Thoughts on Runaways #1 (2017) – “Find Your Way Home”

Runaways #1

The Runaways have been out of circulation for a while, but with a new Hulu series on the way it is time for a return.  Is Runaways #1 a worthy successor to the beloved series?

Runaways #1

Runaways #1 Cover“Find Your Way Home”
Writer: Rainbow Rowell
Artist: Kris Anka
Colorist: Matthew Wilson

Cover Price: $3.99

Release Date: September 13, 2017

Amazon/Comixology Link

Collected in: Runaways

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!

Background

In 2003 Marvel launched the “Tsunami” imprint as an attempt to create new properties while also leveraging some less popular existing characters.  Among these were some solid books like Mystique and Sentinel, and some outright failures like Venom and Human Torch.  None of them have had the enduring legacy that Runaways has had, despite never reaching the sales numbers its critical success suggests it should have.

Written by a new-at-the-time writer, Brian Vaughan, the Runaways grabbed a lot of buzz for its intelligent story and solid, mature take on traditional young adult plots.  In many ways it read like a more grounded (by Marvel Universe standards) take on a typical Scooby-Doo episode, and it actually worked.  The mystery of who the traitor within the team would be also kept many people focused on the book for the two years it took to resolve that plotline.

The series was rebooted back to issue one after the first eighteen issue run, with Brian Vaughan and artist Adrian Alphona putting together eighteen more issues for the young heroes.  Near the end of that run the Runaway Gertrude Yorkes was killed.  The original creative team left the book shortly after that, and the Runaways drifted through a few more reboots and mini-series before finally disappearing around 2010.  The characters would make appearances in other books from time to time — most prominently in Avengers Arena and its sequels — but the Runaways themselves were gone.

Jump to 2017 and the Runaways will be making the jump to the small screen in a Hulu 10-episode series. Given that the series is due out in November and we haven’t gotten much more than few teasers for the series I think fans have a lot to be worried about, but we’ll have to wait to see how that pans out. However, since Marvel is still convinced that people will come into the comic shop to read their books after seeing their shows and movies that means we are getting a new Runaways comic series.  Further, since the show will feature the dearly deceased Gertrude Yorkes (and presumably her pet velociraptor, Old Lace) that means that Gertrude is due for a revival.  Despite the fact that no one has seemed particularly concerned about her for more than a decade.

Initial Thoughts

The core problem with the Runaways as an idea has always been that the original pitch — kids who discover their parents are super-villains, plus one of the kids is a traitor — had a limited story arc.  Brian Vaughan proved he understood that fact by wrapping both plots up by the end of the first series.  After those were wrapped up the gang was left aimless.  This was remedied a bit by giving them a “save the cheerleader, save the world quest“, but even that couldn’t maintain the momentum for too long.  Eventually the series was handed off from writer to writer in an attempt to salvage it, but nothing ever stuck.

This new volume of Runaways has a lot to prove in both living up to the standards set by Brian Vaughan and also in giving the Runaways a purpose.  Both of these questions the first issue of this new series blatantly ignores.  The entire issue is devoted to the single task of bringing Gertrude Yorkes back to life so the comics can match the show.  It is possible that there is foreshadowing going on that we are missing at the moment, but thus far literally everything in this issue is about meeting that one objective.  Even the doctor who saves Gertrude isn’t given a name, and she is essentially just a living plot device that leads up to a single (quite humorous) visual gag.

At the moment it’s hard to say how much of this issue is the result of pressure by Marvel to get Gertrude into circulation, and how much is the responsibility of writer Rainbow Rowell.  I am not familiar with her works at this time, but her past stories do seem to get a fair bit of praise so I’m willing to lean towards the former possibility at the moment.  Issue two will be the real test of this series as we (hopefully) learn what the long-term plot of the series will be.  For now this just reads like a one-shot that got shoe-horned into being an introduction to a new series.

Given that the plot is just window dressing for getting the Runaways to where Marvel wants them for the rest of the series the actual story isn’t half bad.  Rainbow Rowell gets a few funny moments out of her small cast, and she does seem to have a good grasp on Nico Minoru’s powers and their limitations.  Nico is an interesting character to examine from a writer’s perspective since she is someone who gets more problematic the longer she is in circulation.  She can cast spells to do almost anything she can think of, but she can only cast each spell once.  Since she has now existed since 2003 that does mean all the basics (“heal”, “fireball”) have long since been exhausted.  You can get around this with semantics (saying “heal” in a different language, for instance), but that still only gets you so far.  I am frankly amazed they haven’t removed the “one time only” restriction off her powers yet (especially since Wiccan has basically the same powers without the restriction), but I applaud the writers and editors for not doing so.

Kris Anka and Matthew Wilson have taken over on art for the title, and they’ve done an admirable job of mimicking the original series while keeping it from being a rip-off.  They lose a lot of the cartoony lines that dominated Adrian Alphona’s work, but everything is still identifiable as a “Runaways” style.  There are parts that don’t always work as well as they should, with lips and mouths in particular looking rather awkward.  Overall, though, the art does a good job of conveying the action.

The Classic Runaways in Runaways #1 (2017)

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day I am not entirely convinced this is a book that needs to exist.  If I were still working in a comic shop my inclination would be to point potential new readers in the direction of the original Runaways comics by Brian Vaughan and Adrian Alphona.  This issue serves the function of bring Gertrude back into rotation, but it fails at explaining why this is important beyond the human level of “Chase is really sad his almost-girlfriend died 10 years ago”.  There is virtually no mention of Molly Hayes, Lucy in the Sky or any other members of the Runaways outside of Chase, Gertrude and Nico.  If I were coming into this from the Hulu show I would have no idea what is going on or why I should care.  Although there is nothing wrong with the story — it is well told with a good grasp of the characters that are present — it needs to justify why people should buy future issues.  And it doesn’t.

Runaways #1 (2017)

3.99
65

Runaways #1 Final Score

7/10

    Pros

    • The characters who are present are well written
    • The writing is witty

    Cons

    • Does virtually nothing to explain the concept of the Runaways
    • Lack of any plot outside the immediate story
    • Where are Molly and the other Runaways?