Sunday, May 16, 2010

You Should Be Reading: Runaways

Spider-Man was a massive success for a number of reasons. One of the major ones was that it mixed together two highly successful dramas: Superheroes and High School. Peter Parker may have beat up Doc Ock or the Green Goblin every other issue, but what kept people hooked was soap opera of a life, his relationships, all of his teenage bulltish. Runaways took that basic idea and made it work better.

Created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona in 2003, Runaways was about, well, teenagers. Six adolescents, friends only because their parents are business partners, discover one evening that their parents business is honest-to-god supervillainy. Disillusioned, the teens, as to be expected, run away. Some discover that they have inherited powers. Some lose faith with everything they knew. But they all find that they suddenly have to grow up and the reality that they are fugitives from their own parents.

The cast begins with the six teenagers: Nico Minoru (The emotional daughter of sorcerors and amateur practitioner of magic herself), Chase Stein (The rebellious son of mad scientists and thiever of some of their devices), Gert Yorkes (The sarcastic daughter of time travelers and inheritor of a pet dinosaur), Karolina Dean (The kind-hearted daughter of alien invaders and inheritor of their powers), Molly Hayes (The energetic daughter of mutants and, at 12 years old, youngest of the team), and Alex Wilder (The quiet, contemplative son of mobsters).

The characters are all unique and vibrant and all have their troubles. Nico's personal baggage is a steady source of strife in the team. Karolina is struggling with the discovery of her new heritage and her personal identity issues. Alex has to lead the teens but is learning as he goes. And despite of this, there is still humor to be found. Chase's "dumb jock" persona clashes with Gert's "snobby intellectual". And of course there's always Molly, whose exuberance shines on no matter what the situation. It's doubtlessly these characters that keep us coming back. It's the quite moments, the struggle for survival, and the interpersonal relationships that make the series great.

Eventually, the cast expands. The team is joined by Victor Mancha (The smart but awkward "son" of robot conqueror Ultron) and Xavin (An alien super-Skrull in training). All of them come shortly after one of the original six dies and all of them bring something new to an already great team.

Eventually, in 2007, Vaughan left the book at a definite high point and was replaced by Joss the Boss Whedon. Unfortunately, Whedon only stuck around for six issues, during which time a time-travel mishap left the team in 1907. At the end of the story arc, the teens returned to the present with a new member in tow, 12-year-old Klara Prast, a plant-controlling mutant whose life experiences differ greatly from the others. Terry Moore took over as writer after that, with two lackluster story arcs. Finally Kathryn Immonen came in and wrote an exciting four-issue story before the series came to it's current hiatus.

While the quality of the book changes based on it's writers, it's Vaughan's stories that best represent this team. It's about struggle, drama, confusion, action, danger, and coming to grips with adulthood before you're ready. It's absolutely fantastic and I recommend to anyone who enjoys a new twist on a familiar concept.

Thanks for reading, friends. I'll see you next time.

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