Comics with SCIENCE! Runaways – The Good Die Young

May 2nd, 2006 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Let’s run some dates down, all right?
Superman: 1938
Batman: 1939
Wonder Woman: 1941
Flash: 1940 (or 1956)
Captain America: 1941
Spider-Man: 1962
Fantastic Four: 1961
Punisher: 1974
Blade: 1973
X-Men: 1963

Notice a pattern, here?

Most of your famous comics are what, at least thirty years old now? Here are some sales figures for March 2006. How many books in the top 100 are not spin-offs, revamps, or the continuing saga of an ancient property? We have The Sentry #7 coming in at #64, Cyberforce #1 at #83, Spawn #154 at #86, and Y the Last Man #43 at #93

Wait. Runaways. Issue #14 charted at #98.

Let me tell you a little bit about Runaways.

Runaways is one of those books that should be doing Ultimates numbers. It’s funny, action-packed, dramatic, and most of all, it’s new. It isn’t tied into some obscure facet of Marvel continuity and doesn’t feature an X-Man. It’s new. It’s by Brian Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, with guest spots by Takeshi Miyazawa. Add colors by Christina Strain and you’ve got one brilliant ride.

It’s also the best book you aren’t reading. Here, I’ll do you a favor. Go buy these three volumes right now:
Runaways volume 1: Pride and Joy, Runaways volume 2: Teenage Wasteland is not listed on Amazon for some reason, but its ISBN is 0785114157, and Runaways volume 3: The Good Die Young. Or, you can opt for this hardcover that collects all 18 issues of the first series. It’s knee-deep in its second season now, so you’ve got some catching up to do. You don’t have to, since the book is wonderfully continuity-free, but the story is good enough that you need to do this. If you have the choice, go for the hardcover. It’s in Marvel’s over-sized format and includes some wonderful extras, like the extended proposal Vaughan used to pitch the series (complete with original names!) and tons of awesome art from Adrian Alphona.

Anyway, read them, then come back, because I’m about to ruin the third book for you.

Runaways: The Good Die Young is the third and final volume of the original 18 issue run of the series. It wraps up all the subplots of the run and features a truly excellent endgame. Listen up, it’s learning time.

Runaways stars Gert, Karolina, Nico, Alex, Chase, and Molly (left to right). Every kid thinks that his parents are evil. The hook is, these kids’ parents? They actually are evil. They’re so evil that they even have a super-villain team name: The Pride. They’ve got their fingers in all the crime on the west coast, and are at least partly behind the utter lack of superheroes in California. They hold various positions of high standing. They are actors, scientists, philanthropists, you name it. They are the exact people that you wouldn’t expect to be evil, so they have the perfect cover story. Their kids are the usual dysfunctional funky bunch, with the nerd, the counter-cultural revolutionary, the jock, the inexplicable Goth (there’s a brief mention of her going to church every week, however), the blonde, and the naive little kid. They only hang out because their parents make them do it once a year, so they don’t exactly know each other very well.

The third volume opens with the kids learning the truth about their parents’ plans. They aren’t just evil, they’re extinction-level event evil. They’re semi-willing slaves to a group of giants called Gibborim. The parents are gifted with untold power, both in terms of abilities and control over society, in exchange for sacrificing souls to the Gibborim. What do the Gibborim get out of this? Rejuvenation. The years have been hard and they aren’t as powerful as they once were. Once they get enough souls, they’ll have the power they need to destroy all life on earth… except for six. Do the math. Six kids and two parents a piece makes eighteen. The original deal was for half of the original Pride to accompany the Gibborim into their Eden, with the most loyal of the original twelve making the cut.

The parents come up with the great idea of giving those six spots to their children. That’s right, true believers– The Pride were just doing what any good parent would do: looking out for their children. This is met with a certain degree of shock and awe from our intrepid runaways. Their parents started out as purely bad jerks who just wanted to have their cake and eat it, too, but having kids changed all that. They’re going to be content with simply living life to the fullest, then giving their children a shot at the good life. After a bit of discussion, and an impromptu firefight with the LAPD, the kids decide to go to the source of their problem: their parents. They’re going to get at their parents during the Rite of Thunder, which is a bit like a human sacrifice, only with a soul instead of blood. Let’s back up a little, though.

Alex is the smart guy of the group. He’s the one who can translate The Abstract, their parents’ holy text, and he’s got a great mind for strategy. Karolina is the flighty teenage one (more so than the others, I mean) who takes the news of her parents and her true nature pretty hard. Suicidally hard, in fact. You see, her life is even more of a lie than everyone else’s. She’s an alien. Gert’s the chubby cynic with the killer telepathic dinosaur. Chase is the hot-headed jock, all bluster and rebellion. He’s very remniscient of Johnny Storm, and even more so once he gets these gauntlets called “Fistigons” from his parents. The gauntlets let him mold and create flame sculptures. Nico is the tall moody goth girl who accidentally ends up with a magic staff embedded in her soul. It only comes out when she’s bleeding, so she has to cut herself to make her powers work. Molly, though, is the best character in the book. She’s an eleven year-old mutant and she makes it clear to a guest character that she wants to marry Wolverine when she grows up. She’s got a couple different codenames, from Bruiser to Princess Powerful. She’s a hilarious character, and hilariously effective to boot. When Cloak & Dagger attack, and Cloak sucks up her friends, she starts tugging on his cape to get them out.

