Imagine having a perfectly normal life as a teenager. Your parents provide for your every need and desire because of their immense wealth, but they also lay out strong boundaries for what you can and can't do. You're not spoiled because of the discipline but you are unable to appreciate what you have because of the level of control. In Runaways, a comic series created by writer Brian K. Vaughn and penciler Adrian Alphona, six could-be perfectly content teenagers living the American dream see everything they thought they knew destroyed in one night. It turns out their benevolent, kind, charitable parents are all high-powered supervillains in a team called The Pride. The parents meet once a year to renegotiate their pact and prepare for their children's ascension into the ranks at 18. When the six teens, ranging from 12 to 17, witness the end of the yearly ritual, they vow to take their parents down and make them pay for their crimes.
That's before the teens even realize they all have superpowers. From super intelligence to telepathy, magical weapon casting to instinctive mastery of high tech weapons, the Runaways quickly realize the challenge they face. They're brand new to their powers. Their parents have spent a lifetime honing the skills their children just discovered. The only advantage they teens have is receiving the strongest traits of a pair of supervillains, allowing their powers to blossom very quickly.
Brian K. Vaughn knows how to write an honest teenage character. The voices in his series are always distinct and authentic. The stories of superpowers and global peril are believable from the start because the characters feel real. I doubt any of us will ever encounter a teenage girl with a pet Velociraptor that she controls with a psychic link in real life; yet, because the character is a believable teenager first, we accept that she has this amazing ability without question.
Vol. 1 (really the first six issues) is all about world building and character development. Vaughn and Alphona quickly and expressively introduce the six Runaways and their relationships with their parents in a few short pages.
Everyone is forced to go to a yearly charity planning event. The teenagers are reluctant to hang out with their forced peers, but not all choose to rebel. Karolina cooks vegan entrees for the party to cover everyone's dietary needs, while Gertrude uses the charity event to fight for the chance to join the socialism club at her school.
The parents show their disciplinary tactics in a way that foreshadows their grand reveal as supervillains. Victor's father hits him square in the jaw for getting C's in school, but Victor says the punch doesn't even hurt; his parents value intelligence over physical ability. Nico's parents throw out her black nail polish because it might be a sign that she's getting involved with drugs; her parents are all about Christian morality and following the law at all costs.
There's an attempt at irony with each introductory moment of the six families in Runaways that can be appreciated. It's just a little bit heavy-handed. The entire series is sold on the premise that the parents turn out to be supervillains, so the surprise that each family's abilities are covered with alternate identities based on the opposite extreme is unrewarding. The same goes with a lot of the foreshadowing in the first issue. It's just a bit much, even by YA/teen comic standards, though the story feels more organic by the second issue.
That being said, Runaways Vol 1: Pride & Joy is a very enjoyable read. It captures a very believable story of growing up and learning the reality of the world through the flaws of parents. The six new heroes and supervillain teams are strong and balanced in the narrative. It's simply a great start to a superhero comic series.
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