[11 June 2009]
Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s Runaways, offered a surprising, novel take on teen drama. The story of six Los Angeles teenagers—Nico, Chase, Gert, Alex, Karolina, and Molly—the titular Runaways discover their parents are supervillains. While coming to terms with their parents’ secret, they must also reconcile truths about themselves.
Alex, a prodigy, leads the effort to thwart their parents. Nico learns that she is a witch. Karolina discovers her secret alien heritage as a native of Majesdane. Molly finds out that she is a mutant with superhuman strength and intelligence. Gert explores her telepathic link to a dinosaur. Chase benefits from the futuristic weapons created by his genius inventor parents.
The concept of supervillains’ children turning on their parents was incredibly engaging. But the book also dealt with teenagers on their own terms. It captured the joys and perils of growing up in ways anything but clichéd. The kids were neither dumbed-down, nor were they overly-precocious. Vaughan struck a balance between the two through witty, poignant dialogue. Alphona gave each character the look of a real kid, not a caricature.
When Joss Whedon and Michael Ryan took over as writer and artist of the series for a six-issue story arc entitled “Dead End Kids”, they continued that trend by respecting the characters they were given. Even as Whedon turned the story on its head by sending the kids on an adventure through time to 1907, he was true to each Runaway, allowing them to be as intelligent, resourceful, and funny as ever.
More importantly, Whedon remained true to their histories. These were now kids that had faced incredible loss. The storytelling became even more powerful, more poignant. Ryan drew the comic in a way that was both whimsical and heartbreaking. Readers never lost the sense that this was a story about children, but we also never forgot that this is the story of children who had weathered a storm.
It is disappointing that the current creative team, writer Terry Moore and artist Humberto Ramos, have proved such a poor match for this story. Their first six-issue story arc, “Dead Wrong”, focuses on the Runaways’ return to Los Angeles after an adventure in New York City. However, life for the Runaways remains as high-tempo as ever. Pursued by angry Majesdanians (beings from Karolina’s home world) the teens are blamed for the death of seven billion of their people. There is hot pursuit and action galore, but the characterization wholly undermines the work of Vaughan and Whedon.
In “Dead Wrong”, Chase has regressed. His character is even more vapid than earlier. From his greatest aspiration suddenly being to work for a shock-jock, to his inexplicably harsh reactions to his friends, to the goofy way he is drawn, Chase is no longer the mature 18 year old that suffered the death of his girlfriend. Karolina finds herself, through Moore’s writing, removed from a meaningful relationship with Xavin, a teenage Skrull. Karolina’s reversal of her lesbian relationship with Xavin severely undermines her personal growth. And lastly, super-smart, super-strong (both physically and emotionally), Molly is now just too cute by half. Lines like “Television. It’s like YouTube for old people” are charmless attempts at Whedonesque writing. Molly now suffers from being an eleven year old written as a six year old.
The poor characterization in “Dead Wrong” points to a failure of the creative team. The biggest failure in a successful comic title is to deny established continuity. A creative team should not impose themselves on a title, but instead should become a part of it. It is the difference between being an obvious tourist and getting to know the locals.