Writer: Joss Whedon
Artists: Michael Ryan (p), Rick Ketcham (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Ariel Carmona Jr.
The Runaways is a Marvel title with a long pedigree by now, despite its relatively short existence. However, its characters and premise were engaging enough for Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly fame to want to take a crack at penning their continuing adventures, taking over from co-creator Brian Vaughan.
Los Angeles is in shambles, The Runaways are on the run and apparently eager for a sanctuary, but they bargain with the Marvel universeís equivalent of the devil, Wilson Fisk, a.k.a the Kingpin of crime, in order to get what they need.
Whedon displays expert knowledge of the Marvel universeís power players when he has Kingpin say that he respected the Pride and the fact they had a mutual understanding not to trample on each otherís territories, but now the kids are in New York, and they are going to play ball with the fat man, morality issues be dammed.
The ambiguous nature of the kidsí allegiances (they donít know if they are on the side of the angels or if they just want to be taken care of by a villainous sugar daddy) makes for good dialogue from Whedon who takes advantage of the state of the Marvel universe in post-Civil War continuity to explore the gray areas.
This is not exactly uncharted territory for Whedon. Remember when the Mayor, the big bad in Buffyís third season became a benefactor and a parental figure for Faith, the rogue Slayer? Same kind of thing happens here, except not all of the kids are in agreement to what course of action they should pursue.
Also like in Buffy, there are two lesbian characters in the book, and Whedon is adroit at penning dialogue of an introspective nature and adding some conflict into the mix. He seems to be at his best when relating the interpersonal dealings of his characters, which is why this book is a good fit for him, yet I canít help but feel that this is all familiar territory. Whedonís trademark quick wit and his rapid fire pop culture references which were a staple on Buffy are clearly evident here when the kids go on the Kingpinís mission to steal an ancient artifact. It will make some who are accustomed to his writing style chuckle while it may make others cringe if they find it too cute.
What was cool about this book is you can come into it with a fresh perspective. Having never read any of Vaughanís prior stories, I didnít feel lost following the story and some of the references which did puzzle me were quickly referenced online at Wikipedia or at Marvelís own site. Like I stated earlier, this is a book with a long pedigree and a relatively short existence in comparison to say, X-Men continuity. It always seemed to me that some of the fun was sapped away from reading a title like Uncanny X-Men when you had 30+ years of continuity to contend with. This is not the case with this comic, and this is a perfect jumping on point for new readers. Itís vintage Whedon, right down to the cliffhanger.
Michael Ryan appears to be a good fit for this book on the artistic end of things. He renders the action with fluid adroitness, and thereís some great action sequences here, especially with the young Skrull and the dinosaur who reminds me a lot of Lockheed, the dragon. I have to hand it to the colorist for some vibrant, eye popping scenes, and this adds to the comicís strengths. Overall, this is a very ambitious offering. Is it Earth shattering? Not really, but it is entertaining.
Thereís one thing thatís always puzzled me about the way the big comic companies assign creative teams. Theyíll put Jim Lee on Batman, or Grant Morrison on X-Men, titles that consistently sell shedloads anyway, but theyíll put untried, untested creators on minor titles, and then express considerable surprise when no one is interested. Surely, it would be better to give the young'uns a go at the stuff thatíll sell anyway, and use the star names to draw attention to overlooked work? It seems that Marvel wants to give it a go by putting superstar writer Joss Whedon on the perennially popular but low-selling Runaways, and I applaud Marvel editorial for doing so.
Thatís right, I said something nice about Marvel editorial. Donít worry, it wonít happen again.
Itís a good move for Whedon too, as his knack for ensemble teen drama has not done much to make Astonishingly Dull X-Men any more interesting. But Runaways, in theory, is much more up his alley. The dialogue is snappy and natural throughout, and yet unlike that of someone else I could mention, this script isnít inane and empty, and while thereís lots of to-and-froing and backchat, itís not just wasting space; the dialogue tells us, both subtly and overtly, about the speakers and their personalities, which is exactly as it should be. The script is funny in places, clever in others, and funny and clever on occasion too, and it not only shows up you-know-whoís limitations, but Whedonís own previous Marvel work; I hope that the lack of an X on the cover wonít put off potential readers, as this is exactly the kind of solid, entertaining writing one expects from Joss Whedon. The plotting is much stronger than that of AX-M too, with a good solid hook to get the Runaways involved in events, and a brilliant double-cliffhanger ending that actually works and doesnít immediately suggest an obvious resolution.
Michael Ryan and Rick Ketcham provide solid artwork with a good amount of detail and strong storytelling. Itís in the same sort of no-manís-land between outright cartoonery and realistic detail that Amazing Spider-Man's Ron Garney has wandered into, and itís a good look for this title, although itís a bit generic and lacks the distinctiveness that previous art teams have shown. That said, Christina Strain makes up for that weakness with some great colouring. Itís not as flashy as that of Laura Martin or Chris Blythe, but thereís a great sense of texture and shade, and itís colourful and vivid without being garish.
You couldnít ask for a better start. This unjustly overlooked title gets the expected celebrity boost from Whedonís presence, but the writer also delivers on his potential, which given his lacklustre X-Men work was less of a certainty. I hope Whedon continues to deliver such strong work on this title, and I hope he sticks around for longer than the projected six issues, because heís proven to be a great fit for the Runaways.
The Runaways are in New York and on the lam, so they turn to the one person who has the power to hide them from Iron Man and his Registration Act, the big (in more ways than one) boss of all crime, Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. the Kingpin. In return for his protection, he wants them to acquire a certain artifact, and their heist goes awry when theyíre confronted by the Punisher and some crazy scarred guy with wings.
