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

07 May 2010

Runaways (v. 11): Homeschooling

Collects: Runaways v. 3 #11-4, What If the Runaways Became the Young Avengers? backups in five What If? stories (2009)

Released: March 2010 (Marvel)

Format: 136 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785140399

What is this?: The Runaways’ house is hit by a UFO, and Chase is reunited with his dead uncle.

The culprits: Kathryn Immonen (writer) and Sara Pichelli (artist) for the Runaways; C.B. Cebulski (writer) and Patrick Spaziante (penciler) for What If?

So my review of Runaways: Homeschooling was supposed to be written a few weeks ago, but writing the book took up a lot of time, and then my wife suggested we go to Harrisburg, Pa., to see Stephen Strasburg, the #1 draft pick in last year’s baseball draft, pitch for the AA Harrisburg Senators. That didn’t work out so well; rain delayed the game for two hours, and then Strasburg pitched only 2 1/3 innings before another rain delay forced him from the game. Big disappointment, and we didn’t get home until 5 in the morning.

So, as an awkward segue: Is Homeschooling, the latest volume about the team of unwilling teen superheroes, a disappointment as well?

Runaways: Homeschooling coverOn one hand, it would be hard to be a big a disappointment as Terry Moore and Humberto Ramos’s Dead Wrong, which left such a sour taste in my mouth that I skipped the next volume, Rock Zombies. (Thinly veiled Howard Stern with mind-control powers? Dear God no.) Writer Kathryn Immonen and artist Sara Pichelli definitely put together something better than Dead Wrong here. On the other hand, it’s definitely not up to Brian K. Vaughn’s run, but no one could expect that anyway.

Immonen seems to be able to get the characters right but not, particularly, the larger picture. The dialogue sounds right, as does the team’s floundering in a crisis situation. Molly seems to be a particular favorite for the writer, or maybe she’s just fun to write; she gets the best lines and the clearest moral sense. In particular, the dialogue between Chase and Molly about their transportation, the new Leap Frog, brought a smile to my face as well.

However, the plot takes weird turns. I don’t believe that Karolina’s grief over her lost girlfriend would cause her to a) want a prom or b) throw herself at a guy; I also don’t believe in Nico’s semi-random hookup. And the character death in the book was completely random — a unmanned drone accidentally dropping on a house will seem random no matter how well it’s set up, and this isn’t all that well set up. I’m also not sure I followed some of Nico’s spells, despite not having any trouble in previous books. (“Mood ring”? What did that do?)

On the other hand, Immonen introduces Chase’s uncle, Hunter. He’s a high-tech genius like Chase’s father, although intriguingly successful without being overtly supervilainous. And reintroducing family — especially family that Chase thinks is dead — brings up interesting character areas: do the Runaways trust Hunter because he’s family, or do they distrust him because he’s an adult? Does this alleviate any of Chase’s guilt? Is Hunter evil like Chase’s dad or relatively good-hearted like Chase? How is he still alive? Is he really Hunter, or is he an imposter, as Chase suggests at the beginning? Not all of these have to be answered, but some of them should. None are, not even partially. Instead, we get Hunter showing us how incompetent the kids are — even the tech-savvy Victor.

But like I said, it’s at least intriguing, and combined with Immonen’s command of the dialogue and characters, intriguing enough to cover for the odd twists of the plot. (Mostly.) But the story ends with a triple cliffhanger — just before the series was cancelled. The last issue came out fall 2009, and here we are in May 2010 … I understand Immonen probably had ideas of how to continue the story, but I don’t think she (or anyone else) will. Which makes Homeschooling, for plot purposes, useless.

I’m not a big fan of Pichelli’s artwork. This is personal preference, in part; the more overtly manga-influenced artists usually aren’t my cup of tea, especially when the characters seem to be embarrassed or dirty-nosed in nearly every panel. (Or perhaps careless with rouge.) In a practical sense, Pichelli seems to have made a conscious decision to make the teenagers have little personal space between them, especially Nico and Karolina. I can’t decide whether that’s a good idea; I suppose it mainly hinges on whether Karolina’s acting on her attraction to Nico. The storytelling #13 seem a bit muddled as well; from the destruction of the house and Nico’s “Abraham Lincoln” spell and the secret chambers, I had trouble telling exactly what was going on and where everything was supposed to be happening. Still, I have to reiterate: my opinion on Pichelli’s are is, even more than usual, personal preference.

What If the Runaways Became the Young Avengers? ran as a backup in several What If? issues released around the end of 2008, and I have to admit that C.B. Cebulski and Patrick Spaziante’s story doesn’t read like it had been broken up into five uneasy pieces for another “What If?” event. It also isn’t all that interesting, though; it’s mainly interesting if you had a hankering to see what Molly would look like a teenager. (Why is she a teenager? I don’t know.)

Like when Joss Whedon or Moore took over Runaways, I had high hopes for an Immonen run. There wasn’t a run, though, and this single volume isn’t really worth a look.

Rating: Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (1.5 of 5)

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