SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Runaways #12 by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka, on sale now.
In the world of comics books, a hero’s greatest adversary often starts off close at hand. In the case of the original run of Runaways, the villains were intimately close -- the Pride was a group of super criminals who were also the parents of the teen protagonists. At the series' outset, it seemed like danger couldn’t come from a closer source. That is, right up until the end of the first run, when it was revealed that one of the Runaways’ own, Alex Wilder, had betrayed the group for his own personal gain.
Alex’s betrayal defined the original Runaways series, because while readers knew the Pride had a mole for quite some time, the last person anyone was likely to expect was the person who had kicked off their adventure, their de facto leader.
Of course, Alex paid the ultimate price for his crimes until he was resurrected some time later, going on to become a minor villain in other series. Now, though, he’s back again. The very last panel of Runaways #12 reveals that Alex has come crawling back to the Runaways, and there’s a damn good chance the only reason he has come back is because he needs something.
Alex’s return comes at an inopportune time for the Runaways, who have all actually just had a very nice day. Gert and Victor were able to get the former’s inherited time machine running, sharing a touching moment in a field full of luminescent blue butterflies. Meanwhile, Nico and Karolina finally realized that they’re both just too good together and have started dating. It’s a nice, quiet issue that is totally meant to lull the reader into a false sense of security, because things don’t often stay good for long when Alex is around.
Little is known about Alex’s return, as he really does appear only in the absolute last panel of the book. There are a couple of details that might point to where his arc is heading, though. The first major detail is that Alex calls for Nico when he reaches the Hostel, even though both Nico and Karolina are present. This could be an allusion to his previous manipulations of Nico way back in the first Runaways arc, or it could be something deeper.
The last time we saw Alex was in Power Man and Iron Fist #15. The issue acted as a finale to an arc that saw Alex flexing his muscles as something of a Mini Doctor Doom. Luke Cage and Iron Fist’s troubles first started when a supernatural computer program of Alex’s creation was used to implicate innocent people in crimes they didn’t commit while also erroneously exonerating villains. Alex had the tech side down, but he soon realized he needed more magic if his plan was going to work. So, he sought out the unknown… in all the wrong places.
Like every other wildly inexperienced Marvel magician, Alex immediately set about using his newfound powers to get himself into a whole heap of trouble. That trouble included teleporting around Harlem, sending villains to Hell with his magic death hands, crafting a drug with demons’ blood, eventually getting himself possessed by a long-dead street magician and then almost getting eaten by a minion of hell. The boy keeps busy, if nothing else.
Nico has been having her own troubles with magic lately. The Staff of One has been acting funny, not listening to commands and causing Nico physical pain at times. It’s very possible that a wounded Alex is still reeling from his bout with bad voodoo and has retreated to the side of the only other people he knows has some experience with ostensibly dark magic. It’s unclear just how much Nico knows about her old friend’s misadventures with street magic, but it doesn’t really matter. There’s no way Alex will be welcomed back to the Runaways with open arms -- no way in Hell.
What remains to be seen is how Alex plays into the next Runaways arc. For example, is it possible he has something to do with the Staff of One acting up. Or, as a former prisoner of Hell, might he now possess the key to helping Nico understand the problems with her malfunctioning magic. Whatever his game, it can’t end well. Alex is, after all, the oldest enemy of the Runaways, and he is almost certainly their most manipulative foe.