I have a degree in English Language and Literature, and I am almost embarrassed to say that this was my first real experience of a comic! I have never really considered them ‘proper literature’ – yes, I know, I have always been a bit of a book snob. But, as with Tearling, my boyfriend gave me these to read on discovering that there is a TV series in the making based on the series, and I dutifully read the first one, assuming I’d soon finish it and just avoid reading the rest.
I was wrong.
Turns out, I just love reading for what it is. Reading! And the Runaways series has given me everything I could ask for. I have only read the first 9 comics, as my boyfriend doesn’t (yet!!) own the rest, but I feel like I have a good enough grasp on them now to talk about them a bit.
I feel obliged to start with this, because being a comic, the illustration is potentially the most important part of the presentation. But I really have no artistic knowledge or experience (unlike my boyfriend, the one with a degree in illustration…). What I will say is that these were great for a first time comic reader. The speech bubbles were clear and well placed making them easy to follow. The changes of colours, from dark grey and blacks when those of questionable character were portrayed, to the bright rainbow of Karolina’s power, meant that you were always engaged and interested in the pictures. I was surprised at the minimalist use of words such as ‘boom’ ‘twhap’ and other such noises. I had always assumed that comics would be filled with them, but turns out they are used wisely and to great effect. The consistency of the type face of the important text was helpful as I never struggled to read what was being said. Overall, it has been a pleasurable visual experience.
Cast your minds back to being 15, a time when your parents still told you who you had to socialise with, when other people’s opinions mattered and life seemed unmanageable difficult. How would you feel if all of a sudden you stumbled upon your parents murdering a young girl in some sort of satanic ritual, and then ran away with people you barely knew, aside from meeting up with them once a year? Not a great start to adulthood, really! The responsibility of the older kids to protect the younger ones, having to deal with new powers that you didn’t even know you had and navigating the complicated relationships that come from a mix gender teenage group are all explored and thoroughly examined throughout the series.
The Story (caution! spoilers!)
What I’ve really enjoyed about these comics is the grittiness of the characters and their complications. From Alex’s betrayal early on, to Gert’s death and Xav’s sacrifice for Karolina, these are real life issues that adults would struggle to deal with. I genuinely felt like I had a relationship with this group. I was shocked by Alex’s betrayal – I probably should have expected it, but I didn’t and it really surprised me! Gert and Chase’s romantic relationship came to a brutal end with Gert’s death, and the raw grief and emotion that Chase experiences throughout the following comics clearly stems from genuine experience, as it is deep and heart felt and real.
The comics follow a different story line against different villains, as a general rule, with some crossover. So far, the stories have been quite unique and individual, although there is obviously always some reference to previous episodes. The Runaways have to decide between what is good and what is bad, sometimes appearing to be on the wrong side by doing what they think is right. This causes an interesting dynamic within the group as well as a moral dilemma for the reader. Should they steal something for a criminal? Should they bring Klara away from the past and into their present? Is it right to sacrifice a life to bring back a loved one? Can you love two people? Can we change the past and do we have a right to? Various tropes are used to explore all these questions, and because of the developing relationship with the teenagers, you feel caught up in the questions as well. I can see this comic doing a lot of good for a teenage audience, as it reaches out to them on a shared level of life experience, difficult choices and teenage angst.
There are, of course, some things that I dislike about the stories. For one, Molly is what, 12, and not in school? It shows a disregard for education which I really don’t appreciate.
For Nico to access her staff of power, blood must be shed. In the initial comics this results in what appears to be justified self harm. Whilst I appreciate that for teenagers and young adult readers this represents a real issue, I struggled with the imagery of self harm releasing some from the inside. Many people who self harm do so to release the darkness and illness inside them. Perhaps the creators are implying that Nico is depressed initially, that her discovery of her powers and the strange presence of the staff inside her, drive her to find an escape and pain is the only way. All that said, I still struggle with the message that it sends out to those who are perhaps considering self harm, or experiencing it at the time of reading, as it doesn’t send a great message.
Old Lace. Really? A dinosaur from the future with telekenetic powers? And Gert was able to pass those onto Chase? And there are times where Old Lace basically doesn’t appear. How do you hide a dinosaur? What do you feed it? Why is no one concerned that it’s a dinosaur?!!!!!!
For a first comic experience, this series has really opened my eyes to a new world of literature that I now get to explore. I never thought I would appreciate minimalist language in a story, but I have really discovered the power of illustration and speech bubbles. The stories are well paced, of a good length, and consistent and varied enough to be of interest as individual comics as well as part of the series. If you want to give comics a try for the first time, I think these are a good place to start!