“Come on,” she says, “I don’t wanna have to rip up your bed sheets!”

“This is not a ‘sheet’, girl,” Cloak responds. “It is a cloak, a gateway to another realm, permanently bonded to my very being. Not even a god has the strength to rend it from my–”

Molly interrupts him by ripping the cloak off his back.

Yeah. Awesome.

I’m gushing, but I just want you to know that these characters are great. They seem like stereotypes at first but they absolutely work, particularly in this volume. The kids track their parents to the place where they meet up with the Gibborim. Nico uses her magic mojo to conjure up a bubble for them to go down into the ocean with to catch up with their parents. What follows is a touching scene where the kids discuss what they want to be when they grow up… assuming they survive the current nastiness. Molly has by far the best response: “I just want to be a mom someday, but not a mom like my mom. A good one, you know?” I can’t stress enough how much Vaughan and Alphona make you believe in these characters. The art is suitably expressive and the dialogue is on point. The characters sound like regular teens and act accordingly. One mistake that a lot of comics make is having teenaged characters that are jaded beyond all belief. Most kids wouldn’t be able to handle the pressures of superheroic life.

They finally reach the underwater temple where their parents do the deed and immediately get into hijinx with a rock creature. It soon turns into a fiery rock creature, thanks to Chase. He nearly drowns in the course of distracting the rock monster and the team can’t decide on how to bring him back. They finally go for CPR and bring him back, complete with a kiss.

The book switches to the parents’ point of view for a bit, and I don’t think that I’d be reading too deep to say that we get some pointed meta-commentary on the state of comics in general.

Then everything goes to hell. The kids rush their parents, only to be informed that their powers won’t work against family members. That’s no big deal– the kids switch off and bang, they gain the advantage. The runaways manage to hold their own long enough to take out most of their parents. Nico ends up frozen during the altercation and left helpless. Alex grabs her staff and tries to figure out a way to unfreeze her. He asks Karolina to help him out with something… and he knocks her out. He’s a traitor. Game over.

He explains his plan and why he did what he just did to a newly awakened Nico. He knew that his parents were dirty a year before the rest of the kids did. Instead of rushing to the cops, he decided to trust the people who birthed him and do some research. He learned about the Gibborim and the end of the world. He learned about the sacrifices. He also learned that a third of the Pride was planning on betraying the others, which would’ve led to the death of not only his parents, but himself as well. He thinks he’s doing the right thing, just like his parents do. He’s practically diabolical. Nico flips out, punches him, and awakens the rest of the team. They get ready to get down, when Chase interrupts the festivities. He wasn’t quite as weakened as Alex expected, it seems. He managed to hotwire his parents’ vehicle and use it to burst through the wall of the sanctum, distracting basically everyone. By this point, everyone has been caught up to speed. Their parents are awake and everyone knows that only a few people are going to get out alive.

This gives Molly the time she needs to destroy the stored soul, even as she says something pretty profound. You can basically tell that Molly hates having to fight these people who she once trusted, but knows that what she is doing is right. The Gibborim arrive shortly after this and demand to know who ruined their sacrifice. Geoffrey Wilder kneels and begins to explain, but Alex butts in and refuses to see his dad get dressed down by his boss. Alex takes responsibility for the travesty, so the Gibborim turn him to ash and decide to murder everyone in sight.

The parents, in a last ditch effort to save their kids, tell them to run away while they hold off the gods. The children do, with some reluctance, and escape just before the underwater fortress explodes. Their dying acts betrayed their true loyalties: having power was nice, but having kids was way better. The runaways think that they’re finally free, only to run into Captain America.

Fast forward a few months. The kids have been relocated, but you and I both know that won’t last. They meet up at a James Dean memorial and decide to go save Gert’s dinosaur. Hijinx ensue, but they manage to get it. In the process, they regain control of a ship that their parents left behind.

Decision time. Go back to foster homes… or stick together? Easy choice. They get in the ship and ride off into the moonlight as a series of captions round out the book.

“I never thought I’d live to see eighteen. Isn’t that dumb? Every day, I look in the mirror and say, ‘What? You Still here? Man!’

“Like even today. I woke up this morning, you know? And the sun was shining and everything was nice, and I thought… this is going to be one terrific day, so you better live it up, boy… because tomorrow maybe you’ll be gone.”

James Dean, Rebel Without A Cause

That’s an incredible ending, isn’t it? Lovely. Runaways volume one was an incredible series, and well worth a read or three. Quality plots, quality characterization, and quality art. It’s a killer package and worth the money that you’re undoubtedly going to go spend on it, right?

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2 comments to “Comics with SCIENCE! Runaways – The Good Die Young”

  1. YES! Push one of the best comics ever….as well as one of the comics that got me back into reading comics after many years of NOT doing it.
    Everyone should read runaways.

  2. Yup, Flying Green Mechanical frogs makes for an awesome read! (OF SCIENCE!)