Runaways v.4 #s 1-4
Writer: Noelle Stevenson
Artists: Sanford Greene & Noelle Stevenson
Colors: John Rauch
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Cover artist: Greene (regular)/Phil Noto & Stevenson (variants for #s 1 & 2)
Editor: Wil Moss
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US per issue
With the new Runaways TV series well underway now, I figured it would be a good time to delve into a set of comics of the same title from 2015 that I picked up for a song a couple of months ago. During its Secret Wars crossover series from that year, Marvel published a diverse array of limited series set in the weird, patchwork landscape of the World That Doom Built. Runaways (which carried “Secret Wars” and “Battleworld” branding on the covers) focused on various teen heroes. Writer Noelle Stevenson manages to achieve a nice balance between a dire, deadly tone to the story and a more irreverent side that’s in keeping with the youthful, oddball qualities of the characters. Unfortunately, the book was hindered by a couple of things. Firstly, like all of these “Secret Wars” spinoffs, there was a sense of the impermanent and inconsequential nature inherent in the alt-universe premise of the larger crossover, and secondly, I was constantly distracted by the fact that only one of the characters from the original title from which this spinoff derived its title was included in the cast of characters.
At the Victor Von Doom Institute for Gifted Youths, highly skilled and superhumanly empowered teens from all over Battleworld gather to study and train to become the best possible citizens and servants to Doom possible, and every year, they face daunting final exams. When one team of classmates discover the deadly secret of those exams, they flee for their lives. The headmistress, the brilliant but quite young Valeria Von Doom, tasks one of the kids’ former classmates and senior Bucky Barnes to retrieve them and restore order.
Easily my favorite part of this book is the energetic, exaggerated and unique linework of Sanford Greene. He conveys the youth of the teen characters incredibly well, not to mention their personalities and rebellious qualities too. The looser leanings of Greene’s style work well with the chaotic interactions among the protagonists, though he definitely takes some disappointing shortcuts with the crowd scenes featuring cartoony fodder for the backgrounds. His design for the Winter Soldier here is the most obvious example of the manga influence in his art; it reminds me something out of Akira. I think Greene went awry with that design, though; at first, I thought it was an alternate version of Wiccan from the Young Avengers. If it weren’t for the robot arm, I definitely would have thought he was supposed to be Wiccan.
John Rauch’s colors are unfortunately a bit too muted. I suspect he’s aiming to reinforce the darker, dystopian elements of the setting, but I’d rather see brighter colors to reflect the youthful energy of the title characters. It also merits noting that Stevenson provides some fill-in art on the final issue alongside Greene, and her efforts were consistent enough in tone that I didn’t even notice until I went through the credits for each issue to prepare this review.
As I made my way through the first issue, I kept waiting for the “runaways” aspect of the book to kick into gear, but the plot finally got there. Unfortunately, Stevenson opts to include only one of the Runaways readers know from regular Marvel continuity: Molly, AKA Bruiser. Mind you, the writer really lets that character make a mark on the story and audience, but I couldn’t think of a plausible reason why other Runaways couldn’t have made it into this book. Chase Stein, for example, could have fulfilled the Amadeus Cho role easily. The dearth of “real” Runaways served as a distraction throughout the series for me. Mind you, given the alt-reality nature of the story, I would hope fans of the original series, new title that launched this fall and/or the TV show would steer clear (or be steered clear) of this incarnation of the property (collected in the Runaways: Battleworld trade paperback).
The story and characters are undeniably entertaining, but everything unfolds in a terribly predictable manner. From the first issue, I pretty knew how things would play out among the characters, especially when it came to the ice-powered Sanna and school enforcer Bucky Barnes. There’s a fun Gotham Academy-type vibe at play here, but given the limited nature of the premise, the reader knows there’s no reason to invest in these characters. Had this been a precursor for some kind of mirror title once regular Marvel continuity was restored (and there’s definitely the potential for it here), I might have been engaged and interested in what happened to these young heroes. 5/10