By Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Teacher: Daria, what about your goal?
Daria: Uhmmm, I don’t have any.
Teacher: Oh come, Daria! You must have some goal.
Daria: My goal is not to wake up at forty with the bitter realization that I’ve wasted my life in a job I hate, because I was forced to decide on a career in my teens.
Society asks a lot of teenagers, especially when it comes to big decisions. These same children who aren’t allowed to drink, vote, or often even have a say in how they present themselves to the world are expected to commit to a career path, often burying themselves in debt to do it; it’s a daunting decision for anyone, but especially for young people who aren’t quite sure who they really are and what they want out of life yet. None of the young heroes (or “villains”) of Runaways 10 are contemplating college at the moment, but they’re nonetheless faced with similarly difficult, life-altering decisions that they simply just aren’t ready, or even qualified, to make yet.
They’re also dilemmas where there’s no “good” or “right” choice that will satisfy everyone. Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka open the issue on a flashback to Thor villain Enchantress gifting Abigail two cupcakes, both of which will eternally freeze whoever eats it at age 13, and one serving of the antidote. That nicely sets up the conflict the Runaways later face — do they use the only antidote to restore Julie Powers, an innocent victim in all of this, even if it means dooming Abigail?
Rowell and Anka, importantly, establish through Julie that the cupcakes effect emotions, hormones, and mentality as well as physical growth — Abigail may be well over 50 years old, but she’s still got the heightened emotions and not-yet-fully-developed decision making capabilities of a 13 year old. Yes, she made a decision to eat the cupcake, but did she ever really understand what that would mean? Should she be beholden to a choice she made at 13 for all of eternity?
Probably not, but the Runaways are also probably right to prioritize Julie over Abigail. Like I said, there’s no good choice here, and their ultimate decision is played more as a tragedy than a victory, even if they did achieve the goal they initially set out to.
Notably, the Runaways themselves may not be mature enough to make such a decision for Abigail and Julie either. They approach the situation without all the facts and with a heavy hand, threatening to murder Abigail’s parents and eventually dooming their child to save a friend. It’s probably a decision they didn’t have the authority or perspective to make, yet it’s one they had to anyway. Like almost every young person, they were backed into a corner and forced to make a drastic decision even if they weren’t fully ready or qualified to. Here’s hoping it isn’t one they come to regret.
Of course, Karolina and Julie’s final page break-up reminds us all that we never really stop changing and growing (or growing apart), and that we may never really be “qualified” to make major decisions at any age because we never know where life will take us or how our perspectives will change. Sometimes all you can do is make the best decision you can with the information you have and simply live with the consequences, whether they’re “fair” or not.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
Got to say, I love the choice to have Enchantress be the one responsible. I’ve loved Enchantress since I read the original Secret Wars, where she is by far and away the best part (damn, I love the scene where she gets drunk). Using Enchantress for the flashback, especially a flashback that intentionally uses throwback style instead of the more modern storytelling choices that Rowell and Anka usually use to represent the arrested development of Abigail, is a fantastic choice, as Enchantress was already one of the more dynamic villains of that period and it roots the procedural backstory of this sequence into something actually dramatic.
I think this explains the strength of this issue. Because the thing about this issue is that it is fallout. THe actual story about the issue itself is fallout. Nothing really happens that didn’t happen last issue. Despite my issues with last issue’s climax, last issue expertly told the story so well that it didn’t leave much more for this issue (which kind of explains why I thought the climax was wrong). Molly had already chosen not to eat the cupcake, and we had already had the emotional arc of Karolina and Julie breaking up, and all we had left was the actual stating of the break up.
And so, while we have another ‘Runaways win, but feel bad afterwards’, the key to this issue is how it looks outside of the Runaways themselves. It is looking at the people around them, whether it is Enchantress, Abigail or Abigail’s parents. Provide humanity to the surrounding cast and not ignoring them. While I could go on and on about Enchantress’ fantastic characterisation that leads her to set the story in motion (it is actually really clever writing), I think my favourite part is actually the reveal that Abigail doesn’t want to live forever unless she has someone else. Especially because of how clear it is that Abigail saw the purpose of the cupcakes and potion very differently to how Amora intended. It is all these fantastic little choices that really help define what Rowell’s Runaways it, giving it a distinct and valuable identity and being one of the best books around, even in an issue where the Runaways themselves already have had their story told
Also, my latest comment in the Days of Hate thread doesn’t appear to be turning up. Seems to have been caught for moderation for some reason
Whose been watching Cloak and Dagger? I haven’t seen the latest episode yet as I was watching Sicario: Day of the Soldado (Good news, after Josh Brolin’s performances as Cable and Thanos, he finally gives a performance this year that makes you remember why people think he’s a good actor), but Cloak and Dagger is easily one of Marvel’s best TV shows. Up there with Jessica Jones.
