By Jesse Schedeen Sept. 14, 2017
As frustrating as it is to see the Runaways franchise remain dormant for so long, can you really blame Marvel? So much of the appeal of the original series boiled down to the creative mojo between Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona. It's telling that even bringing a writer as beloved as Joss Whedon on board wasn't enough to keep the momentum going once the original creators left. At long last, Marvel seems ready to give the team another go. And the results are promising, even if this series may have limited appeal for those not already familiar with the characters.
The new volume of Runaways features a mix of new and familiar for Marvel readers. YA novelist Rainbow Rowell joins forces with Captain Marvel artist Kris Anka for a series whose main goal seems to be bringing the old gang back together. Even the late Gertrude Yorkes, whose death proved to be the single most devastating moment in the Vaughan/Alphona run, and who's apparent resurrection at the end of the previous series has been an open-ended mystery ever since. This first issue is concerned almost exclusively with tackling the Gert dilemma and explaining her return.
That unexpectedly narrow focus makes for a slightly weird first issue. Only a handful of the characters on the cover actually appear. Rowell makes little attempt to introduce the team, their place in the Marvel U. or explain the significance of the events and relationships being explored here. In some ways this is a refreshing approach, given how formulaic first issues of team books can be. Still, this issue is oddly abrupt in the way it suddenly dives right into the Gert mystery without bothering to touch base with any character other than Nico beforehand. It behaves as if it's merely the first chapter of a normal story arc and not the first proper Runaways comic in eight years.
But this issue does accomplish its most important task, which is showing that Marvel found the right team to shoulder this difficult challenge. Rowell's characterization of Nico stands out right away. She successfully paints a picture of a once-promising young heroine who's bounced between teams and now finds herself adrift and at loose ends. Rowell also does a terrific job of conveying the struggle in being a witch who can only cast a given spell once. Faced with a desperate situation, Nico has to think creatively as she realizes she's used up the familiar standards. It's a shame we don't get a better sense of the team dynamic (especially with this series apparently only being planned for six issues), but there's no reason to assume Rowell won't show an equally strong handle on the rest of the gang.
Finding the right artist for Runaways may be even trickier than the writer. Alphona set a strong example early on, establishing Runaways as a book about teen heroes who actually look like teens. Each character has to be distinctive in both physical appearance and fashion sense. With that in mind, Anka really does seem like the ideal fit for this book. He has a strong eye for fashion and design in his work. He knows how to craft a superhero comic that looks trendy yet authentic. And there's a real sense here that the Runaways have physically aged and changed since their early adventures. They look older. They carry more weight, both physical and emotional. Much like Miles Morales under Sara Pichelli's hand, it's like these characters are growing up right in front of us.
The most impressive quality to the art is that Anka is able to convey this information in such an efficient way. His style is very sleek, angular and even minimalist in some ways. This isn't a comic that's burdened by excessive lines. Anka's art is sharp and crisp, and whatever depth might be lacking in his line-work is capably provided by colorist Matthew Wilson.
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