The Uncertainty of Youth in Runaways 4

By Spencer Irwin

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

While almost none would admit it — and probably less are even aware of it — most teenagers crave stability. Being young is a time of terrifying uncertainty — not just the almost paralyzing possibilities of the future, but the more mundane uncertainties of crushes, changing bodies, and rapidly evolving places in society. Throw superpowers and evil parents into the mix, and it’s no wonder the Runaways have often felt so lost. In lives practically defined by constant change and uncertainty, the one constant they’ve always had is each other. How are they supposed to handle losing that?

That’s the question that has defined Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka’s new volume of Runaways, but issue 4 especially dives into that uncertainty. As always, the only character comfortable with her life is Molly. While Molly could be happy just about anywhere, the happiness and stability she’s found with her grandmother has only rattled her friends further. Nico is still cursing the choices she’s made that have led the team to this point, wondering what she could have done differently. Victor is playing dead just to avoid making any decisions about his life at all. And Gert…poor Gert. Of course she’s still struggling with the new status quo after nearly dying and skipping ahead two years into her future. Of course she’s wary of Molly’s grandmother — the evil adults the Runaways routinely faced are still fresh in her mind in a way they aren’t for her friends. And despite all that, of course she needs the stability Molly’s grandmother is offering more than any other Runaway. The others have all had a chance at a Post-Runaway life, successful or not. Gert hasn’t.

In any other series Gert’s choice to stay with Molly and her grandmother would probably be a triumphant moment, but not in Runaways. It’s not just because this arc is inevitably leading to these kids being together again — to the realization that they will always be each other’s closest family, and at their best when together — it’s also because Molly’s grandmother is clearly up to something. She’s taking samples of Molly’s DNA, and sneaks some of Victor’s as well. It’s because her cats have been spying on the team since issue 1, and because it’s implied that she may have created/cloned Molly’s mutant parents. Whatever she’s up to, I don’t think Dr. Hayes is the stable presence the Runaways needs, and I’m terrified — but also excited — to see what will happen when these kids realize that.

The voices Rowell has crafted for her Runaways do wonders for the success of this issue and series, but Anka’s art is just as successful. He’s giving career-best work to Runaways, with a detailed focus on background and environment, character design and fashion, and facial expressions that tell million-word stories in one panel.

This splash page is full of the kind of delightful detail Anka brings to Runaways, but even the smallest panels contain the same kind of magic. Anka makes the world of this book feel real and immersive, and that kind of skill can’t be overpraised.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

4 comments on “The Uncertainty of Youth in Runaways 4

  1. The emotional realism of this issue really got to me. I love just how strong the character work is, how strongly they are focusing on little scenes like Gert talking to Dr Hayes. Or the fact that Victor is actually awake and trying to avoid confronting what happened int he Vision. Or Molly’s initial horror at seeing Victor ‘dead’. You really care for these characters, because so much effort is placed in exploring each of their emotional realities. This is the richest cast in comics.

    And yeah, Anka’s art deserves to be praised to high heaven. So exceptionally detailed, with so much thought place dinto every little panel. It feels a shame to show off a big, obvious splash like you guys did. It is an honestly amazing page, but the truly impressive part is that Anka manages to do similarly detailed things in smaller panels.

    Though this issue has my first complaint about the art – Nico’s clothes. The fashion is, as always, exceptional. The choices are purely Nico. But damn, I hate when patterned clothing like plaid or Nico’s stockings is depicted the way it is in this comic. It would be very hard to do so properly, but Wilson’s colours make everything look unnatural. THe simple fact that patterns don’t act like that disturbs the eye, or at least my eye. I keep wanting Nico’s clothes to work like real clothes (honestly, I was really afraid Wilson’s colour style for this book was going to mess up with Karolina’s powers, but he did a sensational job there. I’m surprised, after the challenge of Karolina, to have a problem with this issue)

  2. Also, anyone been watching the Runaways TV show? I think it is second only to Jessica Jones as part of Marvel’s TV offerings. ANd really, really good.

