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

28 July 2009

Runaways (v. 9): Dead Wrong

Collects: Runaways v. 3 #1-6 (2008-9)

Released: June 2009 (Marvel)

Format: pages / color / $15.99 / ISBN: 9780785129400

What is this?: The Runaways head back to LA and find a new set of adversaries waiting for them, while Chase has to find a job.

The culprits: Writer Terry Moore and penciler Humberto Ramos

When Joss Whedon took over for Brian K. Vaughn as Runaways writer, the choice was logical, and it worked out — Whedon was different, but he brought his own strengths to the title. When Terry Moore was chosen to succeed the glacially paced Whedon, the choice was also logical. But whatever Moore brought to Runaways, it sure as hell wasn’t his strengths.

Runaways: Dead Wrong coverRunaways: Dead Wrong is easily the weakest volume of the series so far. (Also: For those keeping count, this is the ninth volume. Just because Marvel stops counting doesn’t mean you have to.) In Dead Wrong, one of the Runaways, Karolina, finds the remnants of her race, the Majesdanians, waiting to deal out retribution for her parents’ betrayal of their race. This is not immediately evident because Moore takes a long time to remind the reader that Karolina is a member of the same race as these Majesdanians; the logic is also a bit opaque because despite being a logical, law-abiding race, the Majesdanians believe in the child being punished for the sin of the parent. Except when they don’t, at the end — because bloodthirsty remnants of a decimated race often have 180 degree changes of heart in the middle of fights.

But put that aside for a moment. Moore has the team acting out of character for most of the book. It’s intentional, or so we’re supposed to believe: a spell gone awry. Leaving alone for a moment that the spell that caused the problem for the Runaways had a completely different effect on their opponents, I believe making established characters act out of character is a bad choice for a writer in his first assignment on a new title. It doesn’t instill any confidence, and it certainly doesn’t get the writer into a rhythm with the new characters. But more importantly, the characters don’t feel right, and the characters are what make Runaways important.

There’s a lot that doesn’t feel right. The Runaways find one of their parents’ hidden safehouses, but they don’t think to search for a cache of money and supplies? What kind of criminal masterminds don’t have emergency cash lying around? Why does the house have, instead of normal-but-lethal safeguards that won’t attract much attention, big fuzzy automated demons that destroy all sorts of stuff and practically scream for attention? Given how concerned the neighbors turn out to be, that would be a problem. And why does Moore think I’ll be entertained by radio shock jock Val Rhymin? To get across the characterization, penciler Humberto Ramos draws him as a younger, cut-rate Howard Stern; it’s also painfully obvious he has mind-control powers that Chase is somehow immune to. (And if he’s really so popular, how did Chase get hired so easily by him?) And haven’t I seen the ending to Dead Wrong before? Oh, yes, I did — right here. Didn’t even have the courtesy to change the age range of the characters.

Lesson here, boys and girls, is that heroes will likely be stupid. But aliens will likely be even more dense, so it’s OK.

I enjoyed Ramos’s work with Paul Jenkins when they were teamed up on various Spider-titles; Ramos’s distorted, exaggerated style works with a character as kinetic as Spider-Man, combined with the lack of expressiveness of his mask. However, Ramos feels all wrong for Runaways. In large scenes, the action looks muddled and confused; in the opening fight with the Majesdanians, I had no idea what was going on half the time. Xavin’s frequent transformations meant I had trouble figuring out who he was supposed to be most of the time. When it came down to it, I rarely could tell the difference between Ramos’s Carolina and Chase — and they’re not even the same gender, just the same hair color. It’s just a big mess full of undifferentiated hipsterwear and unkempt hair.

I am a big fan of Runaways, but I’m not such a big fan that I’m going to try to push this fragrant flower on you. Give this a pass. I’d advise doing the same with the next Runaways trade — featuring the shocking secret of Val Rhymin! Gosh! How exciting! — but I’m a big enough of a glutton I might not be able to help myself. I don’t know if I’m going to justify spending some majority fraction of $15 for it, though.

Rating: Marvel symbol (1 of 5)

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