Comic Book Review: Runaways – Volume One (2003-2004)

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Runaways – Volume One (2003-2004)

Collects Runaways Volume One issues 1-18. Writer: Brian K Vaughan, Pencillers: Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa, Inkers: Craig Yeung and David Newbold, Colourists: Christina Strain and Brian Reber, Letterists: Randy Gentile, Chris Eliopoulos and Paul Tutrone, Cover Art: Jo Chen and Joshua Middleton. Published by Marvel Comics in 2003-2004.

From the mind of Brian K Vaughan (Y the Last Man, Ex Machina), quite possibly the best writer in comics today, comes Runaways, an eighteen issue set following 6 teens who learn that their parents are super-villains, then decide to run away to combat their parents and right the wrongs they’ve done. The book follows Alex Wilder, Nico Minoru, Chase Stein, Gertrude Yorkes, Karolina Dean, and 11 year-old Molly Hayes, only children whose parents are all associates who get together annually to organise their charitable donations (or so they tell their children), leaving the children to gather and entertain themselves for the evening.

When the book opens, it is just such an evening, but rather than sit around and play in the games room, Alex tells the group of a secret passageway hidden in his basement that will allow them to spy on their parents secret meeting. When they do, they discover their parents’ horrifying secret, that they are members of a secret cabal known as The Pride, responsible for much of the crime in the west coast of the United States. Shocked and appalled by what they learn, the kids decide to flee their homes and turn their parents in, after visiting their houses to gather evidence. Instead, they end up learning as much about themselves and their own abilities than the dealings of their parents.

While the book does take place within the Marvel Universe, none of the featured characters have ever appeared before in comics (neither the runaways or their parents), and it takes place in the hero-less coast of California. Thus, Vaughan is able to ground the series in the world of Marvel superheroes (complete with references to the classic characters of that world), but still present a new world and cast of characters with their own stories and rules, which is what he does best. The world he presents in Runaways is an interesting one, where rich Cali kids have to stay away from their super-powered parents, who seem to have the law in their collective back pockets. It’s the best of both worlds, in that Vaughan doesn’t have to spend a lot of time establishing reasons for heroes and villains and powers and such, but at the same time, he isn’t beholden to complicated continuities or having to insert other heroes and stories into his story the same way he would were it set in New York (home to almost every character in the Marvel Universe).

A big change in this series from Vaughan’s other famed books is the tone. Vaughan self-consciously directs the books toward younger readers, while giving it enough quality that older readers should also be able to appreciate it. As Vaughan states in his proposal for the series (included in the hardcover collection for the series) “Now that Grant Morrison is writing X-Men for readers my age, Marvel could use a new all-ages series that’s smart and edgy, but also PG-rated and absolutely continuity-free”. And I couldn’t agree more.

Runaways is an all-ages book, but by no means is it only for kids (although it’s perfect for kids). Dealing with the universal themes of teenage rebellion, the isolation of puberty, and hating your parents, it has something for readers of all ages. Most of all, its fantastic fun, high adventure with interesting and unique characters, and, as with all Vaughan books, laugh-out-loud funny. I fell in love with the book about five pages in, and quickly devoured the next 18 issues.

The series was originally released as an ongoing series, but slow sales forced its cancellation after 18 issues. However, strong word of mouth following the release of reprinted digest-formatted books helped push sales and buzz for the book, particularly amongst young girls. This led to the resurrection of the book (volume two) in 2005. Since I know that there’s more Runaways adventures out there for me to read, I actually think the cancellation ended up working out well for the series. The first volume of Runaways now reads like a season one box set, introducing the characters and world and their initial motivations, then wrapping up the original arc, clearing the deck for a new “season”. While the idea of the original Pride probably had more legs than 17 issues (plus an epilogue), it was nice to get some resolution to the story instead of having it dragged out too long. Also, this makes it an excellent series for an outsider to pick up, in that it contains a self-contained story with the promise of more to come if you’re interested, but you won’t be left hanging if you’re unwilling to make an ongoing commitment.

In terms of art, newcomer Adrian Alphona (a Canadian, as is inker Craig Yeung) does a fantastic job, creating characters that look like the 15-16 and 11 year-olds they are. They’re skinny and awkward teens like they should be (well, except for poor Gertie, who’s just awkward). The characters are wonderfully expressive, with the overall aesthetic of the book remaining light and youthful (props also go to colourist Christina Strain for that, who really makes the book pop, especially with Karolina). The original series covers by Jo Chen are pretty striking, but not really my thing. Too Final Fantasy for my liking. Takeshi Miyazawa takes over for two issues featuring guest appearances from Marvel’s original runaway teens, Cloak & Dagger, but his work isn’t up to Alphona’s standards. It’s serviceable, but not as good.

If you’re a fan of TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (creator Joss Whedon is one of Runaways‘ biggest boosters), early seasons of The O.C., or Veronica Mars, or of the Harry Potter series, or of other comics like the X-Men or Young Avengers, then I think you’ll really enjoy this series. Do yourself a favour and pick up the first digest trade “Pride and Joy”, which can be had for about $8, and is a convenient size for portable reading. You’ll probably even find it at real book stores. If you’re a fan of Vaughan’s other work, then don’t even mess around with the digests. Invest the thirty-or-so dollars it’ll take to acquire the trade, and you won’t be sorry. Plus, it looks really classy on your book shelf, provided you can get it to fit.


Related Reviews:
Astonishing X-Men – “Gifted”
Top Five Marvel Comic Book Titles (Current)
Y the Last Man – “Unmanned”

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