After four years with these characters, Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona are out and Joss Whedon and Michael Ryan are in. Vaughnís Runaways became one of my favourite comic book series. If my limited experience is anything to go by, it also had the potential to appeal to people who donít usually read comics; itís the only series for which friends ask me when the next collected edition is out so they can borrow it. Itís sad to see the original creative team take their leave, but the credits on the front cover of this issue suggested that they were leaving the book in more than competent hands. I can happily say that this is the case and then some!
Whedon maintains all the beats that have made this title so great and throws in a couple new ones of his own. The relationships between the teens are where Vaughn left them, and Whedon is obviously prepared to expand on them and take them to new and interesting places. The way he writes the Runaways and the voices he gives them are very similar to Vaughnís and make the transition in writer feel almost seamless. The kidsí view of the world, their sense of humour, their desire to just be left alone are all recognisable from previous issues. The witty dialogue that has characterised this book since its beginning is still present. There is one noticeable change though: the angst that has marked the series for the last year or so is almost gone. I view this as a good thing. Sure, the Runaways, especially Chase, had to mourn the passing of Gertrude, but itís nice to have them move on, and the return of a more carefree, wise-cracking Chase Stein is most welcome.
Last issue left the team squaring off against Tony Stark and a squad of S.H.I.E.L.D.ís finest. This one opens with them incognito in a Manhattan restaurant waiting for someone who can help them disappear. Obviously, Starkís boys werenít up to the task and when you take a moment to consider the amount of power these teens possess, itís hardly surprising. Itís a bit of a jump, but I for one canít say I was interested in seeing the teens beating on S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. What we get here is much better. The Runaways need to lay low in order to avoid the superhuman draft, and they reckon the only person with the power and resources to be of assistance is the crime lord of New York City, Wilson Fisk. I havenít been following Daredevil recently, but the last I saw of the Kingpin he was safely behind bars in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. Anyway, Fisk offers protection in return for a favour. Not an offer any self-respecting superhero would take him up on, though Iron Man did cut a deal with him in Civil War: War Crimes, but then again Tony Stark hardly qualifies as a self-respecting hero anymore. But the point here is that these teens arenít superheroes; theyíre a bunch of kids who have no one in the world to turn to and who just want to be left alone. So they take the gig, though hero-worshipping Victor is less than happy about it and is starting to hold a grudge against his fearless leader and girlfriend, Nico. The heist doesnít go smoothly as theyíre busted by the man who operates a zero tolerance policy when it comes to crime, the Punisher. Thereís also some weird scarred dude flying around with mechanical wings and a big sword who most likely works for the artifactís owner.
Whedon continues to explore the relationships that exist between the various team members and in particular the one that stands out as the most odd. No, not the one between the goth chick and the killer android, but the one between the lesbian and the gender-bending Skrull. Though Karolina has constantly defended her relationship with Xavin, having Nico, her closest friend and on whom she has a crush, start to question it so openly will no doubt lead to her having to face some harsh truths. Karolina has always felt the most like an outcast, even before she discovered she was actually an alien. Though she thinks sheís found the happiness she so rightly deserves, Xavin is obviously not comfortable with being a woman all the time and always reverts to his male form, which he describes as ďmore intimidating,Ē for confrontations.
Michael Ryan gets to draw the teenagers, and his art is simply superb. Iíve always enjoyed his work, but this is better than anything of his that I can remember. Though obviously different to Alphonaís, his style is such a great match for this book, and his protagonists are immediately recognisable and distinctive. Chase looks a bit dumber than he has recently, but, as mentioned above, this ties in nicely with his once more relaxed attitude.
Whedon and Ryan had big boots and expectations to fill coming onto this title and have done so admirably. Their arrival brings with it a breath of fresh air and a slightly new direction with the relocation to the Big Apple. Hereís to hoping they stick around for a little longer.
Plot: Visiting New York, the Runaways seek assistance from an unexpected ally. Thereís a price to pay for his offer of free passage.
Comments: Whedon lives up to his reputation as a serious fan of this series, not missing a beat on several hits of characterization and recent continuity. This is leagues above the unimpressive Runaways/Young Avengers fill-in, though there are ostensibly similar manga-references in the art style. Ryan manages to keep everyone looking familiar while contributing his own solid skill at pacing and storytelling. Ryan is really of Bagley or Grummet quality, less flashy than solid and consistent.
Actually, Chase seems a bit brasher than previously, coming off as reckless and overconfident whereas once he came off as reckless but calculating. But Nicoís still the least confident leader around, and Xavin and Karolina are still playing gender identity games, sure to confuse everyone around them as much as themselves for months to come. The humor is here not so much in snappy dialogue as in dry observations, as when their shady ally peruses their case files and offers commentary with all the sympathy of a bitter curmudgeon.
This team now features a Super-Skrull wannabe, a dinosaur, an alien, a mutant, and Ultronís rebellious ďson.Ē And none of them are going to school or living conventional lives or registering; their life on the run, and the horror of their parentís true natures, have positioned them into a nebulous area between dreams of heroism and convenient connections in the (super-) criminal underworld. Theyíre all young and vulnerable and inexperienced (though powerful) and even their allies seek to use these qualities against them. Itís a dangerous place to be in, but one, of course, with a lot of potential for action scenes.
Another funny bit occurs when Molly has to instruct Xavin in how to use her Fantastic Four abilities (Joss may be the first person to have remembered Sueís powers when it comes to that established brawler Super-Skrull archetype), but lost on everyone but two other new players is the nature of their return favor: theft.
The nature of their risky act is not lost on their two mysterious pursuers, though.
Joss loves last-page reveals/cliffhangers, and this one is complicated by mixing in new characters with familiar faces. While this isnít the same book produced by the previous creators, itís a great start that avoids shocking changes in favor of elaborating on and expanding the ever-evolving complications that seem like destiny for the starring cast weíve come to love.
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