Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Runaways, Volume 1: Pride and Joy Review (Brian K Vaughan, Adrian Alphona)

Mums and dads play a major role in superhero stories. Frequently they are the hero’s main motivation for becoming the superhero in the first place: Bruce Wayne’s parents were shot dead, Kal-El’s parents’ last act was to send him to Earth where he became Superman, Peter Parker’s father figure Uncle Ben was killed by a mugger, Hal Jordan’s dad died in a plane crash, Odin gave Thor his powers by forging Mjolnir, Charles Xavier shepherded untold numbers of young mutants to realise their full potential, and so on. 

Brian K Vaughan’s Runaways are similar in that the characters are made into superheroes through their parents - except they’re forced to step up and make that choice because their parents are supervillains trying to kill them! 

Alex, Gertrude, Karolina, Chase, Molly and Nico are the teenage offspring of well-to-do Californian philanthropists. When their parents gather to decide which charities to patronise for the following year, the bored kids decide to spy on the dull grown-ups - and then discover that their parents are secretly supervillains in a group called The Pride! The murder of an innocent at the hands of their mums and dads makes up their minds for them - they have to run away, or they could be next! 

I’m a big Brian K Vaughan fan so I’m not sure how it’s taken me this long to get around to this series but I’m glad I did because Runaways is terrific! Like Joss Whedon, Vaughan’s speciality is self-aware drama with the right amount of levity, as well as writing superb dialogue for convincing young characters. There’s not a single member of the group that doesn’t feel like a real teenager or unlikeable in any strong way. They’re charming and obnoxious, wise-ish but still kinda dumb, vulnerable, idealistic and guileless, thoughtless, fearful and brave - they’re teenagers. 

Runaways’ concept is still remarkably fresh so that even in 2015 this comic from 2003 reads really well. It’s also Marvel in name only with a handful of pages at the start and the occasional reference tossed in denoting this is set in the Marvel Universe. I’m convinced if Vaughan were to write this today, he’d publish it via Image as his own independent superhero comic and it’d still work as perfectly. 

The only giveaway that this is from several years ago is Adrian Alphona’s art. I’m a fan of the guy’s work from his recent run on G. Willow Wilson’s Ms Marvel so it’s surprising to see how different it looks here. It’s not as stylised or unique, not as eye-catching - it’s fine, it’s just a bit bland and generic, so much so that if I hadn’t seen his name on the cover, I would never have guessed he drew this book. 

That and Vaughan’s occasionally too cool for school dialogue (Nico yawns, Gertrude points and deadpans: “What she said”) are the only critiques I’ll say about this book, but they’re minor quibbles really. 

Runaways is brilliant. I wasn’t expecting it to grab me like it did but I was really drawn into the story with its unpredictable twists and turns and I loved getting to know this completely new set of characters. In fact the unpredictability comes from not knowing the characters and what they can do, so the two go hand in hand. 

It’s definitely my favourite of all Vaughan’s work for hire Marvel stuff, maybe because it doesn’t feel like a Marvel comic or that it tries something a little different and succeeds. I think if you liked Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Young Avengers, you’ll get a lot out of Vaughan and Alphona’s Runaways, though even readers who don’t especially like superhero comics might find themselves turned by this one. Good job, guys!

Runaways, Volume 1: Pride and Joy


  1. You had me at "It’s also Marvel in name only with a handful of pages at the start and the occasional reference tossed in denoting this is set in the Marvel Universe."

    The ONE thing that bugged me most in the early Marvel NOW books (for some reason) was the constant "need" to remind us that Tony Stark was in space. He was in space, y'know. Totally in space. Tony. Stark. Space. In.


    1. I know what you mean, sometimes Marvel's connected universe can seem a little too connected. Having a more or less standalone piece like Runaways is refreshing and Marvel should do more of that.

  2. Agreed, it's what I love about both Moon Knight and Hawkeye- stories that didn't care about Infinity or Age of Ultron or Original Sin. Just good stories.

    1. "Just good stories" - if only that were the mantra of the Big 2!