April 21, 2010

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Runaways Volume 8

Written by Joss Whedon
Illustrated by Michael Ryan, Rick Ketcham, Jay Leisten, Andrew Hennessy, Victor Olazaba, and Roland Paris
Marvel

Chased from their home in LA, the Runaways head to the Kingpin of Crime to get some help. This goes about as well as you'd think, and soon the team is hurtling back in time as a last-ditch escape effort. Stranded in 1907 and trying hard not to do anything to change the past, the team must deal with their own interpersonal problems as well as those of the turn of the century.

Can the Runaways team up with the capes of the early 20th Century to make old New York a better place? Or are things just going to get worse? Our band of kids are strained even further as Joss Whedon takes them to places they'd never thought they'd go, and face decisions with heavy consequences.

I feel like I need to start this with a disclosure that I don't really care for Joss Whedon's work, in comics and otherwise. I did not like Buffy at all, making me perhaps the only person on the geeky part of the earth to feel that way. His Astonishing X-Men turned characters on their head to tell the story he wanted, a pet peeve of mine. So I can't say I approached this trade with relish, the way that I'm sure most fans of Whedon did.

On top of that, Whedon picks one of the plots I generally dislike the most--time travel. I'm just not a fan because of how hard you have to work to make the logic consistent. Now there's two strikes against this one, and I haven't even started reading it yet.

After finishing it, I admit to being pleasantly surprised. Whedon captures the essence of Runaways in a manner far better than I expected. Perhaps it was my lowered hopes, but I think he made a good successor to Vaughan, and I actually wish he'd written more than one arc.

While Whedon does feel the need to make one of the female characters (Nico, in this case) into a take-no-prisoners badass, it was done a lot better than I was expecting. He also keeps the pop culture references to a minimum and sticks to the subplots already set up by Vaughan as opposed to jumping in and creating his own.

About the only thing that I think he misses is the number of action scenes. Vaughan was a master of keeping the action moving without going into a big superhero battle with splash pages. Whedon gives those who like superhero battles a lot more show here, which lessens the impact of seeing the Runaways fight and moves them further from their motto. Still, if the biggest sin is having the team fight ninjas and show a rival steampunk superhero war, I think I can forgive him.

Though how they get to the past is a bit contrived (I'm not convinced the Runaways make a deal with Wilson Fisk, when there's still the New Avengers out there), it was fun to see the team's reaction to fighting a legend like the Punisher. Whedon's characterization of the Kingpin is spot-on, which kinda makes me want to see him try his hand at a Daredevil or Spider-Man story with Fisk at the center of it. Once they are in the past, Whedon is given free reign to create a whole host of cool new characters that fit the time period, and he doesn't disappoint.

"The Difference Engine," a Punisher analog, and a character that looks like a classic figure from the newspapers are just a few of the things we get to see in this past world. None of them have large roles to play, but they show that while I don't always care for how Whedon uses his ideas, he's certainly a master at creating them.

Whedon is also quite good at setting up his time period, and how a modern teen might react to it. Molly calls it "ass" and given the sweatshops, abusive marriages, disease, and other issues, that about sums it up. He gives the reader just enough reality to show how awful things were without getting too preachy. Similarly, none of the characters spend an overly long time seeing the evils of the past. Whedon spreads it out, and lets each person's unique take on things react to the circumstances.

I think the best part of this trade, however, is the way in which Whedon uses the history of the team to tell his story. When the Runaways get to the past, they still have to face parts of the Pride, whether they want to or not. That was a nice touch, and again builds on the foundation that Vaughan laid. Even the idea of regretting your actions is a common theme that Whedon uses to good measure, both for the Runaways and for a character they meet along the way.

Despite a change in writers, Runaways continues to be very good. If I can be this happy with a story from a creator I'm not overly fond of, I can't wait to see how Terry Moore, a creator I like, does with the team. (I also may give Whedon another chance based on this.) Runaways is a great series that anyone who loves comics should be reading. If you are a big Joss Whedon fan, this needs to go on your reading list.