This review is pretty incoherent and not structured as well as I would like. You’ve been warned.
This is going to be a very lengthy, multi-part review of Marvel Comics’ Runaways and is going to contain a huge amount of spoilers as well as lots of details sprinkled throughout the story relevant to my interests. If you’ve never read these comics, I can’t recommend them enough. Runaways is different from other comic books in the sense that the entire story is character driven, continuous, with good emotional content, and they are not trying to be superheroes. There isn’t a huge battle every issue and there really isn’t much involvement with the rest of the Marvel Universe. This entire series functions as a standalone, though other Marvel Comics characters do show up throughout the series. Here’s a link to Rainbow Rowell’s webpage with information on how to read Runaways if you’ve never heard of it and don’t know how to get started.
While mostly focusing on Runaways: Pride and Joy (Runaways 2003 #1-6), comments about the entire series will show up in this review. Written by Brian K. Vaughn, pencils by Adrian Alphona, inks by David Newbold and Craig Yeung, colors by Brian Reber, letters by Paul Tutrone, Chris Eliopoulous, and Randy Gentile, cover art by Jo Chen, collection cover by Takeshi Miyazawa and Brian Reber, assistant editors Stephanie Moore and Mackenzie Cadenhead, and editor C.B. Cebulski.
“Six normal teenagers, linked only by their wealthy parents’ annual business meeting, discover a shocking truth: Their parents are the secret criminal society known as the Pride! For years, the Pride has controlled all criminal activity in Los Angeles, ruling the city with an iron fist. They’ll take any measure necessary to protect their organization and pass on their legacy – but the kids aren’t interested. Together, they run away from home and straight into the adventure of their lives – vowing to turn the tables on their evil legacy.”
Back in late August/early September of 2019, I was travelling on a work trip and I had some time to kill. I found myself in a bookstore (because, really, where else would I go?). I didn’t really feel like picking up a book so I started browsing the graphic novel section, seeing if anything caught my eye. And something did. I remembered seeing something maybe once mentioning good things about a title called Runaways by Marvel Comics. The bookstore had two sets of Runaways trade paperbacks, one numbered 1-9 and a second numbered 1-2. I read the most recent trade paperback, Runaways: Best Friends Forever (which is not going to be discussed in this review but once I write a review up for it, I’ll link it here).
I didn’t know anything about the characters or the story. I had no idea what happened previously. Reading this book addicted me to the entire series. But reading this book before reading anything else in the story probably had a significant impact on my reading of the rest of the story, as I then went back and started at the beginning. The ending of the “Best Friends Forever” storyline definitely skewed what I wanted to see happen in the rest of the series so starting at the beginning after reading this most likely had me looking for clues that may or may not have been intentional throughout the first series of the Runaways.
The story begins with the introduction of Alex Wilder, a computer gamer and the Runaways’ planner. He functions as the catalyst for the Runaways running away and then takes on the responsibilities as their leader. During the Pride’s annual meeting, Alex convinces the others to go with him through a secret passage in his house to spy on their parents. While at the beginning of the story, he complains about the other 5 teenagers, especially about the white guy (Chase Stein) and the dorky girl (Nico Minoru), his attitude changes when Nico shows up having completed a full makeover, designing her own clothes and developing a keen sense of style. Both Alex and Karolina Dean comment on how hot she looks now but it’s obvious Alex had zero interest in pursuing her until she was attractive to him. Karolina, on the other hand, shows interest in Nico from the very beginning, even before the Runaways run away as a flashback from volume 1 issue 17, where she is asking Nico about wearing contacts while Alex sneaks into the secret passage.
