At some point in your life, you’ve probably felt like your parents were evil. Maybe they didn’t buy you the toy you wanted, scolded you for staying out past curfew or disapproved of your current love interest. In the moment, they were the worst, but you usually got over it and realized your parents were usually just trying to do the right thing. But what do you do if they’re literally super villains? This is the conundrum that Alex, Nico, Gertrude, Chase, Karolina and Molly faced in the first arc of Runaways by Marvel Comics. This initial conflict would be the start of a great adventure for some of Marvel’s unlikeliest superheroes.
Right off the bat, their youth is a big differentiator from most superhero stories. Most of the crew are in their teen years, while Molly hasn’t quite hit puberty. Being young in the early 2000s makes them way more hip to the times and wary of authoritarian figures of all sorts, but their lack of life experience plays a big role in their adventures. Though the series would be written by multiple writers, I love how this group consistently doesn’t necessarily have the knowledge or maturity to immediately work through any of the challenges they face. Instead, they fumble through a lot before ultimately rising to the occasion while doing a bit of growing up in the process.
Speaking of inexperience, these kids are not natural superheroes. Up until the conflict with their parents, all of them think they’re regular human beings. As the story moves, they each find things about themselves that make them unique. Molly, for instance, discovers that she’s a mutant with super strength, though she gets uncontrollably sleepy when she overexerts herself. Nico gains the ability to wield a magic staff, though it only lets her use a spell once. Over the course of the series, their extraordinary powers are rarely used to their fullest potential, as these are still just kids with no combat training. This approach is much more endearing versus the more familiar prodigy model that’s prevalent in many young superheroes.
Sometimes, the writers of Runaways lean a bit too heavily on the teen angle. In particular, I think Brian K Vaughan’s work on Volume 1 lays on the pop culture slang and references a bit too thick. I remember already being out of the age bracket for the time when this was written, so it did make it harder for me to connect with. However, he and the writers after that initial story found a sweet spot where they could tell stories about the teen struggle that more people could relate to.
One of my favourite aspects of the series is the way in which the group ties into the greater Marvel universe. When these kids cross paths with recognizable heroes, they view them as rock stars, but want little to do with their preaching or notions of splitting them up. There’s one particular arc in the series that takes place in New York that’s particularly strong, as it involves the group interacting with the likes of Spider-Man and the Avengers in hilarious ways.
Over the span of 60-some-odd issues, the roster is shaken up, but the core concepts of what makes the series great persists. I think it loses some steam towards the end, as new writers are brought in to try and freshen up the formula with mixed success. However, taken as a whole, it’s a great read and probably one of Marvel’s most underrated efforts. Trying to find the individual issues is probably a nightmare at this point, though they’ve been packaged nicely in large trade paperbacks relatively recently. These books aren’t hard to find and they cover all of the main line stuff and a few extras.
Since the series ended, characters from Runaways have popped up elsewhere. Most recently, Nico plays a key role in A-Force, the new all-female Avengers team that debuted as part of Secret Wars. Karolina is part of that team as well. Molly shows up in the Runaways title as part of Secret Wars, though its relation to the source material is barely tangential at best. Besides Molly, it’s a completely different world, with a completely different cast of young misfits fighting against a different authoritarian figure. I hope that as the series progresses, they’ll find ways of making it call back to the source better, though I won’t hold my breath.
In any case, I’m glad to see that these kids still have a place in the Marvel universe. They had a great run with the Runaways series that provided something special for a young adult demographic and comic fans of all sorts. I don’t know if it makes sense to bring the band back together in 2015, but their stories from the past still hold up. Definitely check it out if you haven’t already!