Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

13 April 2006

Runaways, v. 5: Escape to New York

Collects: Runaways (v. 2) #7-12 (2005-6)

Released: September 2005 (Marvel)

Runaways is one of the best titles Marvel is publishing today, the story of six LA teenagers who find their parents are all supervillains. (As the characters continually ask, “Aren’t all parents?”) The series is reprinted in the digest format, which is considerably smaller than the comics it reprints and considerably cheaper as well.

Escape to New York has two storylines in it: the two-part “Star-Crossed” and the four-part “East Coast / West Coast.” Takeshi Miyazawa provides the art for the first storyline; it’s technically well done, but it’s a bit more cartoony than I like in a comic about a group of orphans who live in near poverty. It’s also jarring to see the characters drawn in a different style than regular series artist Adrian Alphona, who has been drawing the series since issue #1. Miyazawa, who filled in for two issues of the first volume, makes the characters look more generic; it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between Chase and Victor, and Gert, who’s supposed to be at least a little overweight, looks just as impossible svelte as the other characters. Alphona is excellent as always, although shrinking down the artwork for digest size muddies it a bit. I especially like his Pusher Man, a pimpin’ drug dealer with oversized techno gauntlets.

The trip to New York in the second storyline allows writer Brian K. Vaughan to get snarky about the rest of the Marvel Universe, sometimes almost directly so. (At one point, when asked if the team is new, resident witch Nico says, “New York, New Wave, New Avengers … ‘new’ is just another way of saying old.”) It’s very funny, although sometimes it takes the reader out of the story. Vaughan also writes Spider-Man’s dialogue ten times better than J. Michael Straczynski.

Vaughan’s characters are almost always witty, although they usually come across as teenagers rather than small adults. As in any series with adolescent protagonists, the angst-filled love triangles and unrequited feelings erupt everywhere; hormones are so thick you’re almost surprised when Alphona doesn’t pencil them into the art. Additionally, Molly, the pre-teen, feels more like a child than the others.

Still, for some reason, “East Coast / West Coast” is an unsatisfying storyline, in which New York superhero Cloak asks the kids for help proving he didn’t attack his partner, Dagger, and leave her in a coma. I didn’t particularly care for the Cloak & Dagger elements, which is strange, considering how big a Cloak & Dagger fan I am. Cloak forces them into helping him, and given the rocky relationship the kids have had with him, I’m surprised they didn’t put up more resistance to the idea. Also, interacting with the Avengers seems like a fun idea on paper, but Vaughan seemed mainly to use them as punching bags and to reject them. The latter is a good idea, but the Avengers don’t get to make much of a case.

“Star-Crossed” is also unsatisfying, partially for the art and partially because the teens — particularly Karolina — seem to offer as much resistance to the alien visitor’s ideas as they do to Cloak. Their fight is lackluster at best. Perhaps this, coupled with their lack of a fight against Cloak, is Vaughan showing the kids wearing down after all their time on their own, but I’m not sure. Because of the lack of conflict, the team dynamics are almost teen soap opera — not that it’s not enjoyable, but it’s more enjoyable in the midst of a more engaging conflict. Also, despite Chase’s barbs, newcomer Victor seems to be fully integrated into the team, taking away some of the intrateam conflict.

Still, I’m excited to read the next digest; the teaser at the end, showing the new Pride plotting the teenagers’ downfall, makes me eager to see them fully revealed, and I’m itching to see whether Vaughan ties up some of the loose ends he left in Escape to New York or if he lets them dangle.

In the end, even a slightly unsatisfying digest of Runaways like this one is better than most of the rest of Marvel’s product.

Grade: A-

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