Friday, February 11, 2005

Comics: Runaways v.1 and v.2

So, as I posted before, I picked up copies of Runaways v.1 and v.2 from my local library branch. Now I can see what the hype was all about. I had picked up an issue of Runaways after hearing some good things about it (I think it was issue 8), but it didn't grab me at all. I couldn't figure out what was happening and I didn't feel compelled to go back and get more issues.

But, whoa, after reading the first volume "Pride & Joy" all the way through I can definitely see what people like about this book. The characterization is great, the premise is quite original, and the story is genuinely fun. I grabbed the second volume as well, and while it isn't quite as good as the first one, it continues to be a fun ride.

A spoiler-ish summary for those who haven't read these books:

"Pride & Joy" is the first volume of the series. We are introduced to the six kids who are the cast of the book, along with their parents. In the first chapter we see snippets of their normal home lives, only to have the rug pulled out from under us when the kids discover that their parents are actually a group of super-villains called the Pride. They see their parents kill a young woman in a secret ceremony and decide that they need to turn their parents into the police. Of course, it turns out that the police are corrupt and in the back pocket of the parents, and the parents use the cops to frame one of their own kids for the murder that the Pride committed, so the rest of the first volume involves the kids getting away from their parents, keeping ahead of the cops, and finding a place to stake themselves out while the figure out what to do next. We also discover that one of the kids is actually sympathetic to his parents and is working as a "mole" for the Pride within the group.

"Teenage Wasteland" is the second volume, and its not as cohesive as the first. Its made up of two story arcs - "Teenage Wasteland" and "Lost and Found". The first arc involves the kids finding another super-powered youth with criminal parents and the repercussions of inviting him into their circle. "Lost and Found" is a guest appearance by Cloak and Dagger, as they are brought into town by one of the Pride's minions to hunt down the kids.

I wasn't expecting to like this book nearly as much as I did. Like I said, I'd picked up an issue before to try it, and had been underwhelmed. Nothing much seemed to happen in it, and the characters were not developed enough in the one issue for me to really care to seek it out again.

But, reading it in its collected form, I can really see where the appeal is. The introductory chapters in "Pride & Joy" are must-reads for the kids character development. And while the plot in the issue of "Teenage Wasteland" that I read moved slow in single issue form, the pacing in the collection is perfect.

This is the type of book that really should have a broad appeal outside of superhero fans. While it may be a little cliche to talk about kids wanting to read about kids, conversations with my wife (the children's librarian) have convinced me that this is true. The kids in this book feel like real teenagers with real problems, and not just like what some middle-aged guy thinks a teenager's problems would be. [1]

The only issue that I have with the book, and its a minor one really, is the Cloak and Dagger appearance. Now, I love Cloak and Dagger - I think they're an underrated concept and they've been poorly used over the years - and by bringing them in Vaughn establishes a larger tie to the whole "shared universe". This shouldn't bug me, but it does. With the first volume, even though the kids are obviously in the Marvel Universe, you never feel like that's going to help them. Wolverine isn't going to show up and stop the Pride, Captain America isn't going to swoop in and rescue the kids, these kids are on their own.

By introducing Cloak and Dagger, Vaughn introduces a messy element into the mix. Now, with this kind of "in-your-face" example, we have to wonder - how is this city cut off from the rest of the Marvel Universe? Does anyone know that the Pride exists (villains must - the Pride talks about how no villains operate in their city without permission)? If so, why hasn't anyone stepped forward before to stop them? By keeping the Marvel Universe offstage for the first volume, Vaughn sidestepped most of these issues. But, buy pushing Cloak and Dagger into the second volume, these issues become front and center and intrude on my reading of the book.

But, really, its a minor thing [2]. Overall, these are some great books and I cannot wait to pick up volume 3. I'll probably even end up buying it in my February comics purchases, since I think I'll have some room in the budget and I probably won't want to wait for the library to get a copy. I hope that the second series for this title continues to be as fun as this first series has been.

[1] Ah yes, it is ironic isn't it that I, being a middle-age guy, get to comment on what I think "feels" like what a teenager's real problems are. They seem like real kids - okay? I mean, I could see some of them being freshmen in my College Algebra classes. It's more than just the speech patterns (though that helps) - there's something about them that Vaughn captures that just feels right.

[2] And a geeky, fanboy thing at that. I admit it.

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