At one point or another, many teenagers think their parents are evil. In Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona’s Runaways series, these teens happen to be right. At their families’ annual gathering, they witness their parents committing a ritual sacrifice. They learn that their parents are actually part of a super villain group called The Pride, and that they themselves have inherited some super powers of their own.
I got hooked on this series after my sister, a fan of comic books and Brian K. Vaughn’s work in particular, lent me the first book. How amazing is this series? First, I absolutely love the diversity of the main cast. I don’t want to detail all the characters and their powers, as discovering their powers was part of what made Volume 1 so much fun, but I love that we have an African American lead (Alex), a badass Japanese girl (Nico), and a plus-size purple haired girl (Gert). Book 1 is all about them discovering their own powers and coming to terms with who their parents really are. As an origin story, it’s pretty much sheer joy just to see these teens test the limits of their strengths and see how their powers measure up against their parents. The ending also reveals a mole amongst the Runaways, who leaves an anonymous note supporting their parents’ vision.
Volume 2 takes a slight detour from the teens-vs-parents storyline, and takes the Runaways on a series of mini-adventures. A food run turns into a chance for the Runaways to become friendly neighbourhood superheroes, and this in turn leads to an encounter with handsome teen Topher, who claims to be running away from super villain parents just like them. Topher also creates some fun competition for Alex (and I think Karolina as well?) as he totally charms the pants off Nico. I’m still fully shipping Alex and Nico, but I found this love triangle an entertaining diversion from the large Pride story and Topher was honestly a welcome break from Alex’s super seriousness. Much like the way the Pride storyline as a whole touches on teenagers’ conflicted feelings about their parents, Topher and Nico also end up having some very real conversations. While the Runaways may feel alone in their battle against the Pride, Topher makes some good observations about teenage life in general, and the things we often long for as teenagers.
“B-list” Marvel heroes Cloak and Dagger also make an appearance in Book 2, as heroes sent by a cop on the Pride’s payroll to track down the Runaways. I’m not familiar with their story but I thought they, and their reactions to being called “B-list”, were hilarious. I also found the glimpse into Cloak’s human identity revealing, as was the results of Dagger unleashing her powers on Nico and some other Runaways. Their battle forced characters on both sides to confront themselves in uncomfortable ways, and that too felt like a very real part of a coming of age story.
Volume 3 is a solid enough ending to this arc, but it didn’t quite live up to the promise of Volume 1. I almost wish this storyline had been extended quite a bit more, as Volume 3 felt very much like an info dump followed up a bunch of loose ends being tied off. The mole is finally unmasked. Their identity was fairly easy enough to guess, and I thought their motivation made a lot of sense, but I’m disappointed with how this storyline ended. At the risk of spoilers, I would have loved to see the big reveal launch the next story arc, with the mole becoming the next big villain for the Runaways to face, but instead, this plot thread just somewhat fizzled to a close.
The Pride’s motivations also made sense, and I like the moral ambiguity of the selfish yet also somewhat noble reasons for what they did. The backstory wasn’t quite as strongly defined as it could have been, and felt more a convenient catchall to explain their odd actions. I’m also kinda sick of the Molly ex machina plot device, especially since her use of her powers feels very ad hoc. Finally, a cameo at the end may delight some fans, but I found it unnecessary, and worse, I thought it weakened the image of the Runaways as badass superheroes, which were built up so well over all three volumes, only to have them plummeted back to ultimately being just kids who need adults to step in.
Volume 3 ends with the promise of further adventures, and while I found Volume 3 disappointing, I still love these characters and am still curious about what they do next.
There’s also a TV show in the works. I’m imagining the on-screen version would have been more appealing to myself when I was younger, as I can imagine it being a CW/Disney channel type show, but the cast image looks pretty awesome.
Have you read any of Brian K. Vaughn’s work? I hear his other series Saga is really good, so I may give that a try next.