Best Shots Review: RUNAWAYS #1 'Classic & Contemporary All at the Same Time' (9/10)

Runaways #1
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Kris Anka/Matthew Wilson (Marvel Comics)

Runaways #1
Written by Rainbow Rowell
Art by Kris Anka and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose

Where do you wind up when you’re a Runaway with nowhere else to go?

You go right back to where you started. And that’s the secret to Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka’s masterful return of Runaways — it’s a comic that feels classic and contemporary all at the same time, one that honors the past of Brian K. Vaughan’s acclaimed teen superheroes with a well-deserved homecoming while showing new readers just what made these characters so wonderful in the first place.

Credit: Kris Anka/Matthew Wilson (Marvel Comics)

What’s especially impressive about this debut is not just how effortlessly Rowell glides across the chasm from novels to comics, but how smoothly she cuts through the barnacles of continuity to get to the heart of her story. We’ve seen the various Runaways in a number of other comics — Avengers Arena, A-Force, The Vision, Power Man and Iron Fist, just to name a few — but these appearances have always felt just a little bit ill-fitting. And there’s a reason for that: because the Runaways have always been tied to their own unique story, about fleeing the villainy of their parents and forming their own unorthodox family structure. And that’s why Rowell’s story is as heartening as it is innovative — through the wonders of magic and time travel, this story is all about bringing that family together, by righting the team’s most deadly of wrongs: namely, the untimely death of Gertrude Yorkes.

Now, there’s no small shortage of novelists and screenwriters who have failed to leverage the unique medium of comics. But if you’ve ever read Rowell’s breakout novels Eleanor and Park and Fangirl, you’d know she’s a comics fan through and through — and it’s honestly refreshing to see how well she takes to comics scriptwriting. Rather than overwhelming her pages with lengthy captions and exposition, Rowell is deeply economic with her words, bringing a warmth and sense of humor to her quick captions but otherwise letting her artist do the talking. “Maybe you expected some smooth Doctor Strange moves. That’s not how Nico’s magic works,” Rowell writes. “Every spell she casts is a guess.”

It’s a self-assured and humble way for a huge mainstream writer to begin her Marvel Comics career, but Rowell has the right instincts here. And as Chase Stein time-travels into Nico Minoru’s apartment with a stabbed Gertie in his arms, Rowell delivers a story that is as fast and free-wheeling as it is intelligent and deeply personal. With the magical Staff of One, Nico Minoru is a character whose potential is limited only by the imagination of the person writing her — and as Rowell has Nico free-associate spells to desperately keep Gertie alive, the scene feels tense and imaginative, so much so that it’s easy to overlook how decompressed the whole issue is. This is just one scene, with half the Runaways not even in the comic. But as Nico conjures rain, frogs, superglued sutures, a podiatrist — even a brand-new aorta — well, it’s the kind of magic I haven’t seen in a Big Two book in quite some time.

Credit: Kris Anka/Matthew Wilson (Marvel Comics)

Adding to that spell is artist Kris Anka, who is always a pleasure to see on interior pages. If there was any artist in the Marvel stable right now who seemed like a natural successor to original series artist Adrian Alphona, it would have to be Anka — whereas Alphona played up the youthful aspect of these teenagers, Anka gives them a gorgeous angularity that would look perfect on a CW (or, in this comic’s case, a future Hulu) teen drama. But if you think Anka would just rest on his characters looking good, you’ve got another thing coming — he revels in both the drama and humor of this situation, whether it’s showing the tension on Chase’s face as he freaks out, or the look of total surprise on a hapless podiatrist’s face when she’s suddenly teleported into a life-or-death situation. Meanwhile, colorist Matthew Wilson gives each page a wonderful energy, with yellows and reds suddenly popping against Nico’s eldritch purples and blues. There are top-notch production values that go into this book, and that helps make Runaways feel like such a home run.

When it was announced that Rowell would be tackling Runaways, it was easy to have a mix of anticipation and dread — could even a big name like this possibly live up to the expectations, let alone expectations set up by superstars like Brian K. Vaughan and Joss Whedon? It’s easy to be scared, and it’s easy to feel cynical about the future — but as far as first impressions go, this new creative team more than delivers the goods. This book doesn’t just pay homage to the past, but keeps a strong eye to the future. If you have to buy just one book this week, make sure you keep a place open for Rowell and Anka’s Runaways.

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