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On the Run

 

Runaways Vol. 1: Pride & Joy

Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona

Marvel Age, 2004

Rating: 3.8

 

Posted: February 23, 2005

By Dave Brennan

Brian K. Vaughan's name might be synonymous with the best in escapist comic book entertainment, but underneath the science fiction and fantasy, his critically acclaimed stories almost always carry with them a deeper, more realistic message. Y: The Last Man tells the tale of a future gone horribly wrong, but it's also a poignant commentary on gender roles in society. Mayor Mitchell Hundred of Ex Machina may have the ability to speak with machines, but he also speaks out on issues like gay marriage and educational funding. With Runaways, Vaughan shifts his focus to a slightly younger audience with a tale of colorful characters and fantastic powers. Look behind the superhero action, however, and his true story reveals itself as a metaphor for the timeless generation gap that exists between children and their parents.

Teenager Alex Wilder lives an isolated life of boredom, interacting with his peers through the Internet and dealing with the strict rules of his successful parents. It's the eve of his family's charity benefit, an annual tradition that brings his parents' closest friends together with their own resentful children in tow. It's an event that none of the six kids look forward to, as they're forced to endure one another's company while the adults conduct their business in private. Unbeknownst to these adolescents, however, their parents are actually members of a conspiratorial supervillain organization known as The Pride. When the adults are caught red-handed (literally) in the midst of a violent ritual, their kids are forced to team up and hit the road in the hopes of destroying a legacy that none of them want to inherit. (And to think, the Fresh Prince complained about a plaid shirt with a butterfly collar.)

Pride & Joy is essentially a collected origin story, giving Vaughan the responsibility of establishing his young protagonists and laying down the groundwork for the mystery they've been unexpectedly brought into. The primary characters are unlikely allies brought together by a common threat -- a sort of super-powered Breakfast Club -- and they're all distinct and likable, thanks in large part to Vaughan's believable dialogue. As the runaways' own powers emerge and the stakes are raised, their future together is cast in doubt. But just when the subject matter gets a little too heavy, Vaughan injects some humor or teen drama into the proceedings, reminding us just who his intended audience is.

Though most readers won't be able to relate to kids who can shoot fire from their hands or speak telepathically with dinosaurs, anyone can appreciate their ultimate act of rebellion. After all, who among us hasn't wanted to throw their parents through a second-story window at least once in their lives? The Runaways are children on the cusp of adulthood, forced to make their own decisions for the first time, and ready prove themselves to the deceitful grown-up world around them. The adults, meanwhile, are oblivious to modern technology -- right down to the easily guessed computer passwords -- and dismiss their offspring/opponents as mere children, a move that may ultimately prove to be their downfall.

Adrian Alphona's pencils are sharp and fit the story's light tone well enough, although his proportions seem a little skewed from time to time. His style has an overall Manga feel to it, which makes sense, considering that this is a Marvel Age book (Editor's Note: Marvel Age is Marvel Comics' kid-friendly line), and those crazy kids can't seem to get enough of that "Japanimation" these days. ("Why, when I was their age, when we wanted to see Japanese-influenced drawings, we would walk to Japan!") The artwork does the trick, although between the book's dark backdrop, lower-quality paper and unwieldy digest format, there's a shadowy sort of haze that makes it harder to read without lighting directly overhead.

Though Runaways is aimed at a younger crowd, it's a lighthearted and engaging story that any fan of superhero comics can enjoy. Pride & Joy sets the stage for what seems to be a promising ride. The Pride's motivations have yet to be revealed, the kids' confidence has evolved to match their newfound powers, and a traitor may be lurking in their midst. With a new monthly title currently re-launching in stores after a short hiatus, this digest-sized collection and its two subsequent follow-ups are a relatively inexpensive way to catch up on what you may have missed.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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