By Luis Toscano
Many teenagers fantasize about running away from home, leaving behind all the things they don’t like about their life, and going into the larger world to have fun adventures. Unless they’re running away from secrets that would mean their deaths if they’re caught.
Runaways was published in July 2003, created by writer Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Pride of Baghdad) and artist Adrian Alphona (Ms. Marvel), as part of Marvel’s imprint, Tsunami, and ended up as the most succesful title of that line-up, with 18 issues.
The story starts in the home of Alex Wilder, a typical teenager from California, whose parents might be a bit strict, but still care about him deeply. His parents remind him that they’ll meet some old friends later that evening, and that Alex should be nice to their kids.
The other teens are Gertrude Yorkes, a hipster whose parents love antiques; Chase Stein, a jock who dissapoints his smart parents; Karolina Dean, loving daughter of two actors; Nico Minoru, a goth girl who also lives in a strict household; and young Molly Hayes, who keeps asking her doctor parents stuff about her body.
They are very diverse cast, but still nothing out of the ordinary. Just normal boys and girls, facing the troubles that any other teenager does. But they live in the Marvel Universe, so things will get weird fast.
The families arrive at the Wilder’s house, and leave their kids to themselves, while they go discuss their adult business in another room. Of course, the teens get bored, and decide to spy on their parents by using a secret passage, one of many that Alex’s dad has built all over the house.
They find their parents dressed in strange costumes, and in the middle of an occult ceremony where they murder a young girl. Trying their best to act normal around their families, the teens agree to meet later that night, to make sense of what they saw.
The first arc, Pride and Joy, is somewhat rushed in these six issues. The story is supposed to take place during a single night, the longest in their young lives until then, where they go around Los Angeles, trying to found out more clues about who their parents are and what have they done.
But first let’s get a little background on the setting of the story. In the Marvel Universe, most of the fantastic superhero adventures happen either in New York City, or in far away, secluded locales like the Savage Land and Wakanda.
While there have been some series that have tried to explore what happens in other parts of the Marvel Universe, like West Coast Avengers (California), Excalibur (England), or Alpha Flight (Canada), most superheros operate around New York City.
That’s the main reason the now teenage Runaways can’t just ask for help from some adult superhero. They even mention Captain America’s free call hotline, which he established back in the 1980’s, and it was always shown that he could only attend to a handful of the hundreds of calls he got every day.
Let’s add the fact that they’re minors, and their parents are seen as upstanding pillars of their community, and it’s just clear they can’t just accuse them without evidence, something that doesn’t go well even in the real world.
During that first long night, they uncover information regarding their parents and themselves. Gertrude finds out a pet Velociraptor that obeys her commands, while Karolina discovers that she’s an alien with great powers.
The parents turn out to be a group of super villains called The Pride, who have managed to evade the attention of superheros by operating in secret. They’re couples of crime lords, time travelers, evil mutants, alien invaders, dark magic users and mad scientists.
But even though they’re villains, they still try to get the Runaways to go back to their homes and resume their lives. For all their faults, these murderers and thieves love their children in a real way.
The Runaways refuse to listen to their parents, and it all leads to a big brawl at the home of the Hayes family, where they manage to rescue Molly, who finds out she’s a super strong mutant, and then escape before the rest of the Pride shows up.
A theme in many Young Adult stories is how the heroes find out that the order maintained by the authority figures is in fact evil, and that they’re special in a way that can help them fight back.
But the authority figures still have a lot more cards in their hands to deal with any menace to their power. In this case, the Pride accuse the teens of the murder of the young girl, as well of kidnapping Molly.
The situation looks dire, but Chase takes the group back to his base, an old hotel that fell into a cave. The teens decide that they will find a way to take down their parents, and try to make up for all their evil-doing.
The second arc, Teenage Wasteland, it’s a bit of a breather. The Runaways have to start dealing with the realities of being fugitives, along with some hints that one of them is still loyal to the Pride.
While going out to buy food, they come across a group of thieves robbing a convenience store. The two adults have great strength and speed, but leave behind a teenager, Topher, who claims his evil parents forced him to help them.
The Runaways take him back to their base, where the presence of an outsider causes all kind of tensions among them. Most puzzling is that Topher seems to know a lot of obscure pop culture references.
And in case you’re wondering why Molly talks about Doop and X-Statix, it’s because they were a mutant team with their own reality-show, created by Peter Milligan and Mike Allred. Doop was the most popular among them, a floating frog-looking freak that spoke in gibberish and somehow is best pals with Wolverine.
The Pride are still busy trying to find their kids, after finding out about them stopping the robbery. They discuss many options on how those criminals came about their powers.
