Through the creation of Battleworld by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic in the main Secret Wars series, Marvel has given its talent almost free reign to tell stories in a variety of genres from the war film that is Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps to the spaghetti western Old Man Logan and even some sword and sorcery in Weirdworld. Well, Runaways #1 is a teen movie with subtle splashes from recent YA sci-fi hits, like Hunger Games and Divergent. It features a wide-ranging cast of Marvel teen characters from queen bee Jubilee; sassy, nerdy Amadeus Cho and his bodyguard Skaar, openly bisexual and flirtatious Pixie, and an interesting riff on Cloak and Dagger. Writer Noelle Stevenson makes Tandy Cloak complete with teleportation powers and Tyrone Dagger along with energy projection powers. They are also siblings. She also provides the most adorable and hilarious take on Molly Hayes from the original Runaways yet.
Stevenson and artist Sanford Greene use Runaways #1 to set up the world of the Doom Institute as well as introduce readers to the vibrant and unique personalities of the rag-tag leads of this series. They mix and match the tropes and tricks of high school films and teen superhero books (Think Claremont’s New Mutants or the X-Men Evolution cartoon with added fascism.) seasoned with dystopia and a dollop of humor.The Doombot detention supervisor earned laughs from me each time he opened his robot mouth, and some of the acrid quips that Jubilee lays on her fellow students would make Emma Frost or Regina George from Mean Girls shudder.
Artist Sanford Greene makes the protagonists of Runaways #1 truly diverse in the way they look, act, and the clothes they wear. He gives most of the students of Doom Institute a uniform style of dressing, standing, and marching, but the Runaways are all over the place in the best of ways. Take new character Sanna Strand, for example. She has a heavier build than other superheroines and her own sense of fashion, including some formidable fingerless gloves. Stevenson uses as her as a foil to Jubilee and her “girl gang”, who wear matching black jackets and seem like rebels, but actually conform to their own group in the classic teenage manner. Colorist John Rauch uses accents of black to draw attention to them on the panel and gives other characters like Amadeus Cho and Skaar a shock of black hair to hint at their future alliance. And despite their unique looks and powers, they act like they’ve always lived in the dystopian setting of Battleworld and don’t completely rebel from the get-go.
Runaways #1 captures the drama of high school in a heightened, dangerous environment where failing a test has deathly consequences and collective punishment is the standard. But Stevenson and Greene don’t make things overdramatic and add comedic moments, like Molly Hayes declaring her love for juiceboxes and generally punching and breaking things, to break the tension. The story isn’t all giggles though as Stevenson connects her plot directly to some of the biggest guns of Secret Wars without resorting to more of a page of exposition.
In Runaways #1, Noelle Stevenson and Sanford Greene take the bare bones premise of a teen film like The Breakfast Club (or even the original Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona Runaways series) of highschoolers from different backgrounds stuck together unwillingly and adds more physical conflict, jokes, and a less white bread cast of characters. It’s nice to hear two teens have an honest conversation about being bisexual that sounds natural (and maybe a tad flirty) and not like an after school special. Filled to the brim with sparkling personalities and dialogue, comedic mayhem, and spot-on character designs, Runaways #1 is a great, non-traditional addition to the teen superhero genre.