Runaways Vol. 1 (issues #1 – 18). Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa (illustrators). Graphic Novel/Comics
So here’s the biggest problem with Runaways…I read it after Y The Last Man.
So though it’s very good…it’s not even close to Y The Last Man and so ultimately, I was disappointed. I’m going to try my best to review Runaways without comparing it to Y…we’ll see how I do.
Let’s talk about the art first, if only because it’s easier. Alphona is responsible for the bulk of the eighteen issues, with Miyazawa penciling only two of the whole volume (#11 & 12) and it’s to their credit that you almost don’t notice the switch…which is especially important in the collected work, so that it reads flawlessly without the characters changing drastically from issue to issue. Frankly, I barely noticed the change and part of that credit should go to the inkers and colorists of the book (Craig Yeung and David Newbold inks and Christina Strain and Brian Reber colors) for keeping with the beautiful overall look and consistency.
The character designs are also particularly good in this book, and specifically for a teen book they are well considered and realistic, with some variety in ethnicity and body type and style, as teenagers really are. The artists (all of them) keep everything nice and consistent within that framework throughout.
Now onto the actual characters. I like Vaughan and Alphona’s characters. This is the strongest aspect to me of Vaughan’s work in the book. They’re interesting and work as teenagers, and it’s nice that there are more girls than boys (Vaughan continues to write women – and girls – very well). I also really liked their powers, which are unique and not always pretty. One character (Nico) has to bleed in order for a giant ass scepter to come out of her chest…not exactly like your run of the mill super strength. Another character (Gert) has a pet velocirapter (Old Lace – which it turns out may not actually be a velocirapter) that is connected to her both physically and mentally. Old Lace will do Gert’s bidding and will do anything to protect her but when Old Lace is hurt, Gert is hurt; and on top of that, Gert has no powers except for her link to her pet, and so she is pretty vulnerable as ‘superheroes’ go.
All the powers are pretty interesting, including the brute strength of the team, which is found in the youngest member, eleven year old Molly. Karolina wins for best drawn power as her light power is absolutely fabulously rendered. The book is also well written, especially by comics standards (which frankly, are generally too low for my tastes) but Vaughan delivers – the characters speak realistically and bottom line – it’s just consistently well written.
So here are some of the problems for me. For such realistically rendered teenage characters I found the situation with their parents pretty unbelievable. It’s a good idea in theory in that it’s called runaways and it appealed very much to the idea of teens and their parental relationships being misunderstood and flawed, but on an issue to issue basis I found it really unbelievable. In the end, the way Vaughan resolves it, is actually quite believable, but if I had been reading these as standalone issues, rather than a collected work, I think I would have given up. Also, for such a realistically told story (about relationships and drama and the way teens just are) I found it hard to believe that these characters could kind of instantly figure their complicated powers out and begin defeating their parents (etc.) and nobody gets killed or maimed or has any truly dire consequences. There are no days of training, or learning or honing, or figuring out who they are, they are just thrown in to the fray and go. And this is maybe part of the appeal of the book overall, but for me it led to my biggest problem with the series, which is the suspension of disbelief was just too high to maintain.
Suspension of disbelief is a big thing in comic books (and movies etc.). It’s what allows you to believe that nobody recognizes Clark Kent as Superman because he puts glasses on and bumps into some shit. You pretty much have to accept this basic principal in order to enjoy most comic books and most comic fans get over that bump pretty easily.
But what Vaughan has here to me is a bigger problem than Clark Kent and his glasses…much like the problem I had with Batman Begins (I’m referring here to the film, which I liked). In Batman Begins we spend all this time with Bruce as he is literally trained from the ground up, to building the bat cave with his bare hands, and carving batarangs on lonely nights. That’s all great stuff – I love it. But it made it hard for me to believe he could then jump from a sixty story building in the next scene. He was made SO human, SO real, SO flawed, that the leap to superheroics with “no” consequences was difficult. All that great realism, made the suspension of disbelief difficult to maintain. And this is basically the problem I had with Runaways. Vaughan does such a great job building these realistic teens that are full of flaws, that I have trouble believing they can defeat superpowered parents and do some of the other superheroic acts that they seem to perform with relative ease (and no casualties).
On a more specific note, I found Alex’s betrayal to be a little Deus Ex Machina. It’s true that if you re-read the issues, Vaughan does set it up, very subtly, and I know that Vaughan wanted/needed to really keep it a secret so he could have a shocking reveal, but I had trouble buying any of Alex’s reasons for betraying the group. It just went against everything we knew about the character – subtle clues be damned. Vaughan basically took a character that I thought I knew and then totally reversed every single thing about him in the third act and I felt kind of robbed. I suppose you can make an argument that it fits considering what Alex’s power is supposed to be, but for me, it rang false and was incredibly unrewarding. It was like a twist for twist’s sake, rather than an integral part of the story that had to be included in order for everything to resolve correctly. The upside is that it did nice things to the group as a whole for future issues – shattering them and forcing them to rebuild – creating an interesting future dynamic.
There’s also of course my first problem, which is maybe the biggest, the fact that it’s really hard to live up to a nearly perfect (first) work…a tough thing to overcome.
All that said, Runaways is still better than 90% of the comics out there (now and then). It’s well written, beautifully drawn, and full of interesting flawed but heroic characters and I enjoyed it immensely.