The Hayes mention a very interesting fact: mutants do tend to have wildly different powers, and those that are related happen to get similar abilities. For example, Polaris thought Magneto was her father, just because they both have magnetic powers. The same applies to Cyclops, and his brothers Havok and Vulcan, having energy based powers.
Back to the story, the Runaways discover that Topher is really a century old vampire, one who wants to turn Nico so he can use her magic powers, and then kill the rest of the teens. But they catch a lucky break when he tries to bite Karolina, whose sun-powered blood makes him catch fire.
This was a quite interesting arc for a couple of reasons: first, it seems like Brian K. Vaughn was inspired by another tale of teens dealing with vampires, the 1984 film The Lost Boys. It’s a fun, comic-book like movie and you should give it a chance.
The second reason is that it shows that, despite having so many powers and abilities, these teenagers are way out of their depth when dealing with the dangers of the real world. For example, in the early issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, it was common to see Peter Parker limping back home after fighting against some super villain.
The Runaways then have their first superhero meet with Cloak and Dagger. They also were teenage runaways, who got their powers of light and darkness via illegal experiments. Since then they tend to appear whenever there are cases involving lost kids.
One of those cases was finding the Power’s family children, who got an early mention as Power Pack. They are even younger kids, who got their powers from alien horses, and got abducted by evil lizards. The first series is quite a fun read, and although the main characters are children, it deals with many mature issues.
And when Dagger talks about the Children’s Crusade, she’s not talking about some Marvel Comics crossover (which involved the Avengers and Young Avengers, in 2010), but about an event from the Middle Ages.
After an usual case of heroes fighting among them, the Runaways tell Cloak and Dagger their reasons to escape from home. Unfortunately, the traitor among them warns the Pride, and they mind-wipe the two superheroes before they can warn the Avengers.
Wonder Man also gets mentioned. He’s a character who started as a villain, died, then came back as a hero who was best buddies with X-Man Beast, and then decided he wanted to be a Hollywood actor. So it’s no surprise that he might have come across the Pride at some point in the past.
The final arc, The Good Die Young, is a nice ending to this story. Alex has deciphered a book that they found earlier, which explains how the Pride came to be, and what is their end goal.
The Pride was reunited by powerful beings called the Gibborim. They needed agents to supply them with energy, so they could destroy the world and remake it into a paradise, but only six of them will be allowed to go into the new world.
In exchange, the Pride would get incredible power to rule over the Earth for the time it has left. But after a few years, they decide that each couple will cede their place to their six children, so they can live forever in the coming paradise.
The Runaways then have to escape from the police, who got a tip from the traitor. The teenagers realize that they can’t keep escaping, and must confront their parents. Their best chance is to attack while they deliver the Gibborim the soul energy they harvested during the ritual.
But there are also traitors among the Pride, namely the Deans and the Hayes couples. They plan to murder the other parents, and then go into the new world with their children.
The Runaways make their way into the Gibborim’s temple, where Chase gets out of commission after a fight with a guardian. He entrusts Alex with his gloves, and the rest of the teens go ahead.
What follows is a fight where the Runaways have the upper hand, thanks to most of the parents having no weapons to fight back. But when victory seems near, the traitor strikes.
It had a nice foreshadowing, the only teen who didn’t pick a codename, who always tried to keep the others to stand down, to not do anything else than wait until it was the right moment to betray them.
Alex takes down his friends, and takes Nico’s magic staff, takes control of Old Lace the velociraptor, and stands in triumph.
He then explains to Nico that he had discovered the truth about their parents a year earlier. Alex discovered most of the information about the Pride, and even the secret plot of the Hayes and Deans to betray the others. That was the primary reason for him to get the others to run away from home, so they could get him all kinds of weapons that he could use to save his parents.
But Nico declines his offer to join him with a good punch, and manages to rally Karolina and Gert to fight. Chase crashes the wall with the vehicle their parents had used for their travel, and Molly destroys the container with the soul energy.
The Gibborim show up, and are displeased that the offering is gone, which they show by killing Alex. The Pride then does their only heroic act, by fighting their former masters so their children can escape.
They were thieves and murderers, but at least they had one redeeming quality: their love for their children.
The epilogue, Eighteen, is a nice wrap-up for the series. The teens were found by Captain America, who then brought the rest of the Avengers and federal authorities to clean up the remnants of the Pride’s criminal empire.
Three months later, the Runaways get together for another adventure, reuniting Gert with her pet velociraptor. They fight some robots, and realize hat they would prefer to go on the run from child protective services and the Avengers, than keep living with foster families and in orphanages.
The Runaways are now part of the larger Marvel Universe, even having adventures with that other teen super-group, The Young Avengers. Their first series it’s a nice introduction to Marvel Comics for young and old readers alike, with lots of fun moments.