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Runaways #14
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Adrian Alphona

In case you never heard, Runaways was in big trouble for a while. The story, about a group of kids who discover their parents are supervillains who covertly rule the West Coast (finally a satisfactory explanation as to why Marvel heroes are STILL almost exclusively based in New York) put a great twist on some old ideas and seemed off to a nice start, but then it hit a snag: the second arc was strongly devoted to the kids squabbling and stopped the main conflict (those damn evil parents) dead in the water. Sales dropped, and there was talk of the book getting canned.

Whenever a brand new book starts up, the writer always faces the problem of knowing when to branch out the plot. Titles involving old characters and setups don't usually run into this because they've already got so much history and backstory established. But, when you start with a brand new situation, you're under pressure to hook the audience at the first issue and then keep them there long enough to flesh out the story (which, now that we've moved past the days of "postage stamp plots," usually takes more than a few issues).

So, yeah, Runaways kind of jumped the gun, but it looks like it may be back on track, and, with this new arc, those interesting concepts that first attracted readers to the book are the center of attention once more.

Picking up from the last issue, the runaways are still huddled up in their sunken mansion hidden in Bronson Canyon, having just learned the origin of their parents' evil organization and the greater purpose of The Pride: to eradicate humanity while securing immortality in a garden of eden for their ungrateful offspring. Our heroes were then ambushed by the LAPD officers working for The Pride, who remarked that one of the runaways was an informant (which we know to be true, but the kids don't quite believe).

Naturally, super-powered teenagers don't take kindly to being arrested, much less having their telepathically-bonded dinosaurs shot, so the team charges into action, fighting off the cops and, unfortunately, destroying their own hideout in the process.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wilder (unofficial head of The Pride) pours over old photos of his son when Mr. Stein comes in and reminds him that their major ceremony (the one that will lead to the end of humanity) is about to get underway. Wilder says he doesn't care, since the whole thing was done for the children, but Stein reminds him that they didn't enter into their deal with the devil for such a selfless cause. Originally, each couple wanted the eternal prize for themselves. That said, he asks if Wilder wouldn't rather take his son's place than continue the hunt for their wayward children. Wilder proceeds to choke the life out of Stein as he restates that everything he's done was for his son, but Stein agrees and points out that he was just testing Wilder, having grown suspicious that not every member of The Pride is so magnanimous as they claim.

All I can say is thank god for origin stories. Vaughan and company haven't told us much, but last issue's infusion of backstory has put Runaways on firmer ground than ever before, and things really look to be heating up.

The subplot of the informant within the group continues to drive readers mad, but it seems that, too, may be coming to a head. Is it Molly, the little girl who kept asking for her mommy and daddy? Could it be Carolina, who wouldn't believe her parents were villains even after seeing them kill an innocent girl? Maybe Nico, who felt all her sins come back to haunt her when the group was captured by Cloak and Dagger? What about Gert? Is Alex playing both sides against the middle? What if Chase-- well, no it's probably not Chase (especially after what happened to his little hideout this time around). But the clues have been laid out in such a subtle and confusing pattern, just about everyone's a suspect.

Introducing the giant Gibborim has also revitalized the book with a nice dose of mythology that makes the story stand apart from the other teenage-punk-hero books out there. The concept that giants once ruled the earth has been the foundation of numerous ancient myths all across the world and their presentation in the last issue honored that universality very well. Yet, at the same time, a whole new realm of possibilities has been opened to the imagination: Where were the Gibborim all this time? Why do they need humans to do their work for them? Can you fight them? Can they even be killed? Will the runaways' parents betray them for the love of their children?

Hopefully, Vaughan will put the blinders on and stay with this central material for a while because "Runaways" is at it's best when the conflict of The Pride and their children is the focal point. Sure, the kids want to be superheroes, and they deserved a chance to find out how what crappy heroes they are, but the hook of this story has always been the villains. If the creative team can just keep that in mind, they might still have a winner on their hands.


Jason Schachat

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