There was a time before Brian K. Vaughn was Brian K. Vaughn, when Marvel's Tsunami line was a thing, and when kids could imagine their parents were actually super villains without being right.
Into this world came Runaways.
This is a discussion of the first Runaways trade, Pride & Joy. Have you read the series before? How did you discover it? Did you keep with it? If so, for how long?
I'll take the title issue by issue, and add in a little personal history I had with the series...
The first issue of the title starts off by firmly rooting the action in the Marvel Universe. It makes sense that the most popular MMORPG in the MU is focused on the super heroes we know and love (though one wonders what the IP arrangements are with the trademarks and whatnot).
The first member of the group we meet is Alex. His choice of character in the game -- Captain America -- and his attitude with his online friends immediately cements him as the "leader" type. He's wealthy and he lives in California, a piece of Marvel geography that was relatively unexplored after the demise of the West Coast Avengers.
I think the best fantastic stories are rooted in the familiar, and Alex is faced with a situation that is very familiar to many of us: he's forced to hang out with the kids of his parents' friends. I remember getting dragged to gatherings where my parents expected me to mingle with the children of their friends. Like Alex, I did not look forward to it.
There's some nice interaction between Alex and his parents here. Many writers struggle to put dialogue in the mouths of teenage characters, but this rings true to me. There is some nice foreshadowing here as well, in talks about secrets and legacies and whatnot (plus, a reference to one of my favorite shows, The Prisoner).
Next we meet the rest of the group in one-page vignettes. When characters are introduced as stock types, I usually get annoyed. It seems like shorthand to me, an end-around to avoid real characterization. At first blush, the kids seem like one dimensional stock characters: Gert is the brainy girl with the colored hair and the big intellect; Karolina is the perky, pretty one; Chase is the jock; Molly is the precocious pre-teen; and Nico is the goth girl.
We also see how each child has a distinct relationship with his or her parents, which is a nice touch. Already, Vaughn is taking pains to sketch out each character and each relationship in a thoughtful manner. I think his pays off pretty well later on.
These stories that take the mundane situations and push them into exaggerated territory need some kind of hook. In this story, it's the common concept that kids have (especially teenagers) that their parents are evil, super-villains, even.
In the world of Runaways, this is the literal truth. We'll learn more about the distinct specialities of each set of parents soon, but the splash page of them, gathered around the table in their specific garb is a lot of fun (this might be a great time to mention the art team of Adrian Alphona (pencils) and Brian Reber (colors). My copy credits two inkers, David Newbold and Craig Yeung. I'll double check which artist does which issues. Anyway, as part of the Tsunami line, this title was supposed to have an Asian style to it. Normally, I am not a fan of manga, but this works for me. The kids all look like kids, and each is distinct. The art, to my eye, is realistic enough while still being stylized. It really fits, is what I am saying).
I love the different reactions the kids have. Chase thinks the parents are "gay," and Alex assumes they are superheroes. Even as the ritual goes on, they are reluctant to accept the fact that their parents (some of whom are prickly or abusive) are bad...
...until the double shock of the ending, with the murder and the sudden noise by the hiding kids (that may be cliche, but I think it works here. It feels like something kids might do).
Made me immediately want to read more.
There are some other nice touches in this issue. I may mention some of mine as the discussion moves forward, but I'd love to know what you think, especially those of you who are reading this for the first time.
When Runaways debuted, I ignored it, along with the rest of the Tsunami line. Overall, the Tsunami art style just didn't appeal to me, which stopped me from trying out stuff like Namor, Human Torch, and Inhumans, which ordinarily I would give a chance to. The whole line seemed to be aimed at manga fans, which I am not. I figured any new concept just wouldn't be up my alley.
But after most of the rest of the line was a distant memory, there was still a buzz about Runaways. I decided to give it a try when a new #1 came out in 2005, and really enjoyed it. I think an LCS I shopped at had a sale on the 3 digests that reprinted the 18 issues of the first volume, and I snatched those up as well - full size TPBs wouldn't show up until 2009 or so. I think the first 12 issues of the 2nd volume were the high point. I stayed with the series until BKV left. I've always had good intentions of picking up the Whedon issues (Vol 2, #25-30) but never got around to it. I haven't followed the team since.
I'll dig out my digest and follow along this discussion, Rich, and probably throw a few comments in too.
This issue picks up where the last one left off, quite literally.
One of the dangers with making the parents super villains is the fact that Vaughn cannot make them incompetent, as adults so often are in stories of teenage rebellion. They are, after all, supposed to be big shot criminals in LA (with some help from the the occult, of course), so they can't be bumblers. The good news is, parents frequently underestimate their teenage children, and that becomes a running theme going forward.
