“I don’t care if I pass your test, I don’t care if I follow your rules. If you can cheat, so can I.”
– Ender Wiggin in Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
“I don’t have to run away and live in the street. I can run away and I can go to the ocean, I can go to the county, I can go the mountains. I could go to Israel, Africa, Afghanistan.”
– Ally Sheedy as Allison Reynolds in The Breakfast Club
Marvel’s Secret Wars summer crossover event is everything that I wanted it to be, maybe even more. Jonathan Hickman’s central story has so far proven riveting and engaging, at least after the first issue’s necessary background work was out of the way. At this point in the story, it feels like what the summer crossover was meant to be. It is a serious story whose characters feel fully realized and true, a story that is significant and important—both for characters like Doctor Strange and Reed Richards and for the future of the Marvel universe.
And around the edges of Hickman’s grand centerpiece there’s a lot of fun to be had. Gladiator Captain America rides Devil Dinosaur into a land of green and red gamma creatures in the pages of Planet Hulk and Ghost Riders speed around an apocalyptic race track in the pages of Ghost Racers. It really feels as if anything can happen, as if Secret Wars has allowed Marvel to tell superhero stories in ways that they have seldom been told before.
I will admit that I groaned when I first heard the premise for Battle World: a planet held together by the god-like powers of Doctor Doom where different storylines and characters from Marvel’s history are all mashed together into distinct and bizarre realms and regions. But I’m not groaning now. I’m marveling. Until this Secret Wars thing comes to a close, until the series runs its course, until summer ends—it looks like just about anything can happen, like all things are possible.
Take, for example, Noelle Stevenson’s and Sanford Greene’s Runaways. Fresh from her exciting work on Nimona and Lumberjanes, in Runaways Stevenson takes up a superhero story with a twist. With a few nods to earlier incarnations of the Marvel teen superhero group, the Runaways, this version of the team is clearly unique. At heart this may be a story about a superhero team, but it is a story that has more in common with The Breakfast Club and Ender’s Game than with The Avengers.
Like The Breakfast Club, the cast of the Runaways are a group of high school students who find themselves thrown together in detention and who, despite their own wishes, become friends and team mates. The central conflict is between Jubilee, the criminal, and Sanna, the athlete, two girls who probably have more in common than either one wants to admit. They are led by Amadeus Cho, the brain, who is protected by his friend and bodyguard, Skaar. I’ll refrain from putting the rest of the cast into Breakfast Club categories, but they’re all here, I suppose, along with others, updated and refreshed fort the twenty-first century.
Of course, this group isn’t trapped in some middle class high school. They are, instead, at a school that might be more in line with Ender’s Battle School—the Doom Institute. Selected from all over Battle World, these students have been brought together to be trained for battle and to learn to live by the creed: “Live faithfully. Fight bravely. Die laughing. Only the strong will survive.” Each year’s final exam pits student against student in a contest to determine who has to go and who gets to stay.
Of course, things are not exactly what they seem and when this Breakfast Club is thrown together on a battle team they soon make an important discovery that requires that they hotwire a transport, fire a few blasters, and take to the road. As Ender said to his teacher, “If you can cheat, so can I.”
I’m mesmerized by Runaways. With only two books under her belt, Stevenson has already made me care about this cast of characters, already made me wonder where their adventures and their personalities are going to take them next. And Greene’s artwork manages to capture battle scenes, tearful goodbyes, and sarcastic humor, all with the same panache. It is a partnership that works.
I don’t know where these kids are going, though I suspect that with all of Battle World within reach they can make Ally Sheedy’s ambitions look spectacularly pedestrian.
“We don’t have to run away and live in the street,” they might say. “We can run away and we can go to Spider-Land, we can to go Weirdworld, we can go to New Mars. We could go to New Quack City, Killville, Monster Metropolis.”
I can’t wait.