    It took a bit of time to get my head round the initial start, namely the fact that they… don’t runaway. Which felt like the sort of thing that blights too many TV shows these days where things just don’t happen. I would have said that Runaways should have the cast run away by the second episode at the latest. But the show is actually playing a different game, with a distinct twist that engages with a more modern approach to the characters.

    The way I saw someone describe it is that the original comic, from the early 2000s, is about the culture informed by 9/11. The reveal that the parents are part of the Pride is where the world suddenly turns upside down and reverberates through every part of their lives. But the show is set in 2017, a different world. A world not dealing with a single shock, but one buckling under the sustained pressure of a world that has been broken for a long time. And I’m not just talking about Trump’s election, but also the fact that America is trapped in an endless war, the aftereffects of the recession etc. And so, the parents being evil isn’t a gamechanger, just an additional stress on an already awful status quo. That’s why they add to new features. Molly’s parents are dead, mysteriously, and she is raised by Gert’s parents. And Nico’s (non existant in the comics) sister committed suicide, an act that initially broke up the friendship of the core cast. These are the underlying problems, the stresses that make ordinary life impossible. Learning that their parents were evil didn’t change the characters world, just made the existing problems worse.

    That isn’t to say it is all great. On a more nitpicky side, it does a couple of things I really don’t like. While the production values are generally very high quality (possibly Marvel TV’s best. It even comes complete with prestige TV opening credits), the production quality falls rapidly during the first ‘Runaways comes together to use their powers’ scene. As an action sequence, feels cheap and lacking any sense of dynacism. The Defenders was a very flawed show, but that first scene where the Defenders came together was amazing. Not so here.
    I’ve always found Scientology stand ins trite and obvious, so I don’t like that Karolina’s backstory has been so radically changed to feature that as her key element. And while Nico’s Christian faith was hardly an important part of the comics (it was used well at times to subvert expectations and reveal hypocrisies, but is the sort of trait that is ripe for changing in adaption), I really wish that Nico wasn’t changed into a Wiccan. Goth Magic Girl is also Wiccan is trite and unimaginative, and the fact that this is the sole sort of Wiccan representation is offensive.

    Honestly, Nico is the biggest problem with the show so far. She’s just a bad character. Which is a shame, as she’s my favourite in the comics. Part of the problem is likely Alex – you can’t have Nico’s leadership challenges while Alex is still around, and Alex’s leadership also protects Nico from the stresses that leads her to her chaotic love life and other rich elements. But it is also the fact that she’s just poorly done.

    Everyone else is done really well, though. A lot of focus has been put on the parents and giving each of them distinct characterisations and stories, which really helps enrich the main cast. Not all of the parent stories matter yet, but making Chase’s father something deeper than just abusive really helps deepen and give complexities to Chase (without redeeming Chase’s father). Some of the best stuff is people talking to their parents.

    And generally, the character work is fantastic. Nico is a massive problem, but I’m surprised how much I love Molly. Fantastic acting by Allegra Acosta makes her a real bright spot, giving her more complexity that Molly usually gets in the comics. She is the stand out. But everyone gets such great scenes.

    Especially since the scenes are backed up with great direction and imagination. I may find Karolina’s Scientology backstory trite, but by replacing the medialert braclet with a Church of Gibborim bracelet makes Karolina’s first time lighting up the perfect way to represent her Coming Out. THe religious element really works (though I question making Chase the first person Karolina reveals her powers to. It should be Nico, or at the very least, anyone other than the guy who, six episodes in, still wants to date Karolina. The subtext of that scene should be ‘I’m Coming Out to you’). Molly’s experiments with her powers are exuberant, and Nico’s first use of the Staff of One really works. All of these scenes are directed amazingly (the direction only fails with fights, I guess). And it isn’t just the more genre elements. THe scene of Karolina and Nico getting dressed for the gala is amazing, in how intimate it is done and how well it expresses Karolina’s feelings for Nico.

    Honestly, I highly recommend Runaways. A couple of small problems, but easily one of Marvel TV’s best.

