books

Runaways

Pride & Joy (2003), Teenage Wasteland (2003), The Good Die Young (2004), True Believers (2005), Escape to New York (2006), Parental Guidance (2006), Live Fast (2007), Civil War: Runaways & New Avengers (2007), Dead End Kids (2008), Dead Wrong (2009), Rock Zombies (2009), Homeschooling (2010)

These should be perfectly acceptable for older kids.

Pride & Joy (2003) Brian K. Vaughan

The series Runaways came up as a recommendation for me several times, and it looked interesting. However, I am wary books with of teenage characters, because if they’re not well done, I find them intolerably annoying. Luckily, the characters in Runaways may be teenagers, but they were interesting, and the angst was low-level and, to be honest, understandable.

A group of teens discover that their parents are actually supervillains, and have to decide what they are going to do about it. (Pretty much that's about all I can think to safely say, without saying too much.

Now, the story itself. I loved the idea that supervillains would have normal mundane lives, including kids. Then, that their kids would discover that their parents were actually evil? What's not to love about that? Even better, the story is living up to it's promise. I particularly liked the kids reactions. That despite what they'd seen, some of them were still willing to stand by their parents, in the hope that there was an explanation. Additionally, because they're kids, they can do dumb things without seeming completely stupid. It also means that they're going to be underestimated, which helps their case.

Obviously, this story focuses upon the kids, and what they were thinking and feeling. We get glimpses of the parents, but what we don't know is why they're supervillains. However, as they are now five volumes in this series, hopefully we'll learn the whys in a future collection.

As far as the storytelling, I picked it up to glance through, to see if Runaways was what I wanted to read right now, and found that I couldn't put it back down. Which is always a good sign for a story. There were some slow points, but I really wanted to know what happened, so I hardly noticed them. And I was engrossed enough that I didn't find myself wondering why things were happening, they just happened and I read on.

There may be things I'm missing, because this story is in the Marvel superhero world, so there are (not many) references to other characters, and although I recognize names, anything more than that? Right over my head. However, I didn't feel like I was missing anything. Which is reassuring.

One warning. Although this the minor story arc is resolved, you're still left hanging, wondering what is going to happen to the kids. So you'll probably want to have the second volume at hand when you finish the first. So I definitely recommend this story, and I can't wait to read the next book (which, I admit, I ran out to get when I got home from work.)
Rating: 7/10

Teenage Wasteland (2003)Brian K. Vaughan

Now that they’ve escaped from their parents, the runaways are trying to figure out what to do with themselves. To amend for their parent’s actions, some of them believe that they should fight evil themselves, but they’re broke and hungry and still scared and shaken up, so needless to say, things aren’t going well for them.

Although they are still trying to understand why their parents did what they did, they end up sidetracked when their expedition to get groceries doesn't end the way they planned. I have to say that I was amused by where the story went. Goes to show that there are dangers--even for the children of superheroes (or supervillains).

This is the middle arc of the story. The Pride are still trying to find their kids, and the teens are still trying to understand what their parents have done, and why. We learn more about the powers and abilities the teens have, and we see the efforts being made to find the teenagers (which are interesting in and of themselves.) And we also start to see that the parents really aren't good people.

I was very amused by the class B superheroes brought in to find the teens, the "cloak and dagger." Even if the cloak did look like he was channeling Morpheus.

But mostly this was a middle of the story arc that ends with a note of tension, and of course no resolution. So make sure you've got book three ready for when you finish.
Rating: 7/10

The Good Die Young (2004) Brian K. Vaughan

And finally, the conclusion of the story arc started in Pride and Joy.

We finally learn why the Pride formed, and what they were trying to do. And the teens finally resolve the problem. We also learn who the mole was, and why the mole acted as they did. (Was it justified? Maybe. Understandable? More so.) This shouldn't have been a complete surprise, as there was definite foreshadowing in Teenage Wasteland.

There's really a lot to like about this concluding story arc. All the story plots and things I found odd are tied together, and the solution wasn't easy, which I really liked.

The best thing about these three books, however, is the story. Once I started I had to keep reading till I found out what happened. I put down book two and immediately grabbed book three and dove right in. I had to keep reading. (Of course I'm really bad at being patient, so take that into consideration.)

