*Note: This article contains some minor spoilers from the first issue of the Runaways
Back in the day when I was a teenager, my folks would bring me along on church picnics, gatherings of friends, and all the other socially obligatory outings that folks are expected to attend. Most of the time, the adults would be in one area, and the kids would all be expected to hang out in another part of the venue. In this way, grown-up time and the all-important “socializing one’s child” could be accomplished simultaneously with a minimum of fuss. For Alex, Gert, Chase, Karolina, Molly, and Nico, life was much the same. Each year their folks would attend a gathering at one or the other’s fantastic mansions (OK, so my life departs from the comic there. No mansions for me. Just church gyms, parks and the occasional suburban back yard.) and the kids would be left to their own devices while the adults did their thing. No big, right? Of course, if things were that simple, Runaways would be the most boring comic in the history of time, and this article is about the best comic you’ve never read, not the worst.
So, the kids get bored, and being kids, they decide to do some sneaking around and see just what their parents are up to. Boring small talk? Business meetings? Discussions about pork belly futures? If it were my folks, all of those would be valid guesses. Unfortunately for our gang of heroes, their parents were involved in something a little less prosaic. Like the ritual sacrifice of a teenage girl. Turns out the annual gathering was an offering of sorts to some extra-dimensional beings. Understandably freaked out that their parents are
Republicans supervillains, the kids run away and vow to stop their parents from committing any further acts of Cheneyism.
Brian K. Vaughan, author of Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and several others (including seasons 3-5 of Lost for those of you who are fans of that show) does a brilliant job with the ultimate “what if” story. What if your parents turned out to be supervillains? What would you do? Would you try to stop them? Would you join them, overthrow the emperor and rule the galaxy side by side as father and son? If you decided to fight, how would you go about it? And while we’re at it, how would it affect your sense of identity? So much of who we are at that age is tied up in our parents’ identity, so how would a person react when presented with such a horrific sight? Under Vaughan’s pen, the reactions are complex and well thought out. This could very easily become a cookie cutter teen angst comic, designed to be read and discarded as so many Young Adult titles are, but Vaughan seems determined to make this something more. More than once over the course of his run on the series, I found myself comparing him (favorably, I might add) to the works of Joss Whedon, especially Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Dialog is snappy, reactions are realistic, and underneath it all, each character is driven to discover who they really are. Additionally, Vaughan doesn’t shy away from the questions of sexuality. When Karolina reveals she’s a lesbian, it could very easily have devolved into drooling fan-service, instead of being a very major step on the road of her developing character.
The Runaways are available as either an 11 volume trade paperback series, or as a 3 volume omnibus collection. Volume 8 sees Joss Whedon himself come on board for a six issue run which ranks as one of my favorite books of the whole body of work (not to disparage Vaughan, but I’m kind of a complete Whedon fanboy). After Whedon’s run though, the series sadly takes a bit of a nosedive. Volumes 9-11 were penned by Terry Moore (9 and 10) and Kathryn Immonen (11). I’m not sure what happened, but the writing became a bit forced, devolving into cliché and stereotype instead of telling a good story. I think they’re still worth a read, but after Vaughan and Whedon, the last few books were definitely a bit of a letdown. The artwork during Vaughan’s run is brilliantly drawn by Adrian Alphona and Mike Norton. The action panels are extremely exciting, and the facial expressions show genuine emotion, which is not an easy feat in comic art. Later in the series, Michael Ryan picks up illustrating duties and handles them with aplomb. In later issues, Humberto Ramos and Sara Pichelli add their pens to the books, but to me their art style seems a little too Teen Titans for my liking.
So there you go. If you like a series about rebellion for the right reasons with a smattering of aliens, genetically engineered dinosaurs, and some time travel thrown in, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the Runaways. Volume 1 is called Pride and Joy. Do yourself a favor and head down to your local comic book shop and grab a copy. Let us know what you think in the comments or on Facebook. Until next time, read more comics!