by Jonathan Messinger

9 July 2003



(Marvel Comics)

Review [7.Jan.2007]

Running Scared

Nearly every well-adjusted kid grows up thinking, at some point or another, his parents are evil. It doesn’t have to be a painful rite of passage, as it’s often portrayed. So much teenage joy is derived from doing what parents don’t want and feeling justified because, well, the old folks are evil.

Alex Wilder is no different. The protagonist of Runaways, Alex is introduced while fighting with his dad. The fight goes predictably. He yells at his father for being limiting and his father warns him that he is spoiled, and that he should stop treating his father like a monster.

It almost reads like a WB script. But here’s the thing: Alex’s dad could very well be a monster.

Alex and a group of teens are all thrown together once a year when their parents get together, ostensibly to take care of some anonymous charity work.

Reluctant friends, the kids get fed up with waiting around and decide to snoop on their folks. Instead of finding their charitable parents filing nonprofit tax reforms or discussing antique sales, they stumble upon a strange scene. They watch as their costumed parents who participate in a ritual killing, with Alex’s dad wielding the blade. The story takes off from there.

Runaways is a book of firsts. It’s one of the first new series in Marvel’s Tsunami group, a manga-inspired line mostly targeted at teenagers. It is penciler Adrian Alphona’s first work on a major title, and writer Brian K. Vaughan’s—a hot commodity since his Vertigo post-apocalyptic fable Y: The Last Man took off—first crack at a team book.

To say it’s a team book, however, may be a bit of a stretch. Alex and his five compatriots band together after convincing themselves their folks are supervillains and try to turn them in. When that fails, they sneak off together to learn more. The kids, however, are without any known powers. That’s what makes the book so engaging: how can a group of young kids accomplish anything in a Marvel Universe where the Avengers have a supervillain 911 that’s overflowing with pranks and paranoia? And how can the reader be sure that these kids, whose lives include rational discussion of Invisible Woman’s sexual proclivities, aren’t themselves suffering from a little superhero-saturated paranoia?

Vaughan does a great job establishing each of the characters early, and though the teens may be a little too archetypal—jock, nerd, goth, cheerleader, etc.—each is idiosyncratic enough to make it work. It should also be said that it’s great to see a strong black protagonist, Alex, whose “power” is that he’s smart and decisive, not that he can fly or run fast.

Even with Vaughan’s gift for dialogue, what makes this book really stand out is Alphona’s artwork. Though it does bow to manga somewhat, his art eschews the beach-ball-eyed, wide-mouthed Japanese standard. Instead, Alphona takes the simplicity of manga and its exaggeration of expressions to create a fun look, but grounds it enough to make the characters more human. Brian Reber’s deep colors go a long way to making Alphona’s pencils pop, as well.

When Marvel first announced its new Tsunami line and the release of Runaways, there was a lot of talk about the title being a kids book—something for the junior high or high school set. It would be a shame if the book was saddled with a kid’s label, however; the only thing really juvenile about the book is the characters’ ages. It’s a kid’s story in the way Stand By Me was a kids movie. There’s certainly a teen element to it, and a younger audience will identify with the characters, but the story is moving to adults, too.

Kids get into this sort of story for the adventure. Adults, on the other hand, are drawn in because they remember that rebellious streak, and the strange balance of idiocy and intelligence that “teenage wisdom” produces. Of course, there’s also that part of everyone who still wishes those teenage suspicions scribbled in hidden journals held at least a teardrop of truth. It’s easy to root for the runaways.

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