Runaways Vol. 1-3

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Penciled by Adrian Alphona, with Takeshi Miyazawa
Inked by Craig Yeung and David Newbold
144 pages, color
Published by Marvel Comics

In 2003, a group of new titles debuted from Marvel under the promotional heading of “Tsunami”. It was an apt name, with the titles being unleashed on retailers and consumers alike as a massive wave, making it hard for many of the books to grab people’s attention in the sudden flood of new creations. Probably the most critically-successful book was Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s Runaways. With the entire 18-issue run now collected in three low-priced digest books, and a new Runaways series beginning next week, there’s no better time to take a look at these three collections.

Most of these six kids don’t get along; they don’t have much in common other than the fact that all their parents are friends and get together once a year for some sort of party. Then they discover the truth: their parents are all super-villains, part of an organization known as the Pride. On the run from both the authorities and their families, can they survive and somehow stop their parents’s evil reign with a combination of natural abilities passed down and artifacts they liberated from the Pride? Or will the mole within this group of runaways successfully betray the others?

What surprised me the most about Runaways isn’t the fun idea behind the series itself, but how well he handles the cast. These are six really distinct and different kids, both in upbringing as well as age and maturity. From Molly’s innocence to Alex’s natural leadership, each of them comes across as their own character, while all still being recognizably kids. The plotting of the series itself works well, with the threat of the Pride hanging over the runaways even as little side-trips are taken from time to time into other types of stories. Even the appearance of “b-list heroes” Cloak & Dagger works perfectly, with one of the few “heroes meet and fight” stories that actually makes perfect sense. When the third volume comes to a close, it’s refreshing that it’s both an ending and a beginning; storylines get wrapped up even as new ones are given potential, satisfying people who’ve read that far but making sure there’s room for new readers to give the book a try.

Alphona’s art has a nice, smooth look to it. The characters come across as a great combination of youthful and gawky, as they continue to grow into their developing bodies. As strange as it sounds, what I really love is the way that Alphona draws the characters’s hair. It comes across as very realistic and natural looking, not merely slapped onto the heads of characters as an afterthought, and in many ways it sums up Alphona’s attention to figures in general. My one big complaint is that the printing of the digests, especially Volume 3, doesn’t do Alphona’s art justice. A lot of the pages come out unusually dark and muddy, perhaps because the coloring hadn’t been created with the cheaper paper in mind, but gets hard to tell what’s going on in the later chapters. I love the low price tag of the books ($7.99 for six issues worth) but I’d pay another dollar or two per volume, easily, if it meant some slightly better paper, or paying the colorist to tweak their guides for some brighter hues for the digests.

Runaways is a really fun series; it’s neat to go through all three volumes and notice little things like the mole’s identity being foreshadowed early on, or long-running stories slowly getting built up before coming to a head. I’m really happy that Marvel collected the entire series, and that the third volume came out right before the new series is set to debut next week. If you were on the fence about picking up the new series, I suspect this will make up your mind for you.

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