April 16, 2010

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Quick Hits: Runaways Volumes 1-3

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by the following:
Vol 1: Adrian Alphona, David Newbold and Craig Yeung
Vol 2: Adrian Alphona, David Newbold, Craig Yeung, and Takeshi Miyazawa
Vol 3: Adrian Alphona, David Newbold, and Craig Yeung
Marvel

It's not easy to make your mark on the Marvel Universe without playing with toys that Stan, Jack, Steve, Roy, John and to a lesser extent, Chris, John, Jim, and Peter didn't already build. Most of the time you get a chance to show you can put a new spin on things, but getting to start fresh doesn't happen very often.

Brian K. Vaughan manages to make this work, however, creating a group of teenage superheroes who grow up idolizing the heroes we all know and love, little knowing that their parents are just as evil as Doctor Doom or the Red Skull.

Through a variety of ways, the kids come to know the evil of their parents, and refuse to participate. Their only choice is to fight back! Can a band of kids just trying to figure out how to use their powers outwit a cabal of Californians? Heck, can they even keep it together long enough to try?

This series grabbed me because I seriously did not think it was possible to insert things into the Marvel Universe like this and make it work anymore. (Want an example of this not working? Go see just about any comic with the Sentry in it written by Bendis.) Vaughan is smart and sets it in a state that doesn't have a lot of heroes, California, which helps, but he's also careful not to try and make too many connections.

Sure, there are references to the rest of the Marvel U, and we even get a cult favorite set of guest stars, but there's no need to make this team run right into all the issues of the larger Marvel world. (In fact, when this finally happens, I think it mars the whole thing.) Marvel is a large place, and there's plenty of room for something like Runaways.

The key is to get a good writer who understands this. Vaughan does, and it shows. While it's always hard to get people to read something new, if it's good, by a quality writer, people will follow, at least some of the time. I'm glad that was the case with Runaways.

It helps that Vaughan puts together a strong plot that arcs perfectly over 3 trades or 18 issues, depending on how you look at it. There's a hard but not impossible goal, the team has classic Marvel conflict, and even in victory, there is defeat. It's written in a modern version of the Mighty Marvel Manner, with characters any reader can relate to, despite their powers.

On top of it, Vaughan also adds realistic touches about being teens on the run, and the various problems that might cause them. Done wrong, that would get in the way of the story. Instead, it adds a level to the proceedings that weaves in and out of her heroic narrative.

The artwork on this series is the only thing I'm not overly fond of. It's done in that style that feels too computerized to me, with characters that resemble figures from video games rather than comics. Your mileage may vary in that regard, but I don't care for it.

Runaways in its first incarnation here in these three trades is a wonderful, self-contained series that I would recommend to anyone. If you like Brian K. Vaughan's other series but haven't read these issues yet, it's time to give them a try. You'll be glad you did.