I’ve been mostly blogging about my weekly board gaming session here, but that doesn’t mean I have not been reading comics! Most recently, I got my grubby little mitts on all the trades of Brian K. Vaughan’s run of Runaways. I will get the rest of the volumes eventually, but I thought it might be good to talk about the first volume at least.
As I’ve mentioned before, I only got into Western comics through scans_daily. One of the earliest series that piqued my interest was Runaways, through the bits and pieces I had seen online. (An aside: It annoys me to no end when someone types “peaked my interest”. I can see how you would make the jump, but it still annoys me.) The bits that drew me in were the description of Nico’s Staff of One (near unlimited magical power, but a spell can only be cast once, ever) and Gert’s bio: “Has a telepathically linked dinosaur”. How great is that? The whole concept of the series intrigued me, with 6 teenagers finding out that their parents are “super”villains (not all of them actually possess powers), stealing some of their tricks and running away to escape their parents and try to right their wrongs.
Volume 1 of the trade (Pride & Joy) kicks things off quickly, introducing our 6 main characters in a series of one-pagers that give us quick glimpses into what each character is roughly about. Tropes are not a bad thing, and Brian K. Vaughan plays with established teenage angst tropes to give us a quick understanding of what these characters might be: nerd know-it-all with slight superiority complex, rebellious & sarcastic intellectual hipster, underachieving jock son of abusive parents with higher expectations, “goth” girl trying to establish an independent identity through subculture, hippie dippie vegan possible overachiever, and hey look I might be having my first period. You can tell so much from the characters just from those first few pages, but Vaughan is not content to just let these characters be stereotypes but builds on those base characteristics in interesting ways. By the end of the first volume, you start to see new dimensions to each character and how they end up being each others family out of their shared experience. I won’t say that the book is ‘realistic’, this is still a comic book after all and some shortcuts are taken to keep the pacing of the book brisk, but I felt that the character reactions at least were quite believable or at least in line with what we know so far. Aside from the kids themselves, Vaughan also leans heavily on established tropes and cliches for the parents’ supervillain identities and powers as a shorthand to what they are about. Mystics, aliens, time travelers, genius inventors and good old fashioned Kingpin style street smarts make up the Pride, as they call themselves. There is no need for lengthy explanations of what their powers are or how they came to have them, as we can surmise plenty as it is from quick little scenes. All this leads to a very fast pace that always leads you to want to turn the page for more. It also allows the characters to really shine as who they are, not what their powers define them to be.
On the art side, I am not a huge fan of Adrian Alphona’s style but it serves the story well. The lines are a bit loose for my taste, and the characters can look a little off from page to page and especially from different angles. It is still pretty good art, just not my favourite. What I am really impressed with though are the designs for each character. Every single character has a very unique visual element that stands out. Alex has his funky ‘fro, Nico has her goth look, Gert has her purple hair and glasses, Molly has her hats, Chase has his gloves and goggles and Karolina has that whole multicoloured lightshow going on. So ven when the action is heavy and the character models are off, you can still tell the characters apart easily. I guess it’s business as usual for comics to have unique visual looks, but I really liked the design touches for each character that I felt set them apart not only from each other, but from other comic book characters. The fact that they mostly wore regular(ish) clothes probably necessitated more planning in their design, which I thought really paid off.
In summary, Runaways is one of the best Marvel series of the past decade. There were some spotty bits later in the run, but the first volume at least is still a very good read. The characters and writing are fantastic; the designs are really well thought out and gorgeous. Art is really good at times, but there are definitely some weird bits in the first volume. Nothing that would make me ragequit though. I give it 4.5 out of 5 Genetically Altered Telepathic Dinosaurs from the Future. Runaways. Go grab it and read it.