April 20, 2010

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Runaways Volume 7

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by Adrian Alphona, Mike Norton, and Craig Yeung
Marvel

Vaughan's swan song on the series he created starts with the creation of monsters both literal and metaphoric and ends with the ways of stopping them, as the team grows up in light of their personal tragedies and the events of the civil war. While the majority of the team works to stop a huge monster trying to recreate the past, will Chase make a decision that echoes that of the creature the Runaways wish to stop? And can this ever-dysfunctional team manage to keep it together long enough to save the day?

I wasn't sure about coming back to Runaways after having the crossover with the Young Avengers run my feelings for them into the ground. I think they got a really bad treatment during the big crossover, and I wasn't sure how how Vaughan would handle that. (He does it by basically ignoring it ever happened, giving the story only a passing reference. I think this was a smart plan.) Further, with the Joss Whedon arc on deck, I seriously considered just calling it a day for this series and moving on.

I'm glad I didn't, because this is yet another solid story from Vaughan, taking advantage of the characters he's created to tell a mirrored story about the desire to make things as they were. Anyone who tries is doomed to fail, and though in both cases the concept is taken to an extreme, it's clear what Vaughan thinks of the idea. We may not conjure up a period-conscious monster that resembles Godzilla, but the damage we can cause emotionally trying to turn back the clock is often just as devastating.

Chase's walk down the road of evil makes sense, because he's always been the one who seemed the "bad boy" of the group. It can be hard to make the reader think that a hero is going to do something truly awful, but Vaughan pulls it off perfectly. Chase's lines, his motivation, and his actions all show that he's gone off the deep end, without a single part of it feeling forced or contrived. The interplay between Chase and those who encounters on his quest are exactly how modern comics should sound--real within context.

I also appreciate that Vaughan recognizes some of the tropes he's using and tries to acknowledge it. Chase wants to know the catch in the deal he's making, for instance, and the Runaways themselves take some time to debate if they are willing to risk their lives just to save corporate symbols. This gives him a chance to talk about why people are heroes, which is always worth seeing from each writer's perspective. (I also can't help but wonder if his comment about how the Runaways fight C-listers was a subtle commentary on dragging them into the larger Marvel U kicking and screaming.)

By far the best parts of this volume are those with Molly. She's the youngest and strongest and doesn't share the other characters' need to keep things to herself. Molly gleefully asks for more sugar, delights in winning Risk (without knowing the real-life strategic positions of the counties involved), and bluntly notes that they only get new members when "someone dies." She finds dinosaur pee gross, but is serious enough to know that Gert was the glue holding the group together. Vaughan's always done a great job with her, but this was one of his best uses of Molly.

Though this volume is action-packed, there's not a lot of fighting. Vaughan uses a lot of personal encounters to move the story this time, especially in relation to Chase. This is not a comic that uses its characters' powers to battle all the time. Arguably, it's more dramatic because the interactions can pack a bigger punch than Molly when she's on a sugar high. That was another thing that Wells got wrong. The Runaways aren't about how often they use their powers, it's about a group of teenagers trying to find their way in a world that turned upside down on them.

One thing that did not turn upside down was the consistency of the art. While I'm not a big fan of Adrian Alphona's art, he did manage to draw just about all of the Runways crafted by Vaughan. That's pretty impressive. His art is too stilted for my taste, but it gets the job done. Mike Norton's fill-in issues look much like Alphona's probably due to having the same inker. We rarely see an artist stay with a project this long, but it definitely helped the series to have this continuity.

I don't know what Vaughan might have planned for the Runaways if he had kept with it, but his seven volumes are all very good. He managed to find a way to open up the Marvel U without making it seem forced. Vaughan also showed that a good capes comic doesn't have to be about multi-page splash scenes if you don't want it to be. Anyone who can weave Pat Benatar into a clever epilogue should be given credit. I really enjoyed Runaways, and I'm curious to see what happens when Whedon takes over. The poor guy has a pretty big act to follow.