By Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Our appearance and how we present ourselves to the world are vital parts of our personal identities, especially as teenagers. The way we look can be used to rebel or conform, to highlight and emphasize our strengths or conceal our flaws and insecurities. Sometimes our appearance perfectly reflects who we want to be, while at other times it just reminds us of everything we hate about ourselves. Our appearance can even have an affect on others, for better or for worse. All of these various facets of appearance and identity play vital, central roles in Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka’s Runaways 11.
In fact, appearance is highlighted from the very first page, where Gert discovers a tattoo dedicated to her on Chase’s thigh that sends her fleeing the room. There’s got to be something unsettling about discovering a memorial to yourself permanently etched onto someone else’s body (although at least Gert was “dead” when Chase got it), but for Gert it also ends up being a reminder of all the time she’s lost, and how that’s seemingly robbed her of Chase as well.
Gert’s issues with appearance and identity continue to be the driving force of the issue.
Her purple hair has always been a rejection of the adult world and its cultural norms that Gert hates so much, but her style also serves to deflect attention from her weight and onto what she considers her best attributes: her personality and beliefs. Glamming up — even in clothes designed for her body type — would be “selling out,” but that’s exactly what she ends up doing by the end of the issue after realizing that her purple hair no longer makes a radical statement, but instead just makes her another face in the crowd. It’s hard to tell exactly how Gert feels about her makeover — does she feel like she’s giving in, or trying to rebel by not being a rebel? — but either way, it’s clear that her appearance is an intrinsic part of her identity, and thus, that she’s feeling more conflicted about who she is than ever before.
Victor, meanwhile, has to deal with having no control over his appearance. Doombot creates him a new body that’s more WMD than “normal kid,” and though Chase and Molly fawn over it, it practically gives Victor a nervous breakdown. Victor’s still reeling over his role in Vin Vision’s death; being a murderous monster is his greatest fear, and suddenly looking like a murderbot just feeds those fears. The “normal” body he wants — without vibranium or super powers — is like disarming a mercenary or throwing away an alcoholic’s booze, but it’s also a way for him to take control of his own image. If he looks safe and normal, maybe he finally will be.
Appearance also plays into Nico and Karolina’s increasingly more intimate relationship.
Nico applying Karolina’s make-up is an intimate act, one that requires trust. It symbolizes how close they’ve become, and creates circumstances where both women feel comfortable opening up and sharing deep secrets and feelings with each other.
Ultimately, all of the Runaways’ appearances say something important about them (even Molly is wearing a Ms. Marvel t-shirt in an issue where she’s especially envious of Victor’s powers), and Rowell and Anka use this fact to great emotional and narrative effect. They get these characters, inside and out.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
One interesting thing about superhero origins is that they are so intimately connected to time periods, even if they don’t make sense. Superman was always from in the 1950s – a 1950s Norman Rockwell painting, in particular. Batman, ever since Frank Miller, comes from the 80s. Luke Cage and Iron Fist could only have come from the 70s. Iron Man’s origin probably only truly got rooted in the 2000s, where the combination of having a movie and how naturally he fit with the endless War of Terror means that it is hard to imagine him outside that context. And any attempt to go back to that origin will always be uses that decade’s signifiers because they are baked into the character.
This creates an interesting negotiation with Gert, because Gert’s origin will always be the 2000s. And while the ‘canon’ says that it has only been 2 years, in truth, her time travel has taken her fifteen years in the future, and you have future shock. What was once rebellious in the early 2000s in typical in 2018. What makes this so great is that by taking advantage of comics’ mythic, weird timelines, the future shock Gert experiences (oof, you really empathise Gert’s feeling of seeing the tattoo) is escalated to the soapy extremes that a superhero book requires, really selling her change. You couldn’t get away with this transformation if Gert was actually dead for two years, but the fact that it is reflecting 12 years means her recreation of her identity is large enough to reflect the more internal aspect of the story. Which is Gert trying to separate herself from her past with Chase and build a new Gert separate from that.
And I am constantly amazed at how subtle they are playing Victor’s arc. How everything with both Vin Vision and Victorious is laced into the story as VIctor struggles with the fact that he actually took a step towards being Victorious and his fears of going further. I wonder if we need a moment soon actually explaining this for those that haven’t read Vaughn’s original work and the Vision. But for those who know, it is fantastically done.
Also, Spencer, is it right to say that the make-up is a sign of how close they’ve become? It is certainly an intimate act, but I would say that it is not a recent intimacy. Nico and Karolina certainly haven’t gotten exceptionally closer this series yet. Karolina only just broke up with Julie and there hasn’t been a Nico/Karolina moment where they develop.
To me, it felt like a reversion to norm. I imagine it was something Nico and Karolina did back when they were originally Runaways. It reflects how completely Karolina has become part of the group again and how the break up with Julie hasn’t made her change her activities. Karolina hasn’t gotten closer to Nico, she has returned to the intimate status quo they used to have. The two of them actually getting closer is what comes next (wow, the way things are looking, Nico may actually have a kiss that couldn’t be best described as ‘ill advised on Nico’s part’. That will be interesting)