Runaways: Teenage Wasteland by Brian K. Vaughan
Almost every teenager has a point where he or she decides that parents are either evil, or the lackeys of evil. In the case of six young people in Marvel’s RUNAWAYS, they discover to their shock that their parents truly are, and not just garden variety evil, either; the parents are costumed super-villains. At the end of the first volume of this comic book series collection, the Runaways have gathered information and weapons, and have gone into hiding in a secret hideout. Unbeknownst to them, though, one of them is still loyal to the parental crime syndicate called the Pride.
In Volume Two, Teenage Wasteland, the group begins to coalesce, although internal conflicts prove almost as big a problem as the external ones, problems such as parents, corrupt cops and, in the second section, a pair of east-coast super-heroes flown in to track them down.
This is classic Marvel territory; take a bunch of “superstars,” throw them together, and watch as they struggle to become a team. Not that the Runaways are superstars, exactly; Alex has no “super-powers” at all, just high intelligence and superb strategic and tactical skills. Karolina is an alien who can fly and who glows, which is pretty powerful, but Gertrude (or “Arsenic,” as she prefers) relies mostly on her telepathic connection with her velociraptor. Molly, at eleven, is the youngest of the group, and her mutant powers are mostly untried. Chase, the slacker, is a natural athlete and the gauntlets he stole from his evil inventor parents shoot fire. Niko, daughter of two powerful sorcerers, uses the Staff of One to work magic, but it seems as if she can’t repeat a spell once she’s used it.
Chase and Alex have testosterone issues, and Karolina and Niko both seem to be vying for the “popular girl” title. Gert’s abrasiveness irritates everyone but Molly. In spite of their differences, they pull together when a stop at a convenience store lands them in the middle of a robbery. The group rescues Christopher or “Topher” as he prefers, whose parents, changed by a biohazard accident, have become criminals and forced him to help. They bring Christopher back to their hideout, where, as you might expect, he is more of a disruption than an ally.
This story is not as suspenseful as it could have been, but the reactions and the relationships are believable for young people. The colors in this book are absolutely beautiful, and mostly the drawings by Adrian Alphona are good, although there were times I had trouble distinguishing the characters. Chase, for some reason, tends to fade into the background sometimes. The story works because it turns introspective, shifting the focus away from the outer obstacles to the rifts within the group, and this is vital because one of them is loyal to the Pride.
In the second chaper, “Lost and Found,” on-the-take cop Flores enlists the help of two superheroes; Cloak and Dagger. I did not realize that Cloak and Dagger were actual Marvel characters, but they are, and they were both runaways, so this is a nice bit of resonance. While the two heroes begin their search, the Runaways themselves bicker a bit about their next course of action. Alex wants to focus on deciphering the book he stole from his parents; Chase and Molly want to become true crime-fighters. This choice takes them on a collision course with Dagger and Cloak. There is plenty of dry humor about the older heroes, and lots of play on east-coast versus west-coast. Here, the artwork, especially the depiction of the two vintage heroes, is well done. Cloak can use his cloak to manipulate space, and the swirls of black beautifully evoke the motion of travel. The best page, however, is where Gert and Molly confront the two, with Molly in her homemade superhero costume, saying, “Give us back our friends… or freaking else.” Old Lace, the raptor, stands behind Gert, ready to pounce.
The Pride, in their search for their children, gets quite a bit of time in this volume. They are an interesting group; each couple desperate to find their own child, but willing to sacrifice others’ for their cause. They demonstrate a nice balance of parental love and selfishness; villains, yes, but villains with some values. This makes them even more frightening, because they are not complete soulless monsters.
While the first story lacks momentum, overall this volume does a good job of advancing the plot and increasing the jeopardy for our six heroes. Their situation is forcing these young people not only to grow up, but also to look deeply within.
The series continues to provide enjoyment and suspense.