I also liked the characters, and enjoyed their reactions to each other. My favorite bit was Molly sticking her tongue out and complaining "Eww, they're using tongues!" That cracked me up.

I liked the characters, I loved the story, and I think that it lived up to being a fantastic idea. I definitely recommend Runaways. However, on the off chance of another multi-book story arc, I'm going to hold off on reading book four.
Rating: 8/10

True Believers (2005) Brian K Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, Craig Yeung

True Believers is the fourth installment in the Runaways series, telling the story of five teens who ran away after discovering their parents were super-villains.

Still on the run from Foster Care, the Runaways are hiding out under the La Brea Museum, and the crime wave that has appeared in response to the power vacuum they created when they defeated their parents.

Meanwhile, a group of former young superheroes has gathered to help teens with special powers give up fighting crime and regain their childhoods. A call from a mysterious benefactor offers them a financial boost if they are willing to track down the runaways and return them to foster care.

In addition to following the continuing tale of the Runaways, the story also looks at what being a superhero might do to children and teenagers, and subtly asks whether they are mentally and emotionally prepared to deal with the consequences of their actions. It's an interesting idea, and one that is well-done within the story. It comes up almost in passing, but supports the idea that society is trying to place the Runaways back in foster care for a reason--whether that reason is correct when it comes to this group of kids has yet to be determined.

In addition to looking at the possible consequences of being a teen superhero, I also liked how the Runaways stepped up to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions--taking out their parents caused a crime wave in LA, and to a degree they feel responsible.

The only part I didn't care for as much was the fact that this story contained continual references to other superheroes in the Marvel universe. I realize that those heroes are part of the kids frame of reference for the world around them, but as I was not familiar with the heroes they kept discussing, it was mildly frustrating.

Otherwise, this was a satisfying addition to the Runaways story. They're still adjusting, and sometimes things aren't easy for them, but they keep trying.
Rating: 7/10

Escape to New York (2006) Brian K Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa

Escape to New York is the fifth volume of the Runaways series. The Runaways are still trying to clean up the mess they created when they took out their parent’s crime syndicate, and for now they’re allowing Victor to remain with them, and he is slowly becoming a part of their group.

This was another good addition to the Runaways series, and like previous volumes touched upon important issues. One issue was sexuality, and although I thought they did a good job dealing with it, I did feel like it was a bit rushed--I wished they had taken more time to deal with Karolina's sexuality. I also thought that the other issue that came up with Karolina was also rushed--she seemed a little to willing to take Xavin's word for things. Though I suppose that they needed to keep the story moving, so perhaps they just didn't have enough time to give those issues the time they deserved.

There were several story arcs in this volume. The first dealt with Karolina coming to terms with her sexuality. The second sent the Runaways to New York where they helped Cloak discover the impostor who framed him for beating Dagger senseless. This story arc had several amusing off shoots, including having some of the Runaways meet with Spiderman, while Molly finally got to meet Wolverine.

Although the story arcs for this volume were completed (although I wonder about Karolina's arc.), there were plenty of comments dropped for lots more story lines in the future, including the possibility of another of the Runways becoming evil in the future. That isn't my favorite thing in the whole world, but it wasn't too bad.
Rating: 7/10

Parental Guidance (2006) Brian K Vaughan, Adrian Alpohna, Craig Yeung

I somehow missed publication of volume 6 of Runaways, but saw when volume 7 came out. Considering the events in Parental Guidance, I was quite confused when I started to read volume 7, and quickly realized I’d missed several important events. Luckily, Amazon ships quickly, so I didn’t have to wait too long.

In a slight change of pace, the collection starts off with a somewhat stand alone story: Molly Hayes finds herself separated from the rest of the Runaways, and has to rely upon herself to escape some the sinister Provost. It was interesting to see Molly, the youngest and seemingly most dependent and childish of the group, on her own.

The rest of the book, the Runaways spend discovering and attempting to defeat, a surprise enemy--a translocated member of The Pride. They also have to deal with the fact for some, past actions may be coming back to haunt them, and could destroy the family they have become.

As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed this volume of Runaways, and continue to be impressed not only with the story and the writing, but with Brian K Vaughan's willingness to deal with topics that many other adult books won't touch. I particularly appreciate the way that the subject of homosexuality is dealt with.