The old "we were playing Twister, we swear" bit is the first time we see this, and it extends into the "would you carry the trunk full of evidence" bit. But I think it works. The Pride (love the name, by the way) would likely be arrogant, and imagining their kids are grown up enough to be a threat is far from their minds.
The kids, of course, are dealing with what they (well, at least four of them) witnessed in the last issue. It's Alex, who tried to make every excuse imaginable, who has flipped, now doing his best to convince the others that their parents are indeed super villains. He's also the one who comes up with the plan that makes them the titular Runaways.
Again, I enjoy the dialogue in these scenes. Not only do the kids sound like actual teenagers, but each one has a distinct voice, which is tricky to pull off. Their disparate points of view at the Wilder house and at the Griffith Observatory (nice use of the LA setting, with this and the reference to the LaBrea Tar Pits) come across as realistic. It's a lot for kids to digest and it certainly is hard for them to accept. The voting sequence is a bit trite, but I do like the fact that their first instinct is to call the cops. It's also nice to hear that ordinary cops would rather turf out meat human issues to big guns like the Avengers. That seems realistic.
When that doesn't work, the Runaways start to run back home to collect evidence. At the Yorkes residence, we get the first taste of one of my favorite aspects of the book. Just like each child seems to represent a distinct archetype of teenager, each set of parents represents an archetype of super villain in the Marvel U. Our first big clue of that, of course is...
A FREAKIN' DINOSAUR
This book has everything!
How did you first get introduced to Runaways? Did you read their extended origin story first, or jump on at a later date? Also, I knew the premise when I started, so the most intriguing aspect of the story for me was its execution. I wonder if it is more or less effective if the premise is somewhat murkier.
I am following along Rich, but I've never actually read the stories. It was something I was interested in, but never actually went through the trouble of getting it. Sounds like a good read so far.
I'm a big fan of Vaughan's creator-owned work, and Runaways has been recommended in the past (always along the lines of "I know you don't read superheroes, but this is really good"). I do hope to jump in later this week, after I've gotten my hands on a library copy.
I hope you all get the chance to read the TPB and chime in. It really is good!
Back in 2003, I worked alongside the sister of Marvel Comics editor C.B. Cebulski. He found out I was a lifelong comics fan and he enjoyed chatting with me about various comics related topics whenever I saw him at a party or whatnot. (He eventually had me appear in an issue of a comic he scripted as an Easter Egg).
Since Cebulski had a lot of love for and contacts in the world of Manga, he played a role in bringing Marvel's Tsunami line (comics designed to appeal to manga fans) into existence. At the time, Cebulski was editor on Runaways, a title written by an up-and-coming talent, Brian K. Vaughn (who would later go on to write some of my favorite comics of all time, including Y: The Last Man and Saga (oh, and he wrote for LOST, too). I had heard of the title, but wasn't sure its "Our parents are super villains" story would resonate with me (and I usually dislike works that have teenagers as protagonists).
But when I saw Cebulski in 2003, he told me that Runaways was the best title he'd ever worked on, and one of the best titles that Marvel was doing at the time. I figured the guy knew what he was talking about, so I gave it a shot.
Man, I am glad I did.
I loved the book from the get go. The characters were interesting -- written to sound like actual kids, but not as annoying. Each one seemed to represent a teenage stereotype, but their characterization went far beyond that. And the primal urge that teenagers have to label their parents as evil really did resonate, as it was handled in a clever fashion.
There was conflict, drama and humor, and it was all firmly rooted in an obscure corner of the Marvel Universe. I ended up falling hard for those kids and followed their adventures wherever they took me.
As Marvel looks to expand their cinematic universe, I hope they consider adapting Runaways. Like the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy flick, this one would help them explore a completely different and fun aspect of the Marvel U. It would not tie in as closely to other titles as Marvel might like, but I suspect it would be a sleeper hit.
(my blog post about my initiation into all things Runaways)
Got the TPB today (and it's the original digest sized version, so I feel like I'm having an authentic experience), and blasted through the first three issues at lunch. It reads fast, as a series like this should. I agree that the manga-influenced art works well. There's still plenty of manga influence in comics, I think, so I don't find it dated. I'm reading two Image series with teenagers & young adults in them--Morning Glories and Mind The Gap--and I think the art isn't far off, albeit a bit less exaggerated and "cartoony."
As someone who has never been much of a Marvel fan, I found the opening scene a little scary (oh no: not the MU!). So I was happy to see that Vaughan was just playing with us. I agree with everything you said about the teenage dialog. My son was a teenager just a few years ago, and it rings true to me. I enjoyed the way they found out what their parents were up to by spying on them. And I LOVED the dinosaur!
BTW Rich, I took the liberty of moving the discussion into "In Depth Comics Discussions" and added the tag "Bi-Weekly TPB" so this discussion would be grouped with the others.
Thanks for moving the discussion. I feel a bit like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer sometimes when it comes to the Internet!
