Writer: Joss Whedon
Pencils: Michael Ryan
Inker: Rick Ketcham
Joss Whedon is something of a big name. After creating hit TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, he has turned his hand to comics. Unsurprisingly his strong voice and great characterization has carried over to this new medium, with only pacing being an occasional issue.
Runaways is a book created by Brian K Vaughan (Ex Machina, Ultimate X-Men, Y the Last Man) about a group of kids who found out there parents were supervillains. Their first series followed their escape and eventual foiling of their parents nefarious plans. The series wrapped up and was cancelled, but was so good and did so well in digest format that it was brought back with the kids operating as a makeshift hero team. This incarnation sold reasonably well, and was still very good when Vaughan decided to move on. Luckily for the franchise, Whedon was interested and now these kids’ adventures have picked up a new audience as their adventures continue.
As we pick up the issue, the Runaways have ended up in the late 1800s while trying desperately to escape a bad situation (that they, of course, being teenagers, put themselves in). They come to find that they are not the only ones with powers in the past, as they interact with with another group of ‘Wonders’ who attempt to employ them. Unbeknownst to the Runaways, one of their deceased members’ parents, who were/are (how do you tense that anyway?) time travelers are also back in the past during this era, and are interested to use the kids, not realizing who they really are.
This is the middle chapter of the arc, and as such, full of complications to the main plot of getting the Runaways home. Everyone goes off on their own to try to help in their own way and finds trouble, each -again- in their own way. The children all set up the cogs of what amounts to a turf war between the city’s protectors, the specially powered runaways, and the time traveling parents.
The issue increases the tension well, while developing the characters and furthering the subplots, particularly the two romances within the team. While this is effective, it’s not what makes the book stand out; that’s largely due to the simple, effective playing of the expectations of the times against each other. The tone presented by the characters native to this period is completely different from that of the Runaways themselves. The lives each lead contain a number of parallels, with two groups of children living on their own, and differences, the child who is married and works as contrasted with Molly’s life so far in the future. The contrasts create a vivid picture of the period as filtered through our protagonists, while allowing the reader to understand vividly exactly how much going home means to these characters.
While slow pacing is a major concern in Astonishing X-Men, Whedon completely avoids going too slowly in this. In fact, instead of taking his time, he absolutely packs this issue, leading a frenzied pace. That works particularly well here since there are so many pieces to be introduced and moved into place for Whedon to be able to set up his faction war. That he is able to cram this issue so full of important scenes, introduce four simultaneous subplots, and advance the character’s individual arcs in only 24 pages is a true testament to Whedon’s skill as a writer.
Runaways is ultimately a book about teenagers growing up and as such is characterization centric. This is where the art by Michael Ryan truly shines. The impossible and unreal is occurring, but there is a great deal of that the kids are used to; while the visuals are often stunning, the characters reactions in both posture and speech keep the characters firmly grounded. The events that truly make an impact on these characters are, then, kept further spaced out in the issue, so the shock presented comes to mean more. Whedon, showing his cinematic background, often cuts away from these scenes quickly, creating mini-cliffhangers to keep the audience enthralled in the proceedings. This is exactly how you do a middle chapter.