SPOILER
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END SPOILER

Even if you're someone who isn't sure about comics, I highly recommend Runaways. Although volume 6 does a good job of covering the back story of the characters, I'm sure you'll find it more enjoyable to start at the beginning--especially since the first several volumes seem to have just been released in a larger format. (With several of the smaller volumes combined into a single larger volume.
Rating: 8/10

Live Fast (2007) Brian K Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, Mike Norton, Craig Young

After ordering and reading volume 6, Parental Guidance, I was able to read volume 7, Live Fast, and I have to say that the beginning made a lot more sense. The Runaways are dealing with their losses, and attempting to adapt to the changes in their lives. Unfortunately, some members are having a harder time dealing with loss than others, and may be turning to the very evil the rebelled against.

One thing I really liked was how each person dealt with their grief differently--some dealt rationally, some did not, but we got to see a full range or reactions. I particularly liked Molly quizzing Leapfrog about the afterlife and whether it could locate the dead.

I also liked the way that they dealt with the "monster" that started attacking the city--I liked how their understanding of grief and loss helped them to recognize the reaction of grief and loss in others--and that those reactions might not be rational.

As far as the overall story, I thought it was well done, and the only thing I didn't much care for was near the end, where our heroes are left in a bad spot. However, I did very much like the very end of the story, as we see a brief glimpse into the afterlife, and the world of one the group has lost.

As I've said before, if you aren't reading Runaways, then you are definitely missing out. This is a great series, on many levels, and one you should definitely get your hands on.

Oh, and I LOVED Molly's response when asked why she wore funny looking hats all the time. All I have to say to that is: Me too.
Rating: 8/10

Civil War: Runaways & New Avengers (2007) Zeb Wells, Stefano Caselli

As I have mentioned previously, I love Runaways and what Brian K Vaughan has done with the series. So I hesitated to pick up this tie in, because I know nothing about the whole Marvel “Civil War” storyline, and know nothing about the New Avengers.

But, I really wanted some more Runaways stories, so I finally picked this up after browsing through it at the bookstore.

If you like Runaways (and really, everyone should, it’s just that good) then you’ll want this volume simply because you want more stories (and maybe, like me, hate waiting for the graphic novels to come out).

Although the story wasn’t quite up to the Runaways volumes written by Brian K Vaughan, it wasn’t bad, and it did give us more information on some of the characters, including how Chase is continuing to deal with Gert’s death, and how Xavin is continuing to deal with living on earth. (There are visible strains in Xavin’s and Karolina’s relationship, but they are continuing to work things out.)

It was also interesting to see the Runaways dealing with other teens who had a similar agenda–keeping people safe, although I think the Runaways have a greater sense of duty, as they feel responsible for the situation in LA.

Did this story make me want to read more about the New Avengers? No. They were interesting in relation to the Runaways, but for me this was a Runaways story. They were just some of the additional characters that interact with the Runaways. Did this story make me want to read more of the Marvel Civil War storyline? Not really. Did this story make me want to read more Runaways stories? Definitely yes. I am waiting impatiently for the next graphic novel to come up (the fact that the current stories are written by Joss Whedon only adds to my anticipation.).

The other thing I didn’t much care for was how Niko and Molly were sometimes drawn. Niko was almost unrecognizable to me, and there was something just a bit… off about Molly. Everyone else seemed okay, although I much prefer the way the characters were drawn by Adrian Alphona–especially the much more realistic female forms. Niko and Karolina had almost ridiculous figures. I can only imagine what this artist would have done with Gert, who was never skinny and had a healthy physique as the series went on. Which was one of the (many) things I especially like about Runaways–normal teenage physiques.
So if you’re reading Runaways, then you’ll want this installment, so you can have more Runaways stories and see the continued development of Chase and Xavin. If you aren’t reading Runaways… what are you waiting for?! The collections are now out in hardback! Get to it! Start reading and enjoying!
Rating: 7/10

Dead End Kids (2008) Joss Whedon, Michael Ryan, and Christina Strain

Finally! The next installment of Runaways! And boy have things changed.

