Brian K. Vaughan continues to surprise me. First with the beauty of “Pride of Baghdad”, then the intrigue and complex plot of “Y: The Last Man”, and then the raw action and fantastic superhero storytelling of “Runaways”. When I discovered the series was created by Vaughan, and later worked on by Joss Whedon, who has recently gained my respect, I knew I had to check it out and was pleasantly surprised to find them at the library near my school.
“Runaways” is based on a single, universal truth: Parents lie to their kids. They lie a lot, about everything. They are not to be trusted. And they are evil.
Well, maybe not all parents. But the parents of Nico, Chase, Molly, Karolina, Gert , and Alex certainly are. In fact, they were the most evil group of supervillains on the entire West Coast, dominating L.A. and making sure no other supervillains got in.
One night, the parents are having their annual get together, and the six kids accidentally witness their parents murder a young girl in a sacrificial ritual. The six decide then to run away, but not before stopping off at each of their houses and discovering their parents’ true identities, as well as their own. Gert finds she has inherited her own velociraptor, Karolina discovers her alien heritage, and Nico finds that she is a witch, and comes into possession of the Staff of One. Chase swipes his father’s Fistigons, powerful gloves with the power to shoot fire, while Molly discovers she’s a mutant with superhuman strength. Alex, the leader of the team, inherited his father’s strategic and leadership skills. Together, the six become Runaways, and begin to try to redeem their names and repair the damage that their family has done. (As with everything I review, I don’t want to give away spoilers, but I promise that this series packs it’s fair share of wollops.)
The storyline and dialogue are fantastic, but this is to be expected from Brian K. Vaughan, writer of “Pride of Baghdad” and the fantastic “Y: The Last Man” series. There are so many little things that I love about “Runaways”. From the minor pop culture references to its tongue-in-cheek attitude towards itself, (When asked “What’s our battle cry? Like, ‘Avenger’s Assemble’, or ‘Hulk smash’?”, Nico replies “Try not to die.”) “Runaways” is a near-perfect superhero series. I think it’s particularly interesting to note that the Runaways are one of the only superhero groups in Marvel or elsewhere in which the team is almost entirely composed of females. And not ridiculously busty eye-candy females either. But realistic, true-to-life people.
And that what might be what makes “Runaways” one of my favorite superhero teams of all time. There’s something about these six teens that just gets to me. Each one is unique, from Gerts’ intelligent cynicism to Molly’s (possibly faked?) simple naivity. But more than that, they’re realistic. They respond to situations realistically. They think things through like normal teenagers would (or, similarly, not at all). Maybe it’s the fact that so many of them are girls, or maybe it’s because they’re teenagers and I have yet to admit to being an adult, but I really enjoy reading about these characters. (It’s like if the Boxcar children had superpowers.) But really, I think it’s just Vaughan’s superb storytelling that gets to me.
Not to say that I’m not a fan of the art. The pencils are done (in volumes 1, 4, 5, and 6, at least,) almost exclusively by Adrian Alphona. The exception of this only being issues 7 and 8 in volume five, which are done by Takeshi Miyazawa, which had a much stronger manga-esque feel than in the art of Alphona, something that I really couldn’t get into. I understand that the characters are teenagers, and the series isn’t set for adults, but going from Alphono’s smooth lines and careful attention to detail to Miyazawa’s more cartoonish, simpler, emotion-emphasized style made the series feel too childish for me. Alphona keeps the art sharp and powerful, with careful attention to the little things that really pays off panel after panel.
“Runaways” is a fantastic superhero story, if that’s what you’re into. It’s also a fantastic little teen drama, and I recommend it highly before any of that crap you’ll watch on basic cable or otherwise. I also must admit my frustration in that it appears the library is not in possession of the whole series. I’m missing a large gap between volumes 3 and 4 of the paperback digest versions! When I get the cash, I am completing the series and also checking out the Joss Whedon contributions. It should also be said, though, that in missing those two volumes I didn’t enjoy the series any less. The episodic style of the volumes is usually quite easy to understand no matter where in the series you come in. So if you just see it on the shelf, check it out! You might see something you enjoy.
“Runaways” by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona