September 22nd, 2008

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The Book's Not Called Stopaways

After having finished Y: The Last Man and catching up on Ex Machina, it was time to complete the Brian K. Vaughan trifecta and hit Runaways. Thankfully, omoo sent me the first four baby trades. I had read a few issues years ago and enjoyed it, but I'd forgotten most of what happened (and luckily, I'd forgotten the huge spoilers I would have read).

Yet another award-winning series, Runaways is the tale of six kids who discover that their parents are supervillains. Yep, that's right. Vaughan takes the idea of kids' thinking their parents are EVIL and...makes it literal. It's a running theme throughout the series, the younger generation's mistrust of the older generation. And these kids have good cause, what with their parents being "a collection of crime bosses, time-traveling despots, alien overlords, mad scientists, evil mutants, and dark wizards." It's a Haruhi-esque smorgasbord of villainy.

Now, I don't want to spoil who's who because part of the fun of the first few issues is discovering everything along with the characters. But it's a diverse group with diverse personalities. Alex Wilder, African-American, is an RPG fan and becomes the group's de facto leader because of his strategic prowess. Nico Minoru, Japanese, is more emotional, often unsure of what she's feeling (she's a teenage girl, after all), and she likes to make her own Goth-style clothing. Karolina Dean, blonde, is the vegan California girl, but she's very insecure and feels like she doesn't belong (for reasons that become clear during the series). Gertrude Yorkes has awesome purple hair and sweet glasses and is a little chubby (not really "overweight" like the EVIL parents call her), and she's the entertainingly sarcastic, jaded one. Chase Stein is, like, that dude, you know, like Judd Nelson in...shit, you know, this really is the fucking superhero Breakfast Club. Except for Molly Hayes, who is eleven and adorable. And Old Lace, who is a dinosaur. Yes, a dinosaur. Look, this series is awesome. (For instance, did you notice that the team is mostly women? EVEN THE DINOSAUR IS A CHICK.)

Once these teenagers (and Molly) discover their parents' true nature, they—you guessed it—run away. Some of them discover they have powers of their own, and others find unique gifts (like Old Lace). Together, they vow to take down their parents, a story that is told in the first volume (or the first three baby trades). There is a THE END at the end of the first 18 issues because Vaughan wasn't sure if the series would continue. And, in fact, it did not. It was cancelled. And then they brought it back! If only it were so easy to do with television shows. BKV went on to write 24 more issues of the continuing adventures of our heroes (which included them picking up some new teammates) before, unfortunately, leaving the series. Joss Whedon, who had fanboyed the series—he even got a letter published in the letters column—came in for a six-issue stint that closed out Volume 2. Now, Terry Moore of Strangers in Paradise fame has taken over.

Unlike Y and Ex Machina, Runaways is set in the Marvel universe. Thankfully, however, it tends to stay out of the clusterfuck that is the Marvel universe (although Marvel is probably less clusterfucky than DC, right?). The team is based in Los Angeles, and all your favorite Marvel heroes are based on the East Coast, most in New York. That doesn't mean that BKV doesn't have a hell of a lot of fun playing in the Marvel sandbox; the Avengers make frequent appearances since they're the big Marvel superhero team and thus the grown-up analogues of the Runaways. Usually, though, he just snarks on whatever's going on in the big crossover events (although there was a Young Avengers/Runaways book during Civil War that wasn't written by BKV and doesn't sound worth reading). And he eschews most of the traditional superhero conventions like a team name (I refer to them as the Runaways for convenience; they only refer to themselves as Runaways once that I recall), codenames (they use them for a time, though), costumes (well, Molly makes one), and battlecries (theirs is "Try not to die," which, I think, says a lot about the book). I love, however, that BKV has inserted these lovable teenage superheroes into the Marvel universe, and they are there, a part of history and continuity. This is real Marvel, not Ultimate X-Men! I just get excited at writers I love creating new stories and characters that are meant to endure. I mean, I got a kick out of BKV's mentioning of one of the characters Joss created in Astonishing X-Men (BKV fanboyed Joss as well).

What's so great about Runaways? Well, it's got all of Brian K. Vaughan's best qualities like great dialogue loaded with amusing pop-culture references, subtle characterization, likable characters, and plot twists you don't see coming but in retrospect make total sense and had been foreshadowed all along. It's very well paced; you never want to stop reading. And Adrian Alphona's art is also top-notch, giving the characters very realistic looks that allow you to connect with them. It looks like it should be turned into an animated series (but instead, it's being turned into a movie, of course). All the non-Alphona artists are also good (a couple so good I didn't notice/wouldn't have noticed it was a different artist) until the current artist, Humberto Ramos, whose style doesn't fit with the series at all. It's too cartoony and childish, and while the target audience for this series is a little lower than that of, say, Ex Machina, part of the appeal of the book is that it doesn't treat its younger characters like children. Except for Molly, who is eleven and adorable. And says things like, "It's cobblerin' time!" Also, for a lot of run, you get beautifully sweet Jo Chen covers, which are always ace.

One of the good things about Runaways is that it's been collected in what I call baby trades, manga-sized digests that are just eight bucks each! So it's a really cheap and easy series to try out. Start from the beginning. Brian K. Vaughan's run—which is awesome—is in seven baby trades, and Joss's run—which is pretty good, if somewhat muddled—is currently only available in hardcover. Terry Moore's first issue—which is okay so far, art notwithstanding—is on the shelves right now. Check your local library! Support your local comic book store!

By the way, did I mention that our heroes travel in a giant robot frog? Look, this series is awesome.