The Runaways are back! One of Marvel’s best teams of young heroes has been through a lot, both in their comics and in their post-team runs, but with the live action show in the near future, now’s a good time for them to return. And while we might have lost some members in other comics (RIP, Victor), we may be getting one back.
You know what else we’ll be getting? Spoilers. You have been warned.
Written by Rainbow Rowell
Illustrated by Kris Anka
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
GET READY TO RUN! The “IT” book of the early 2000s with the original cast is back – Nico! Karolina! Molly! Chase! Old Lace! And, could it be? GERT?! The heart of the Runaways died years ago, but you won’t believe how she returns! Superstar author Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park, Carry On) makes her Marvel debut with fan-favorite artist Kris Anka (ALL-NEW X-MEN, CAPTAIN MARVEL) in the series that will shock you and break your heart!
A first issue is an important thing – it’s supposed to introduce characters, plot points, and the general overall tone. For a revival of a series as beloved as “Runaways,” it’s equally important for showcasing how the characters have grown and how true they are to their roots. What “Runaways” does is not reunite the team in some epic world-saving moment, but just focuses on two (technically three) characters, which accomplishes all of the above in a much more personal manner.
By using a single member of the team as the point-of-view character (in this case, Nico Minoru), we’re given an intimate look into her life as it is now; the teams she was a part of, her current conditions, regrets, concerns, and so on. It helps the reader form an intimate connection with her in just a few panels, made even stronger by the illustrations in each one. We’re given wide shots of a mostly empty apartment, blocks of instant ramen, and pictures of teams past; Kris Anka’s artwork does a fine job setting the scene and communicating the meaning of everything in it, utilizing emptiness in a nicely symbolic manner.
When the story kicks off, there’s no major villain to fight, no disaster to avert. Rather, it’s just a matter of saving one life, a life that means a lot to the characters involved and past readers of “Runaways.” Those coming in fresh may not be familiar with Gert, but the dialogue quickly covers the important bases to catch readers up in a way that feels natural.
Rainbow Rowell’s use of narration intermingled with dialogue works well, adding an extra voice to the mix. While it explains certain things to the readers, such as the Staff of One’s rules and powers, it does so while working with each panel, either adding a bit of description to the wordless panels or providing a narrator’s voice intermingled with the other characters, like the chorus of a Greek drama; it has just enough snark to it that it matches the comic’s tone, without simply spelling things out for the reader. The characters all have solid, clear voices, and none of the dialogue feels clunky; it’s natural while still keeping a good conversational flow.
Similarly, the artwork suits the comic nicely. In addition to the scenery and establishing shots, Kris Anka’s character designs are all solid, maintaining a good sense of style and personality to each of them. They’re properly expressive, with just the right amount of subtlety to each look, and even though they’ve grown, they’re still the characters we all know and love. It’s backed up by the nice color work from Matthew Wilson, keeping things easy on the eye while still making it pop where it needs to.
Once the “Runaways” story gets moving, the characters are on a short time limit, and the pacing picks up to match it. The dialogue is quick, and the tension can be felt from each panel. The artwork will often move in close to the characters, giving us just one person and speech bubble per panel, adding to the sense of urgency and haste. The close-ups also serve well to show Kris Anka’s work on their expressions, from the doctor’s clenched teeth to Nico trying to hold back her tears.Continued below
Matthew Wilson’s color work enhances these scenes nicely, with the drab colors of the room contrasting with the mystical glow of Nico’s magic, and even the bright red of the doctor’s pajamas (no time for scrubs when you’re magically teleported in). The color scheme feels very natural and blends nicely, but he does a fine job adjusting the brightness as each moment requires.
Furthermore, Nico’s use of the Staff of One is handled well in both writing and art. It’s one of the most interesting items in the Marvel universe, given its ability to do almost anything… once. The trick is always coming up with new ways to phrase it, and as Rainbow Rowell makes clear on several occasions, there’s only so many ways to phrase a specific need. The tension in “Runaways” is increased as Nico struggles to find new ways to cast certain spells, often coming up with clever ways to word her needs. Can’t cast “heal” or “stitches” to repair an aorta? Cast “New aorta” and replace it altogether! Need to send someone home? Hit them with a “Dorothy Gale,” because there’s no place like home. It’ll take some smart thinking to make the most out of the staff, but that’s half the fun in reading about it (and, I must assume, writing it).
Once more, Kris’s illustrations and Matthew’s color work enhance those scenes as well. Each glow of the staff and Nico’s eyes has a real power behind it, and there’s an intensity to when she swings the staff or holds it aloft. There’s a particularly stunning moment where the panel is framed so that the staff’s circular top piece is in the center of the panel, and Nico’s face is visible through it. Her eyes closed in concentration, we see a bright glow and a mystical blue aura emanate from the staff, adding a sense of power to the moment, before the colors shift to a red tint in the next panel while Gert struggles for her life.
When it’s all said and done, we’re given a little time to unwind and catch up with the characters. That’s when the illustrations can let us see the characters from more angles, and the dialogue can begin raising and partially answering questions. How did Chase affect time when he traveled back in it to save Gert? How does he justify his decisions? And what’s going on with Nico’s hand?
Actually, that last one is a good question, because Chase calls her out on needing to talk about it, but nothing in the comic until that point had indicated there was anything wrong with her hand, neither in art nor narration. Perhaps I’m missing something, having not read “Avengers Arena” or “A Force,” but it seemed like an odd thing to bring up without any foreshadowing.
Overall, though, “Runaways” has an emotional first issue all the way through. While we don’t get to see the entire team (even if we don’t include those who are still dead or off-planet), it’s okay to keep it small at first, and expand to bring in everyone in the coming issues. The issue’s priority was the matter of Gert, and her rescue/revival will almost certainly be the catalyst that gets the story moving, so it’s a fine place to start from both a story perspective and an emotional, character-driven level.
It may be too soon to say anything definitive, but issue #1 is a good start for “Runaways,” and it’s not too soon to start feeling optimistic about this run.
Final Verdict: 7.3 – An intense, emotional start, backed up by strong dialogue, illustration, and color work. The Runaways are back, baby!