When most people think of iconic Marvel comics, they usually would picture Captain America, Spider-man, Iron Man, Hulk, The X-Men, Deadpool, etc etc. But my personal favourite Marvel story has to be that of the lesser-known, kind of underrated Runaways.
Coming from the mind of Brian K Vaughan (of Y The Last Man, SAGA and Paper Girls fame), Runaways began as a simple ‘kids have no idea their parents are super-villains but find out, discover their own powers, and fight to save the world from their evil ‘rents’ plot. The story begins with 6 couples and their 6 children meeting for their annual ‘charity’ event. Of course, little did the 6 kids know that every year while they were bored, complaining and bickering in the games room, in a secret lair their parents were murdering a young innocent girl…until they discover a secret passage that leads them to witnessing the act first hand.
Confusion and chaos ensues, with the ‘Runaways’ trying to keep it a secret that they now know who their parents really, and deal with the discovery of their own abilities. This is also all while trying to create a plan on how to stop their parents, now known as a super-villain group called ‘The Pride’
Their origin story, while not overly complex and creative, does help to solidify the fact that these are essentially kids who have no idea what they’re doing with their lives. They struggle to navigate both childhood (the youngest runaway being Molly, an 11 year old mutant), their teenage years and their new found abilities, with one, Karonlina, even discovering she’s not human at all (and on top of that, already struggling to feel ‘normal’ with her sexuality).
As you can expect, there’s drama, bickering, dating, breaking up, betrayal. It both feels like a cliche teen portrayal, but also very real and honest (for a ‘superhero’ comic, at least), those small moments help to remind the reader that these are kids, after all, and to me don’t come across as ‘cringey’ like it sometimes can when adults try to write teenage characters (but do remember, this comic first came out 14 years ago). They’re characters for a younger audience to connect with, especially young girls because two thirds of the original Runaways are badass teenage girls.
So, who are ‘the Runaways’? Like many ‘super hero’ groups their lineup changes over time, but we’re firstly introduced to Alex, a child prodigy at strategic thinking. Though he doesn’t have any ‘powers’, he makes up for it with his intelligence and is the first kind of ‘leader’ of the group, pushing the others to make a difference, find the truth and bring down their super-villain parents. He isn’t the most relatable and warm character, actually he’s pretty distant from the group with the exception of Nico, his main priority was figuring out how to stop The Pride. He didn’t have much time for being a ‘normal teenager’.
I would say that Gert is possibly my favourite, but I love the other female characters too much to really choose just one. Still, Gert is fucking badass. She’s intelligent, sarcastic, slightly cynical (especially towards her parents…and parents in general), and isn’t afraid to call people out on their bullshit. Though alone she has no powers, her time travelling parents left a special gift for her. She wasn’t exactly meant to have until they were dead, but hey, who would say no to a dinosaur that is telepathically, empathically linked to you? Old Lace, said dinosaur, protects Gert and the gang and serves as another major ‘member’ of the team.
Karonlina, like I said, is the only ‘non-human’ original Runaway. Her family are Majesdanians, and harness their abilities from solar energy (which includes flying and shooting beams of energy from her body and creating force fields). Her true form was masked from her, with a bracelet containing alien matter making her revert to a ‘human form’, but in her natural form she’s beautiful, rainbow and glowing. She’s also the only non-straight original Runaway, which is explored a little bit and definitely hinted at on multiple occasions before she becomes comfortable enough to ‘come out’.
My perhaps least favourite is Chase, though he is an important and integral part of the team. Again, he has no ‘powers’ or ‘abilities’, but with the help of his parents’ creations and gadgets (including x-ray goggles, gauntlets with built in flame throwers and, most notably the leapfrog, a giant frog-like transport that he pilots), he proves to be a vital part of the team. He’s a typical, reckless, ‘jock’ character, he’s not the most academically talented Runaway, but acts as the ‘big brother’ and tension breaker, though, he can be serious when needed.
Molly is the baby of the group, and is, at first, generally sheltered and kept ‘out of the know’ (which isn’t completely effective, and doesn’t last long). For a few issues she’s seen questioning everyone about ‘changes to her body’ and ‘weird stomach cramps’, which…you all know what it’s assumed to be. But no, it isn’t that, little 11 year old Molly is a mutant and had only just discovered/manifested her powers; super strength and invulnerability. You’d think it wouldn’t be a shock to her evil mutant parents that their child was, too, a mutant, but apparently she was tested and showed no signs of the X-gene. Molly is like everyones little sister, innocent, often blurting out the first thing that comes to mind, but is very protective of those she cares about and just wants to help as much as she can. She’s the baby, but doesn’t always act so.
What is a group of teens without a witch, amiright? Nico is the goth-ish, badass teenage witch that casts spells with the help of the Staff of One, which is literally absorbed in her body until she sheds blood. Her powers come at a price, however, as she can only cast a spell once. If she casts a ‘freeze’ spell, she can never again freeze someone with the Staff of One. Even with these incredible powers, however, she’s still a ‘normal’ teenager. She’s often described as ’emotional’, but she proves her loyalty to the Runaways, and later, takes a leadership role where she’s constantly making difficult decisions, also proving how intelligent and strong she is.
I’m trying to keep spoilers out of this post, especially because this is a story best experienced for yourself. I’m also mostly focusing on the 2003 and 2005 series (written by Vaughan, and later Joss Whedon), because the future instalments seemed to lack, though I am interested in the new reboot series they’re doing. Like with most super hero comics, their adventures don’t end with their first major foes. Along the way they encounter many smaller villains, including a vampire, and soon after the runaways’ first major ‘battle’, they find themselves in deep water when Gert arrives from the future, warning them of a boy named Victor, before dying in Chase’s arms, leading to another major story arc.
Some familiar faces also make an appearance (like Spidey, Wolverine and Iron Man), my favourites being Cloak and Dagger, who make their first appearance being hired by one of The Pride’s loyal servers to track down the Runaways.
I lastly wanted to quickly mention the TV show that has been announced, I was obviously ecstatic to hear about Runaways coming to life, but personally don’t agree with two character castings. First, the main one, Chase, who is to be played by Gregg Sulkin (an actor that is definitely not a favourite of mine). I just don’t see him as ‘Chase’ at all, more just that creepy 20 something year old that dated Bella Thorne when she was still a kid but…uhh…time will tell how he does, he already looks nothing like Chase though and is far too old, in my opinion, to be playing his character (who is only 17/18). I was also a little disappointed that a chubbier girl wasn’t cast as Gert. I absolutely adore Ariela Barer, and I know she’ll play Gert’s character perfectly, but it still would’ve been cool to have a badass, strong, but realistic chubby teen girl in a superhero show. Most importantly I just hope they don’t completely fuck up the story, and deter others from checking it out.
But I can only hope it will be a success, and Runaways will hopefully slowly work their way into being somewhat of a household name. Maybe not as popular as your friendly neighbourhood Spider-man, but still. If you haven’t read this comic yet, I can’t recommend it enough (but start from the beginning). Even if Marvel isn’t your favourite for comics, it’s still worth a try in my opinion, especially if you’re already a fan of Vaughan’s other work, or just badass teenagers kicking ass.