First and foremost, Brian K Vaughan gave up his writing duties on Runaways to Joss Whedon. Second, the format changed, and instead of the little tiny book, Dead End Kids was published as a larger sized hardback. Third, excluding the Civil War book, it’s been a YEAR since the last installment. Fourth, we’ve got a whole new set of artists with Michael Ryan and Christina Strain replacing Adrian Alphona and Craig Yeung (although the last position occasionally rotated.)

So, how did those changes work out? I think Joss Whedon did a good job of nailing the characters as Brian K Vaughn was writing them, and he may have added a bit more levity into the tale. What I didn’t much care for was the fact that JOSS WHEDON was about three times larger than the text saying Runaways: Dead End Kids. I realize that part of the hope is that Joss Whedon’s name will draw more people into the story, but it just seemed… excessive. Probably because I think the series is strong enough that people should be reading it in droves anyway. But if they aren’t? Well, hopefully this will bring more people to the series.

As far as the artwork, for awhile I thought Molly looked a little bit too much like Kaylee, which was eerie, but things settled down and she eventually looked more like herself. Of course this is the first time I’ve gotten to read the series in the larger format, so that may have something to do with it as well.

So how did Joss Whedon do with continuing the story? Pretty good actually. I thought he did a particularly good job dealing with one of the new characters they meet. In fact, “He makes you do CHORES?!” cracked me up. The only weak part of the story in my opinion was Victor’s thread. Of course they are teenagers, so that helps explain their crazy reactions. I also like Niko’s solution to the problem they had to deal with before they left. Very nice, all things considered. (And a good solution to the time line problem as well.) There were also hints that Chase might be growing up a little more.

All in all, I was very pleased with this next installment in the Runaways series. If you haven’t been reading along, this is a good place to start, as the book begins with a synopsis of the characters. But of course I always think it’s better to start at the beginning, and I believe there are hardback editions covering multiple books, which might be a nice version to have. (Probably better than the smaller versions I have.)

But primarily this is a good continuation of an excellent story, and one that’s good for both kids and adults.
Rating: 8/10

Dead Wrong (2009) Terry Moore, Humberto Ramos, Christiana Strain, Dave Meikis

Well.

That was disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t horrible or anything, but it wasn’t the quality I’ve come to expect from Runaways.

First, the review I read on Amazon was spot on–I really dislike the Humberto Ramos’ art. Some of the characters are all but unrecognizable, and since we’ve switched writers, the characters were not 100% consistent, so this made the story unusually difficult to follow.

Second, the story was okay, but as I as I was having trouble telling some of the characters apart (sometimes Xavin and Victor were hard to tell apart, especially when there was a lot of action and we were getting only parts of bodies in flashes.)

So what was happening this time? Chase is trying to get a job. And Karolina’s people want to take her back home to be tried for war crimes for what her parents did. Plus, now that they’re headed back to LA, the Runways need a new place to live, since their hideout in the Tar Pits was busted a couple volumes ago.

Which brings us to the third point, that there was a lot going on in this story, and some of the threads got lost. Specifically, I wasn’t clearly following the Chase thread. It ranged all over in only a few panels, so I wasn’t quite sure why it was going where it did.

So all in all I found this volume disappointing. I’m going to keep reading, because I love these characters, and I do like some of the character development that happened in this volume, but I’m hoping the next volume that comes out is better.
Rating: 6/10

Rock Zombies (2009) Terry Moore, Takeshi Miyazawa, Christiana Strain

First things first: Wha? The last two stories? Wha?

This volume starts at the radio station where Chase has been working. Val has decided he wants to money and power and all that, so attempts to turn all of LA into zombies. And I have to say the method he uses to do that is pretty hilarious. Meanwhile, the Runaways are trying to get themselves together so they can once again fight crime. Unfortunately for them, something strange seems to be going on with Niko’s magic, so things go from bad to worse.

The last two stories however, seem to have come out of left field.

Molly wants to visit the X-Men headquarters and school? I am seriously missing something. And although the story was supposed to be light and amusing, for some reason they made Molly a completely brat. Was that necessary? No. I don’t think it was.

The last story in the volume made a little more sense upon the second reading, but not a lot more. Again, it looked like it was trying for lighthearted and fun, but ended up being just… weird.

All in all, I don’t think I particularly like where Terry Moore has been taking the Runaways. It’s not that the stories are bad, it’s just that they’re no longer compelling the way Brian K. Vaughan’s stories were.
Rating: 6/10