    • I’m honestly getting frustrated with the Runaways show. Runaways is supposed to be about superpowered kids trying to escape their supervillain parents, but this show feels like it’s about the trials of a group of supervillains, with a small subplot about their children discovering their secret and trying to take them down. I feel like we barely see the kids, ostensibly the main characters, most episodes, especially the further along the show goes. And the plot is draaaaggggiiinnnggg.

      I do really love the cast though. Alex and Nico are the weakest, as you pointed out, but I think I like Gert best — her actress really has a spark to her. And Chase probably feels like the most complex character so far, his relationship with his parents is the most interesting to me.

      The fact that the kids haven’t run away, though, is just such a bizarre choice, especially when you get moments like the Steins wanting to send Molly away and Gert doing everything in her power to STOP Molly from running. There’s some really weird priorities to this show.

      • As I said, I had that concern about them not running away for the first couple of episodes, until I read that interpretation about this being about teen culture in 2017 as opposed to 2003. That made things work for me.

        In most shows, I would get angry that they haven’t got to the running away part (similar issues is why Stranger Things 2 was so goddamn awful), but I wonder if the problem isn’t that they haven’t run away yet, but that the show is saddled with the name ‘Runaways’. Remember in comment section of Batman 26, where we discussed the many different interpretation of Batman in film? I see Runaways kind of like that. You can watch 60’s Batman and complain that it misses the noir elements, or the Nolan movies miss the genre elements for realism. But they are all fundamentally legitimate interpretations of the premise of Batman. And I think the same it true with Runaways, if you think of the premise as just ‘kids find out their parents are supervillains’ and running away as one specific version of that premise. I think the only reason we think running away is essential is because it is the name of the book, despite never being as important a theme to the franchise as interpersonal dynamics, ‘death of the father’ style Coming of Age, found family v ‘real’ family, and teenage rebellion, all of which the show has in spades.
        Yeah, I would love a more comics accurate adaption (part of me wished they did a Runaways movie, as I think a comics accurate version of Runaways would work perfectly as a movie. Vaughn’s original arcs would be so easy to adapt. And it would be awesome to see the Runaways in Infinity War. But I do think the show works really well as an adaption of the premise, if you ignore the franchise’s name.
        In fact, I would argue the plotting only feels slow if you approach it waiting for them to run away (probably the season one finale). Ignoring that, you actually have a strong, serialised but episodic structure where each episode tells a complete story that leads into the next one, cleverly using location and events to unite each episode together. It all works, And I think everyone would be much happier if Vaughn named the original comic Teenage Wasteland or something instead. Gert wanting Molly to stay with her is perfectly in line with everything the show is, and everything the comics would be if they ever placed the crew in a situation where they’d lose Molly like that.

        And while I prefer Molly to Gert (which is surprising, as Molly has always felt a little mascotty compared to the complexities of say, Nico or Chase in the comics), Gert is easily the second best. Both have such great, charismatic performances. I don’t think Alex is bad. His problem is just that he spends too many scenes with Nico, who is bad (and unlike Karolina, can’t redeem a Nico scene by himself). Alex is much better when focused on other elements than his relationship to Nico (the first episodes put some doubt in the idea that Alex would be evil like in the comics, but the latest episodes seem to suggest he is still evil. I hope so, as hopefully that will give Nico the push she needs to become a actual character).
        And you are right that Chase is the most complex. They have done Chase so, so well. I really like how they handle his father, which really helps make the story work. It would be so easy to make him a parody of an abusive father, but they really go for the complexity that really makes you understand both the horror and the struggles. And making Chase secretly a prodigy is one of those character changes that is truly for the better (unlike, say, Nico being a Wiccan)

        Also, I’m incredibly impressed at how quickly and how naturally they have managed to introduce a wide range of different genre elements, from superpowers, to dinosaurs, to time travel without ever hurting the tone and texture. It so naturally has made itself choked full of the most insane elements without hurting the sort of dramatic tone it has aimed for. Impressive

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