Noelle Stevenson and Sanford Greene’s swing at “Runaways” is definitely different from its predecessors, but the new team and setting offer a lot to like. Jubilee, Pixie, Amadeus Cho, Delphyne Gorgon, Skaar, Tandy (Cloak), Tyrone (Dagger) and Sanna Strand are students at the Victor Von Doom Institute for Gifted Youths, where they compete to become one of the Doom Elite. Stevenson fills the issue with typical high school angst and politics, but her lively dialogue and Greene and Rauch’s animated art give these cliches some kick and humor. It’s not the most imaginative “Battleworld” title, but it’s clever, fun and sets up for a great second issue.
The premise is probably what works most against the book, as “Runaways” #1 doesn’t do too much to play with or subvert its super-powered high school setting. From Jubilee and Pixie’s “Night Witches” girl gang to Sanna Strand’s seriousness and obedience to authority, everyone’s bucketed into easy tropes. When the characters have enough page space to wink at or add layer to those stereotypes, it totally works. However, with such a large cast, many of the characters inevitably don’t get much to say, and so they feel flatter and more constrained by their types.
However, the self-awareness and humor of the dialogue go a long way toward making this issue work. From describing Bucky Barnes as a “glorified hall monitor…NO. FUN. EVER” to Amadeus teasing Jubilee that her girl gang is based on “something you saw in a movie one time,” Stevenson isn’t afraid to poke fun at her characters’ teenage pretensions.
What’s more, there’s no meanness to the laughs. (While unironic high school angst isn’t appealing to me, “ha ha teenagers are silly” would be much worse.) Molly in particular is a wonderful deflator of scenes, with larger-than-life powers to match her larger-than-life enthusiasm. Altogether, it’s telling that my favorite parts of the issue didn’t involve the final exams plot or the mechanics of the school. Instead, I most enjoyed the conversations between the characters.
Greene’s art is stylized and off-kilter, with wild facial expressions and fiercely kinetic fight scenes. Everyone is full of momentum and feeling in this book, whether they’re storming down the hall or chatting in detention. Nothing says hyperbole like super-powered teenagers, and Greene conveys that with a nice mix of exaggeration and honesty. He also makes the most of the hallway setting, narrowing the scope of the panels and setting the perspective behind people’s shoulders to make it feel like the fighters are about to burst through the walls.
Colorist John Rauch balances Greene’s work with a grittier, dingier color scheme than I expected. The once-white walls and gray floors really look like a dirty high school hallway. I could feel the claustrophobia of being stuck in school, and it created a great atmosphere for the many rebellions in the issue. It would have been easier and more expected to shine and brighten things up to make them feel youthful, but Rauch’s approach fits the tone of the book so much better.
“Runaways” #1 is a success, if not a smashing one. Stevenson and Greene have laid the groundwork for an exciting second issue and, while this may not be what fans of “Runaways” were expecting, it’s a welcome new corner of Battleworld.