Writer: Noelle Stevenson
Artist: Sanford Greene
Color Artist: John Rauch
Letterer & Production: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Review by Joey Braccino
“And what should be done about these rebellious students?”
The Runaways returns as one of Marvel’s SECRET WARS tie-in mini-series!!! The original 2003 series has become one of Brian K. Vaughan’s most critically-acclaimed comics in the modern era, lauded for its subversion of “superhero” tropes and post-9/11 themes of disillusionment, fear, and generational strife. While that may sound uber-serious, the first few volumes of Runaways walked a fine line between teenage melodrama and brightly-colored, post-modern humor. Adrian Alphona’s manga-inspired aesthetic of those initial stories helped further the “bright” and “hopeful” feel of Vaughan’s work, and subsequent stories were written by the likes of Joss Whedon, Terry Moore, Chris Yost, and Kathryn Immonen. The Runaways roster—Molly Hayes, Nico Minoru, Karolina “Lucy in the Sky” Dean, Chase Stein, Old Lace (a genetically engineered dinosaur), Vic Mancha, and Xavin—would become commodity acts in the Marvel Universe outside of their on-again/off-again ongoing, appearing sporadically in event tie-ins (most usually with the Young Avengers) and later series like Avengers Academy, Avengers Arena, and Avengers Undercover.
The caliber of that initial series and the characters’ irregular appearances have successfully turned the Runaways stable into fan-favorites, and Marvel is clearly trying to capitalize on that cult of appreciation here with this new Secret Wars tie-in. I don’t mean that to sound dismissive, either; I have truly enjoyed many of the new series spinning out of Secret Wars, almost exclusively because of their fine combination of sheer storytelling audacity and superb creative teams. Here, Runaways #1 shares those traits: the premise follows a series of superpowered high school students training at Doom-School and the creative team features writer-to-watch Noelle Stevenson (Lumberjanes!) and Sanford Greene and John Rauch on art. With that in mind, Runaways #1 is a promising, fun first issue with some stellar artwork and a cool cast
Too bad it really is in no way, shape, or form a Runaways book.
Now before I explain that comment, I do want to point out that Runaways #1 is a fun comic book. Stevenson and company play with the freedom of the whole BATTLEWORLD concept to do some world-building and character-shifting. The book opens with detention (obvi) and our hapless group of student superheroes struggling uphill against the malaise and boredom of their high school days. The cast is filled to the brims with some of the coolest characters from all over the Marvel Universe—Amadeus Cho, Skaar, Megan “Pixie” Gwynn, Cloak & Dagger, Jubilee, Delphyne Gorgon, and Bucky Barnes— now modified to fit the high school setting. The first issues goes about explaining why our teen heroes are in detention (classic gym-class/hallway shenanigans) and the nature of the “final exams,” which are essentially trial-by-combat, because DOOM. The script is quick and the characters trade barbs like high school, and Noelle Stevenson is clearly relishing the opportunity to play with the youthful energy of this cast in a fresh setting.
And yet, this doesn’t feel like a Runaways book. Maybe it’s the fact that out of all of the cast, only Molly Hayes is part of the original core team of the Runaways. The rest trickle in from the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk/Hercules cast, and the street-level Spider-Man extended universe. Gone are all of the rest of the Runaways; it is also surprising, given the nature of the Runaways series of the past, that there aren’t any Young Avengers in the book either. Frankly, this Secret Wars tie-in feels more like an Avengers Arena meets Avengers Academy meets a little bit of Wolverine & The X-Men than anything remotely like the Runaways. The core theme of the concept—a group of young kids who run away from their corrupt society so that they could become heroes—is fairly absent from this book. Maybe it’ll come back in the next few issues, but at least in the debut, there is practically nothing that warrants the title Runaways.
Worth a look. Noelle Stevenson takes Secret Wars to high school with Runaways #1, with a stellar cast of some of the hippest “young” characters from various corners of the Marvel canon. Sanford Greene and John Rauch deliver some delightfully eccentric, dynamic artwork to keep the issue light and bright. Fans of the Runaways, however, will be sorely disappointed by the fact that Runaways #1 really has nothing to do with and feels nothing like the original, ground-breaking series that spawned the title.
I guess Secret Wars: Avengers Academy didn’t really hit…