Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Marvel Unbound - Runaways, Volume 1

An audio version of this blog entry is available in episode 39 of Marvel Unbound. Feel free to leave comments and ideas here or in the Marvel Noise forum's "Marvel Unbound" thread. Enjoy!

I had flipped through Brian K. Vaughan's Pride of Baghdad trade paperback numerous times at the big box bookstore and was totally intrigued by it. I finally picked it up a few weeks ago and sat down one Sunday night to start reading it. An hour later I closed the book, having read it all (and reread parts) in one sitting, feeling like I'd just been punched in the gut. But in a good way.

I had heard of Vaughan because my wife is a huge Joss Whedon fan. And I knew that the two of them had embarked on a sort of creator/writer swap of their respective love children: Runaways and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Vaughan created Runaways, then left the title and penned the "No Future for You" Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight Faith story arc. Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and stepped away from that title to helm Runaways, Volume 4.

Pride of Baghdad is on DC's Vertigo imprint. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight is published by Dark Horse. But Runaways is all Marvel. Originally produced under Marvel's short-lived Tsunami imprint, designed to capitalize on the popularity of manga, it quickly dissolved, and Runaways was folded into the Marvel Age/Marvel Adventures banner in that they are reproduced in the digest-sized trade paperbacks. But the monthly books and hardcover collections don't carry that banner.

The Runaways, Volume 1 hardcover collection tells the story of six only children -- teenagers -- who discover their parents are the supervillains called the Pride, a group working to bring about the end of humanity on behalf of the Gibborim. This 18 issue storyline follows the kids and their journey of discovering their parents aren't who they thought they were, their world isn't what it once seemed, and the person each of them can become. Oh, and did I mention we get an awesome two-issue Cloak and Dagger appearance in the middle of this thing?!

The bulk of the story arc contained in volume one of this hardcover collection takes place over just five fast and furious days. Although framed in the story's present tense, issue #13 is largely devoted to the history of the Pride by way of flashbacks. And the final issue of this collection seems to takes place a few months after the conclusion of issue #17.

While Marvel's X-titles have been milking the whole "mutations manifesting themselves in adolescence" allegorical angle for decades, Runaways takes a different tack. Vaughan sums up the themes explored in the title in his original premise for the book as "At some point in their lives, all young people believe that their parents are the most evil people alive. But what if they really are?" The result is a more literal, fresh approach, and thoroughly engaging read.

There is so much to recommend this book it's hard to know where to begin. For starters, I can't speak to whether or not Vaughan's writing is an accurate reflection of how teenagers talk these days, but I can say with certainty Vaughan's writing is an accurate reflection of how I think teenagers talk today. And the art... oh, man. The art! Adrian Alphona's interiors are perfect. Although the kids are the somewhat stereotypical California beautiful people type, Alphona is careful to never portray them as over sexualized. And Jo Chen's cover art is just beautiful, adding a hint of realism to her depictions.

The embarrassment of riches continues as it throws standard comic book super hero convention out the window by ignoring clichés like super heroes in costumes, using a team name, or even codenames. The kids of Runaways forego costumes for the more sturdy everyday wear of a teenager's lifestyle: jeans, cargo shorts, hoodies, goth wear, et cetera. This natural appearance helps ground the story in the reality of the adolescent world. Although they comment that they are runaways, I don't think the group ever actually refers to themselves as "The Runaways" in the proper noun sense. This falls right in line with the group's general aversion to using individual codenames for each other. Although at one point five of the six decide on codenames for themselves or each other, Runaway Gert and her pet seem to be the only ones to consistently use them and are called by their codenames. She justifies this because she doesn't want to use the "slave name" her evil parents gave her.

Although not a Marvel title, Y: The Last Man is another of Vaughan's works I am looking forward to checking out. I'm holding off for the hardcover collection scheduled for release this fall from Vertigo. Until then, I have my newly received Father's Day gifts from my wife to work my way through -- the second and third hardcover volumes of Runaways.

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