So when people ask "Why should I read Runaways?" I often just drop two words on the table and walk away:
Everyone's favorite psychic raptor made a last-page appearance at the end of issue 2, and, in what is becoming a tradition in this series, issue 3 picks up only seconds later. For many, the raptor (who gets a name shortly) is a fan favorite. I have to imagine that, as Vaughn was sitting down to figure out the powers and abilities of these characters, the concept of a pet dinosaur had to have been one of his best ideas.
And it ties into a concept I mentioned earlier: each of the sets of parents represents an archetype in the pantheon of Marvel bad guys. The Yorkes are Time Travelers (part of me wants to see some prequel stories with these characters. Did they ever run afoul of Doctor Doom or Kang or Immortus?). I love how their "gift" to their daughter combines the past and the future: an ancient creature modified by futuristic means.
We get quite a bit of info dumped on us here, but having the hologram of the Yorkes deliver a post-death hologram to their daughter to discuss their legacy is a nice touch (and in fitting with the themes of the story, I think). We also get a bit of information on The Abstract, which hints at the nature of the organization we know as the Pride and promises answers to come.
We also get more dialogue, showing once again that these kids are not really friends. They are just forced to hang out with each other once a year. The Runaways promise to carry on the tradition set forth in the first Marvel U comic, squabbling and bickering like the Fantastic Four. At least now, though, they have reason to be stressed out. They are young and confused an in way over their heads.
The revelation about the Yorkes sets us up on a bit of a breadcrumb trail, and any savvy reader will imagine that we are going to go station to station learning the secrets of each set of parents. So it's up to Vaughn to make this required exposition interesting.
The kids do some nice detective work, and we head to the Deans, where we learn that Karolina is... a glowy alien.
I wonder if Vaughn considered making her hail from a classic MU alien race (which we'd see later with the Young Avengers). Also, I like the bit here where Alex almost makes a reference to a character from the Distinguished Competition (I try not to think TOO much about these allusions and what they mean for the publishing world of the MU).
Karolina's exuberance at learning she can fly (echoes of Johnny Storm, I think) would be a nice way to end the issue, but instead we get a more sinister button, shedding some light on the Wilder's role in the Pride and also setting up a greater conflict beyond the familial/inner turmoil plot.
Now we just have to wait and see what we can learn about Chase, Nico and Alex... and if we'll ever see Molly again (spoiler: we shall).
We are halfway through the tale. What do you think, True Believers? Do you dig the kids? Do you care about their journey of self discovery? Are you excited to see what other secrets are in store?
I like the kids. Parenthetically, my wife saw that I was reading this and wanted to know why I was reading a comic about teenagers! A fair question. I said I liked the writer, and the teenagers were from about the same era when our son was a teenager. I do still feel like I'm not really the target audience (similar to the way I felt reading the Minx title Good As Lily that we're still discussing in another thread).
I've read all six issues, but I'm OK with going through them one by one. One thing strikes me about the pacing. Each individual issue feels pretty fast-moving, like there's plenty of action and new information. Yet it still takes the entire six-issue arc to set up the foundation of the series.
Normally, I don't love when comics have "pose" covers, but I feel like they kinda work for these first six issues, as we get to know each character (not sure I approve of the order of the spotlighted character, but still).
Ah, the old mannequin head in the bed routine. It's freshened up a bit by having the precocious kid's dad approach the absent child's room hiding a sacrificial knife. Though the Wilders appear to be the most "normal" set of parents (they are not time travelers or aliens, but seem to be merely mobsters), Mr. Wilder seems the most sinister of all to this point (and the de facto leader of the Pride, as Alex is shaping up to be the leader of the next generation).
I like how Vaughn is able to drop recaps for the ongoing story into the dialogue so anyone picking up this issue without having read the previous ones can get caught up on the story -- and he makes it seem like natural dialogue at the same time (these kids are confused and scared so it's no stretch that they would go over the details time and again (though it never seems stale to me)).
Chase calls out the "scavenger hunt" nature of this portion of the story and anticipates my question about what surprises are in store for each of the remaining kids. So it's off to the Stein residence.
It's a nice touch to have the kid who seems to fit the jock/meathead role have the parents who are (Marvel super villain category alert) Mad Scientists. Of course he checks out the ladies with the X-Ray specs!
Some of the adults (who we're supposed to believe as super villains) finally catch up to the kids, which gives us a little action. (side note -- I was never a fan of the term "Fistigons"). Alex shows that "strategic genius" his mom mentioned by siccing Karolina loose on the proceedings, and we get to see what role Nico's parents fill -- the mages of the group. We also get a little mystery forming with Nico and the staff (more on that soon). Plus, our raptor friend shows up, which is nice.
And, finally, the forgotten member of our group, little Molly returns for this month's cliffhanger!