hunted by both sides. Landfall sends Prince Robot IV, a humanoid creature with a decidedly retro-sci-fi look of a tv screen for a head (who’s softcore sex with his robot wife should cement the series as Mature Audiences Only). Wreath hires an infamous bounty hunter from the Freelancers called The Will (a generally normal looking dude) with a giant hairless cat called Lying Cat. It can, uh, tell when you’re lying, and has some great scenes with The Will despite its very limited vocabulary.

Neither of our hunters quite reach our fated pair; that honor goes to another freelancer and former love interest of The Will, The Stalk, one of the most inventive and unsettling alien creatures I’ve ever seen. Half-spider woman wouldn’t even come close to doing the creative art work justice. Fiona Staples’ heavy shading and pencils take a few pages to get used to but I absolutely loved her emotive facial expressions and character focus as much as the violent action scenes.

A sci-fi world full of wonderfully bizarre creatures could easily get lost in its own spectacle, but Vaughan keeps everything incredibly grounded by focusing on Marko and Alana’s very human survival stories, both in keeping their relationship together and surviving the hostile world around them. The casual and strong language is also refreshing and keeps everyone in the story much more realistic.

By the end of the first volume, Marko took down an entire platoon by himself (then swore off violence…again), Hazel is bonded with the upper torso of a teenage ghost named Izabel (her first babysitter!) and they find passage off of Cleave in a tree-like spaceship. A fun cliffhanger suddenly adds Marko’s parents into the mix as they’re summoned onto the ship, and I can’t wait to read more of their adventures.

saga-no-killing

Saga came highly recommended and I can easily see why. The world is incredibly interesting and adheres wonderfully to the ‘show, don’t tell’ creed as it teases out information and characters only as needed. The small cast keeps the focus tight, and it’s an interesting balancing act keeping the A-B-C stories of Marko/Alana, Prince Robot IV, and The Will hovering around each other. Vaughan’s writing is wonderfully human and real, and I absolutely adored Staples’ art work. If you enjoy character-driven sci-fi adventures, especially the struggles that a new relationship and a child can bring layered into a new universe, Saga is an absolute delight.

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Runaways Vol. 1

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!

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan Runaways_TPB

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.

Runaways_h1

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.

runaways_marvel_a_p