Saturday, January 7, 2012

Talking Trades: The Runaways

talking trades
Every teenager thinks their parents are villains, but what if you found out they were really super villains? thus goes the premise of Runaways, created by Brian K Vaughan and Adrian Alphona for Marvel. Back in 2003, Marvel released a bunch of new series under the label ‘tsunami’ designed to attract new readers, especially from the manga scene. They all fizzled, except for Runaways, which had started to garner critical success. 8 years and 62 issues later, Runaways is widely considered one of the freshest ideas in mainstream comics.

Vol. 1, by Brian K Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, consists of 18 issues and is the strongest story in series. 6 families come together for an annual 'business meeting', and their respective only children decide to pass the time by spying on their parents. They witness something they shouldn't, something that makes them realise their parents aren't who they thought. This changes their lives, and through their shared trials, they become a tight nit, if somewhat dysfunctional, family. It is these main 6 characters that form the base of Runaways' success - they are well written, diverse and relatable. Chase Stein, the oldest of the group, is a lovable jock who plays the alpha male. African-American Alex Wilder is the real leader, and his love for RPGs give him a strong strategical mind. Nico Minaru, a Japanese American semi-goth, is the heart of the team, while Gertude Yorks is the brains. Karolina Dean is a fun-loving vegan, who turns out to be... Not quite human. Rounding up the team is pre-teen Molly Hayes, a few years the junior of the rest, and also a mutant with super strength. Along the way they befriend a dinosaur, get infiltrated by a vampire, team up with fellow Marvel runaways Cloak and Dagger and fight monstrous inter-dimensional giants. Ah, and it’s a book about teens, so there’s an awful lot of angst, carefree-ness, passion and kissing. Lots of kissing. The climax of the volume comes with a twist that made me want throw the book across the room. You get the feeling that something’s coming, but you’re never quite sure until it hits. Volume one tells the most consistent and engaging stories of the series. It’s fresh, exciting, and relatable.

Volume two was mostly written by Vaughan, with Joss Whedon pitching in the final arc of the 30 issue series. In this volume we are introduced to two new characters, a Latin-American robot named Victor and a Skrull prince named Xavin. This volume sees the runaways meet a future version of one of their company, clash with former teen super-heroes, Have a run-in with the avengers, and generally getting into shenanigans. Chase’s story arc is particularly strong in volume two, and a tear-jerking death really adds to the humanity of the characters. Brian K Vaughan had said he wanted his creation to transcend himself as an author, so he left the series in the hands of Joss Whedon. One would imagine safe hands, but the book just never recaptured that sense of reading something special you got with BKV’s work. Whedon’s 6-issue arc wasn’t bad, and his dialogue is strong and snappy, as you would expect, but it just fell a little flat.

The third volume began with the (almost) always brilliant Terry Moore and Humburto Ramos on art. Again, the stories Moore tells (9 issues) are not bad, but really nothing special. He seemed to have a difficult time finding the voices of the characters. In steps Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli. Immonen’s goal was to bring the Runaways back to basics – lots of angst, lots of carefree-ness and lots of kissing. It worked, and the 4 issues she wrote felt more like BKV’s work than any other since. Unfortunately, Marvel lost faith in the series and placed it on hiatus after a cliffhanger ending for Vol. 3 issue 14.

It’s refreshing to read a mainstream Marvel book that isn’t about super-powers or saving the world, but about ordinary people in a real world dealing with extra-ordinary struggles. It is the characters that make Runaways a special book – deeply engaging, powerfully relatable and surprisingly real. While the book was originally written for a teen audience, but it’s appeal goes far beyond like that – it is a book I would recommend to anyone. Volume 1 gets 5 stars and volumes 2 and 3 get 4.

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