I had low expectations for the show, considering the channel. I always saw Freeform as the CW’s goofier sibling, which is impressive considering how goofy the CW can get (and I say this as someone that loves many of their non-comic book shows and iZombie). But the show has incredible production values and real thought into creating something incredibly well thought out, going for the prestige TV angle that most of Marvel’s show usually aim for but actually understanding what is necessary to make Prestige TV work. A strong episodic structure rooted in meaningful story progression each episode while valuing character over strict procedural action.
ANd it has to be Marvel’s best looking show. Most of Marvel’s TV shows, not counting Agent of SHIELD’s drabness, try and put effort into visuals. Daredevil’s lights off, Defender’s colour coding, Jessica Jones’ highly normal except when psychological. Runaways glossy, high production look. But Cloak and Dagger actually has the best, most cohesive look. Very dark, like Daredevil or Luke Cage. BUt a more textured darkness, fitting the gothic horror roots. And using light cleverly to visually represent the strong contrast between Ty and Tandy that is the dramatic fulcrum of the show.
And Ty and Tandy really must be praised. Their natures as opposites is truly leveraged fantastically, alllowign the show to go deep into characters and not get distracted by making it entirely about the negotiation between two very different personalities. But what quickly becomes clear is that both of them represent the missing part of the other, the necessary person to help the other grow and deal with their problems. Opposites inform every piece of drama, especially with the clever choice to give Tandy a power she doesn’t have in the comics, the ability to see people’s hopes (to contrast Ty’s comic powers of showing people’s dark sides).
And on powers, it is clever how they have adjusted Tandy and Ty’s characters to best take advantage of the characters. The original comics used a simple innocent white girl/black man from the street contrast, but the show cleverly starts them from that place, then creates a backstory that forces them to shift to the other side. This has multiple advantages. Firstly, it avoids the problematic elements by making the white girl poor and the black guy well off while using the classic status quos as a way to reflect the real social issues the show is addressing. It also create more interesting characters that have more complex backstories. But most importantly, it means that instead of have appropriate powers, Ty and Tandy are defined by having the powers that force them to grow and change because they don’t fit like a glove. This is especially the case with Tandy’s, whose hope driven powers do not fit her cynical nature at all. It really builds the idea of healing.
And it is not just how strong their characterisations are, but the fact that social issues are so powerfully used to enhance these characterisations. Ty’s mother’s fear than Ty can do everything right and still end up dead is great, but it goes beyond just how well it expresses the many social issues but how those social issues are used in ways that dramatically affect the characters. They are intrinsically linked to Tandy and Ty’s character arcs, and things like the negotiation of privilege in episode 4 isn’t just about demonstrating social responsibility by a discussion rooted in the arcs of both characters. Ty’s fears of walking in a police station isn’t just a strong representation of Black America’s relationship with police, but rooted in the core traits that Ty struggles with at every point in the show, even when he isn’t around the police (I was nervous about the attempted sexual assault of Tandy in the first episode, both because that is a horrible superheroine cliche and, especially after watching the first episode of YouTube’s surprisingly great show Impulse at the same time, made me worry that the MeToo movement was going to lead to lots of TV shows throwing sexual assault in to be relevant to exploitative effect. But I love how it was the conclusion of her assaulter’s arc and served as the natural endpoitn of the character’s previously established entitlement and toxic masculinity issues instead of just a way to hurt Tandy, and how the story thread has remained as a minor subplot going forward, and not been forgotten)
Honestly, my only real issue is some of the costuming choices. There are many great costumes, I love both Ty’s basketball uniform (black, which fits perfectly in the basketball game in the first episode against a team dressed in white where the racial dynamics of white privilege is displayed in miniature) and his school uniform, where the fact that he always wears his black sweater over his white shirt reflects the innocence he still has, buried beneath the pain and darkness on the surface.
It is hard to say yet whether Cloak and Dagger will be Marvel’s best, or if that is still Jessica Jones. But damn, it is pretty fantastic so far
I forgot to mention my issue with the costuming choices. As I said, most of them are great. But why is Tandy dressed in black all the time? Shouldn’t she be in white more often? They always make sure black is a prominent colour with Ty, but in a show that generally does such a great job visually representing the opposite natures of the two protagonists, why does Tandy so rarely wear white? It doesn’t just break the comics’ original colour coding, it breaks the aesthetics the show itself established