“Dead-End Kids”

Written by: Joss Whedon
Art by: Michael Ryan
Published by: Marvel Comics

Don’t ask me why, but picking up Runaways #25 sent a ripple of trepidation through me, reminding me of the comic book from the 1980s, Power Pack. It was a needless worry. Joss Whedon was born to write teams. Obviously he knows it because he keeps doing it. Buffy and her Scoobies. Team Angel. Serenity. The Astonishing X-Men. These series play to his strengths: the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, distinct voices, the sense of self-discovery. Whedon is all about the character journey which is rather critical in a book completely about characterization and the changes they must go through.

The premise of The Runaways is simple: a group of kids find out their parents are super-villains and run away. Picking up after Brian K. Vaughn’s run, issue #25 marks both a jump on point for new readers and a bit of a departure for older ones. On the run, our intrepid heroes find themselves in Manhattan, preparing to have dinner with the Kingpin of Crime. The dinner wrings out more in terms of introduction to these characters than a slugfest would have. They walk a tenuous line of trying to figure out if they are heroes or villains and the choices they make only continue to murky up those waters.

“She’s not pretending to be a woman; she’s learning to be a human. She’s trying to change. Become better … She doesn’t fit in, great. Isn’t that what this group is supposed to be all about.” –Karolina

Most super-hero teams are about relationships, a sense of family that comes with the building of a sense of camaraderie and community. This is even more true of teenage heroes as they are at the fun stage of life where they already struggle with issues of self-image (many of them uncomfortable in their own skins), where they fit in the social order (made more complicated by them trying to get out of the shadows of their parents’ villainous history), wrestling with their idea of self-identity, and dealing with feelings of alienation.

Many teenagers find themselves outsiders because they’ve been burned by some community (family, a circle of friends, a church) and are tired of not fitting in, of being rejected, of not being accepted. They put up these “harsh”, abrasive fronts, of the mostly bark/little bite variety, that mask their insecurity. So they adopted this self-defense mechanism: “I am going to make myself an outsider, you’re going to treat me as an outsider, then I’m going to rage against you keeping me on the outside.”

“Regret? It is my meat and drink. My air, my everything. The faces fade, the names get jumbled, but regret … regret never ages.”

People want community, we’re wired for relationships, acceptance, a sense of identity and belonging. The thing is that we don’t often know how to do it or how intensive the work of relationships can prove to be. Some people need to runaway. They find themselves in poisonous circumstances where relationships are toxically entrenched and things could only hope to improve if folks go their separate ways.

Some people are serial runaways. When things get tough, they cut out, running away from their communities and circumstances because they (feel they) have made such a mess of things or burned so many bridges, that they have to leave. There are some positives to be found in this cheating of relationship development: leaving may put them on a different journey, allowing them to grow in different ways, on terms better suited for them. Not only that, but leaving also allows them to re-define themselves and their story so that one day they may be able to return to those communities and be able to say they are truly a different person.

An adroit mix of introspective dialogue and inner turmoil, Whedon sets The Runaways on slow burn which will hopefully lead to a much greater conflict. At least, that’s his typical m.o. That may be the only real criticism of the book: if you are familiar with the Whedon oeuvre, then the rhythms of this book will feel overly déjà vu-esque to you. His explorations of the inner workings of teenage relationships can’t help but evoke his Buffy heyday (and the Kingpin’s appearance reminded me of the Mayor in Buffy season 3).

Be warned: picking up Runaways because Joss Whedon’s name is attached to it will only make you want to go back and pick up the trades of Brian K. Vaughn’s run. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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