Runaways was my first comic.
I’d never really been that interested in comics until Nix brought Jamie Madrox and Gertrude Yorkes to my attention. I read Runaways first, because I was a bit intimidated by the vast Marvel universe Madrox and X-Factor represented. Runaways was self contained, easy to read with little to no knowledge of the Marvel U at large.
Brian K. Vaughan struck gold with Runaways, making a book that was fresh, unique, highly readable and accessible to comic newbies like me. A story about a group of kids who find out their parents are actually super villains? Count me in. I fell in love with the Runaways from the first issue, and read everything I could get my hands on. This was right before the current run (known as volume 3) began.
After Vaughan left the title, any writer having to step into his shoes would face a pretty big challenge taking on these kids, and it showed. Not even Joss Whedon, whose arc was pretty damn good but not Runaways good, could live up to Vaughan.
Though a great title, Runaways hasn’t done well in single issue sales, moving better in digest, manga-like format (the same goes for another kid-friendly title, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane). It was cancelled and restarted a few times, the kids had a few crossovers with the Young Avengers, and then volume 3 began.
Humberto Ramos is the sort of artist in the comics world who people either love or hate, and Terry Moore usually does better. But together…they cancelled each other out. The storyline was boring, the kids weren’t kids, there wasn’t any real spark or humor to it, and Ramos’s art wasn’t appealing. At all.
Whedon’s stint introduced a new Runaway from 1907 New York, Klara, who Moore did absolutely nothing with. The Runaways we already know and love had no character development – hell, they barely had character. And, most importantly, Moore got rid of Xavin, the resident Skrull and girlfriend of Karolina Dean.
(Yes, that’s right. Of all the titles and all the teams in the Marvel U, only the kids – the Runaways and Young Avengers – have a happy and well-adjusted gay/lesbian couple. But that’s a post for another day.)
The art improved a little when Takeshi Miyazawa took over. He’d worked on Runaways before with the Young Avengers crossover, and his manga-like art worked well with the title. That didn’t help one bit with the writing, unfortunately, bringing a close to Moore’s bland and boring run.
With the announcement of Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli taking over as the creative team for Runaways, there was a beacon of hope for fans. Though I haven’t read it, I heard Immonen did great work with Patsy Walker: Hellcat, and I began to indulge my optimistic side.
Runaways #10 was a blast, a double edition where Molly Hayes goes on an adventure with Wolverine (as part of Wolverine appreciation month) and the Runaways have some good old fashioned fun. It was snappy, it was funny, and Immonen’s take on the Runaways seemed to be leading in a good direction.
The problem was Immonen didn’t have much to compare to with Moore’s run, so anything she did would be refreshing at first. Faults in the first issue or two can uusally be attributed to a writer getting used to new characters, but as her run’s gone on, nothing has happened. A Runaway has died, but it didn’t have the lasting emotional impact it should have. A Runaway is supposed to be coming back (despite Vaughn’s initial pronouncement that in a Runaways book, if someone dies they stay dead), but the idea isn’t as exciting as it should be.
There is a story moving along, you can see that, but there’s no spark to it, no life that is so vital to a book like this with teenagers as the main characters. These aren’t your usual angsty teens, either; these are funny kids, all clear characters (with the exception of Klara) with motivations, hopes, dreams and regrets, kids who’ve been forced to grow up.
Now when I pick up Runaways on Wednesdays it’s mostly out of loyalty, and that saddens me. It was my first comic book, the one that slowly got me into this world, and now it’s disappointment every month.
If there’s one thing to be said about Runaways, it’s that despite the gradual decline, the coloring has always been great. Christina Strain has been with the book since the very beginning, and she’s always been pleasant to look at – in fact, she’s my favorite colorist right now.
Since the start of volume 3, Runaways sales have gradually declined by half. One in two people who picked up Runaways #1 haven’t picked up Runaways #12. That’s saying something.
With the lack of a solicit for October, many are saying the book is up for cancellation, and news that the book is indeed going to be on hiatus until early 2010 is only fueling the rumors. The only thing that can save Runaways now is Vaughan’s return. Or, perhaps, a movie that’s said to be in the works with Vaughan writing the screenplay.
At this point, all I can say is…maybe cancellation’s a good thing. Maybe not having Runaways around will compound the disappointed feeling I get every month after I’m done with an issue. Maybe I can stop focusing on the decline and re-read volume one, which was pretty damn great storytelling.
I’d like to remember my first comic book series as something amazing, the reason for every comic I buy, and not the failure it is now.
(Runaways #13 came out this week, with #14 coming out next month. Sales figures and references are here, hiatus news here. Go buy volume one in digest form if you’ve never read Runaways. I promise you won’t be disappointed.)