REVIEW: Runaways #1 Revives Marvel’s Teen Heroes, Slowly But Surely

It’s been nearly 10 years since Runaways finished — the original series, created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, which introduced its ragtag team of well-dressed teens, the kids of West Coast supervillains. Ten years, that is, in our world. In the Marvel Universe, it’s been less than two.

That’s where this new Runaways #1 picks up — with Nico Minoru, the de facto lead of the original series, having left the team behind. The opening, with Nico alone in her apartment struggling to cook packet noodles, sets up the atmosphere of the book. It’s moved from the awkwardness and high drama of teenage years to the mistakes and confusion of the early 20s. After all, when you’re young, even two years is a lot.

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Most of the way these kids have grown isn’t communicated by plot or dialogue, but the way Kris Anka draws them.

The Runaways look older in a completely natural way, though maybe by more than a couple of years. He’s also evolved their fashion sense, to reflect that it’s no longer the 2000s. Leaving behind the elaborate gothdom of her previous outfits, Nico is here seen rocking laundry-night chic. And it not only looks great — Anka’s costume designs being as exactly as gorgeous and to-the-minute as Alphona’s were — but feels true to the characters as we once knew them.

I can’t wait to meet his versions of the whole cast — because, in spite of what the cover may suggest, only two and a half of the Runaways are actually present in this issue: Nico, Chase and Gert. The half is Gert, who spends the issue unconscious, having been brought back from the brink of her death back in 2006’s Runaways #18.

The entire issue revolves around Chase and Nico’s attempts to revive her, and the story is comprised of essentially a single scene, never leaving the apartment. It doesn’t do much to establish a broader plot for the series, or even give us much reason to care about the characters if we didn’t before.

Or, at least, Rainbow Rowell’s dialogue doesn’t — this is not a particularly talky book, especially for a series that has been written by the likes of Vaughan, Joss Whedon and Kathryn Immonen. But for a writer with a background in prose novels, Rowell has a great sense for when to get out of the art team’s way, and this is what really puts us there with the characters.

There’s an extra delicateness to Anka’s art, the lines a little more brittle than on previous projects, accentuated by Matt Wilson’s soft colors. It feels like both have maybe bent their styles slightly, to recall Alphona and the iconic Runaways colorist, Christina Strain.

The art is worth studying over and over, then, but as a first issue, this is still very slight — especially if you go back and compare it with the very first issue of Runaways, and the amount of characters and plot points that manages to squeeze into its 20-something pages.

This Runaways #1 feels much more like a prologue. It’s a mood piece, establishing the vibe of the series to come. For a reader meeting these characters for the first time, I’m not sure how much mileage they’d get out of that approach. But as a long-time fan of the Runaways, who hasn’t had much time for any of their revivals since Vaughan left the book, I am completely sold on that vibe. It’s wonderful to have these kids back — even if, for now, it’s just the two and a half of them.

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