Alex always has just the right information to keep the group moving, making sure Molly Hayes and Karolina don’t witness Destiny’s murder at the hands of their parents, and then sending Gert Yorkes with Molly to the bathroom so she doesn’t learn about the murder while the rest of the teens tell Karolina. Nico tries to break the news gently but Chase blurts out the murder. Alex also starts volunteering himself and Nico to pair off, often away from the eyes of the others, and Nico kisses him volume 1 issue 5. Alex is the one who gets the group together after they witness the murder, but it’s Karolina’s idea to meet at the planetarium. Nico follows Alex’s lead and they vote to call the cops, which cues their parents into their knowledge of Destiny’s murder. Alex also convinces them to check Gert’s house for the body in the box Nico and Alex carried to the car at the end of the Pride meeting, and then to Karolina’s house, but then Chase suggests they go to his house before Molly’s.
This chain of events reveals Old Lace, Gert’s deinonychus, and Karolina’s alien heritage before the Runaways encounter with the Minorus and the Steins, which also winds up giving Chase the fistigons and x-ray goggles and Nico gets the Staff of One stabbed into her chest by her mother. After the confrontation, Alex convinces Nico to leave her unconscious parents and the Runaways make an escape, only to take Alex’s idea to attack their parents at the Hayes house in order to rescue Molly. Once Molly is revealed as a mutant with super human strength, all the Runaways have revealed their powers with the exception of Alex.
I have to admit that Chase is my least favorite of the Runaways, especially in the first issues. He does a remarkable job of being a stereotypical heterosexual cisgender teenager, focused mainly on shallow attractiveness and sports.
I didn’t really have much reaction to Gert and Molly for this first book, but I did like Gert’s realism, though not her “whiny” introduction.
A good portion of my attention in this first book was on the interactions between Nico and Karolina and Nico and Alex, mostly for what happens in Best Friends Forever (volume 5 issues 7-12).
In volume 1 issue 2, Nico makes a comment while they’re in the back of the van about how she has a physical stress reaction with food and I believe that translates into a physical stress reaction in general, as she kisses Alex for the first time when she believes they’re all going to die in volume 1 issue 5. She will continue to have these kind of reactions with every male the Runaways encounter throughout the series.
The entire series, Karolina just goes along with what the rest of the Runaways are doing, though mostly just following Nico’s lead. Even Karolina’s mother in the beginning of the series says that Karolina doesn’t have the spine for a fight, and she really doesn’t. Karolina is used mostly throughout the series as a pretty, conventionally attractive blonde who can hide her alien powers and gets hounded by paparazzi for being the child of prominent actors. She never has her own agency and is often just used as a “dumb blonde” stereotype with no ambition or story of her own. I would also say that Karolina is pretty much the most passive character in the Runaways, never really taking action on her own, always waiting for someone to suggest something and then following along.
While it’s mentioned in volume 1 issue 18 that Nico and Karolina were both in therapy, neither of them indicate this is healthy therapy at all.
Waaaay back in Runaways volume 1 issue #3, when Karolina finds out about her powers that she’s probably an alien, her first comment is to say, “I wish we’d never learned about any of this! I was much happier being in the dark! I hope our parents *do* kill us now!” And then in volume 1 issue #10, when they have to deal with Topher the vampire, Karolina offers herself up so that he doesn’t feed on anyone else. She doesn’t do it because her blood is basically sunshine but because she doesn’t believe she’s a good person and she doesn’t want to be around to get worse. After things with Cloak and Dagger (Runaways volume 1 issues 11-12) go badly, Karolina goes from wanting to punch bad guys to feel better to wanting the adult superheroes to deal with their situation, as she doesn’t feel like she has any fight left in her. And then in volume 1 issue 13 where Karolina finds out that her parents’ reaction to having a kid is to think about how having a child would likely get her parents on the cover of People, it only serves to devalue Karolina in her own eyes even more.
Overall, this first book of the Runaways is different than other comic books in the sense that it’s telling a coherent story. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to read this as it came out because you wouldn’t have been able to read any of this story without having read the previous issues because this is an actual story, with a set beginning, middle, and end, unlike the rest of the comic book world that just keeps going forever with a “villain-of-the-week” or “random personality changes to create a plot” kind of thing. I am absolutely glad I own this and I definitely reread it frequently.