You’ll have to excuse me if I review the occasional “ancient” comic. In this instance, I’ve been hearing a lot of good stuff about Marvel Comics’ “Runaways,” so I’ve picked up the first two trades.
I read the first one early in the summer of 2005, and picked up Volume 2 last fall. Yes, it takes me that long to get to trades. I’m always behind on reading them. I guess I figure that they’ll sit on my bookshelf for ever, so I don’t need to read them the second after I buy it.
That can be a good thing (because I always have something to read) or a bad thing (because any review I write for it will be two years too late — one year for the comic to become a trade and another year for me to get to it). Oh well, here goes …
The Runaways are a group of superpowered teens and preteens who’ve recently discovered that each kids’ parents are superpowered crime lords who keep a tight grip on the Los Angeles crime scene. In fact, the group is so powerful in the Marvel Universe that they’ve managed to keep the Los Angeles area relatively superhero-free for their entire careers.
In “Runaways” Vol. 1, the kids discover their parents awful secret, and — you guessed it — they run away.
As Volume 2 opens, the group is settling down in their secret base, but their sense of adventure kicks in, and they go out on patrol. There they encounter a group of super-powered convienence store robbers, and break up the robbery attempt. As the two adults scramble away, the teen in the group begs for the Runaways help. Seeing another teen in peril, they welcome him with open arms — but it isn’t long before the new teen shows his true colors.
In the second story in this volume, a crooked cop who’s the puppet of the Runaways’ parents, recruits Cloak and Dagger, a pair of veteran New York City heroes who themselves ran away from home as teenagers, to help hunt down the kids.
When Cloak and Dagger met the Runaways, it was a true generational moment for me. When I was a teen, Cloak and Dagger were the tragic runaway heroes of the day. I was a fan of them since reading their debut way back in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 64. The duo was created by one of my favorite writers, Bill Mantlo, who later pushed them into several mini-series and then their own monthly title.
To me, Cloak and Dagger were always a sad pair. As runaways they hurt on the inside, and hoped to make world a better place once they got their superpowers. Their journeys were never easy ones, and the same can be said for the Runaways.
The group is comprised of six kids:
Alex Winter (no codename): Is the leader of the group, and his “superpower” is high intelligence.
Karolina Dean (Lucy in the Sky): An alien who absorbs sunlight and converts it into energy that lets her fly.
Chase Stein (Talkback): A brash fellow who possesses a pair of robotic gloves that gives him control of fire.
Nico Minoru (Sister Grimm): A somber teenager who wields a magical staff that can only be summoned if she bleeds.
Gert Yorkes (Arsenic): Gertrude has a telepathic link to a pet velociraptor named Old Lace.
Molly Hayes (Bruiser): The youngest of the group, she has superstrength for a short time, afterwords, she falls into a deep sleep.
The group is more of a family than an organized superhero team, which provides much of the comic’s charm. Rather than worrying too much about righting wrongs, they’re more concerned about getting their next meal or finding a place to stay.
The pace of the story is also something to admire. Unlike many modern-day comics, you can tell that each issue has a point. Something happens in each issue. There is growth at the end of each issue, and significant change (or appearance of change) by the end of the collected trade.
And while there are still unresolved subplots — most notably who is the mole in the group reporting back to their parents — it’s a question that compells you to read the next collection rather than say “Bah! Forget this soap opera garbage.”
The two artists in this book help fuel the story too. Regular artist Adrian Alphona has a great handle on the teenage look, making this book immensely appealing to that generation. The artist’s crisp storytelling style makes even “talking heads” sequences interesting — of course that’s probably not too hard to do when you get to add a ferocious dinosaur to every scene. And while Alphona’s ability to infuse emotion into each character is darn good, I was absolutely stunned Takeshi Miyazawa work. His manga-influenced art had me laughing at all the right moments — and I particularly enjoyed his ability to make Cloak and Dagger look so sage and wise, while the Runaways looked like lightning trapped in a bottle.
Most of all, as with the first volume of “Runaways,” this book proves that American comics aren’t for old fogeys and that maybe, just maybe, we can tear the younger generation of comic book readers away from manga and back to old-fashioned superhero faire.
Is that a bit snotty of me? You bet. Down with manga, up with men in long underwear!
Written by: Brian K. Vaughn
Art by: Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa
Four Stars out of Four (I’m ready to read the next one!)
Manchester United – Champion!