Dead-End Kids
Joss Whedon, Michael Ryan, Rick Ketcham, and Christina Strain, 2007–2008

Runaways is a series created by Brian K. Vaughan of Y: The Last Man fame that begins by introducing us to six rich couples, five of whom have teenage only children and one of whom has a tween daughter.  The kids aren't friends, exactly, but they're used to hanging out at regular intervals when their parents get together.  Then the kids find out that the reason their parents get together is that they're a gang of murderous supervillains.  As the title of the series suggests, when the kids discover this, they run away.  Adventures ensue.

As of this writing, 62 issues of the series have been produced, published between 2003 and 2009, and collected into eleven trade paperbacks.  Linked above is the eighth one, Dead-End Kids.  It was actually the first Runaways story not written by Vaughan.  It's not that Vaughan's run was bad at all — it's just that Joss Whedon's was better.  I talked about this briefly with Jennifer the last time I was up in Portland, and she disagrees with me on this point.  So, in as non-spoily and therefore probably non-interesting a way as possible, let me list the things that I liked about this story:

First of all, it's really funny.  There is a solid laugh on almost every page.  Sometimes it's dialogue, but it's not just dialogue — funny things happen too.  (Five words: the Punisher vs. Princess Powerful.)  This story also features pretty much the definitive Kingpin monologue caption.  But even on top of all that — as I've talked about in several articles now, comedy seems funnier when it's enhanced by other pleasures.  One thing I've discovered in working on my current paying gig is that I keep wanting to fast-forward to the third act, when the main group has finally been assembled — things just become a lot more fun once they're all together.  And since this is Runaways book eight, those preliminaries have long since been taken care of.  It starts off with a varied mix of likeable characters, who like each other, working together, and that enjoyable dynamic makes the jokes work better.

Second, the world-building is excellent.  This is (in part) a time-travel story, with the Runaways transported back to 1907, and Whedon stuffs Marvel New York circa 1907 chock full of heroes and villains who give every indication of being actual old characters dug up by Roy Thomas or someone — but, no, Whedon just made 'em all up.  The difference between this and the Avengers movie is that when the Black Widow talked about Budapest, my sense was that Whedon had no idea what exactly happened in Budapest — that it was just a name he'd picked out of a hat — whereas here we have a whole bunch of characters who get like two lines apiece and my sense was that if he'd wanted to Whedon could have written a full story arc about any of them.

Third, the story is satisfyingly structured.  It advances several characters' ongoing storylines, but also functions as a discrete unit — you can read just this book and get the sense that you have been told A Story rather than six installments of a 62-part story.  I'm sure it works better if you've read the first seven books — there's a dead character who's pretty important to the story, and references to that person will mean less if you're starting with book eight.  But Whedon was clearly well aware that this might be the only volume of the series that a lot of people would be picking up, and wrote it accordingly.

Then there's the thing that's not under the writer's control: the art.  The art on Runaways has often been a weak link.  Not this time — the artwork by penciler Michael Ryan, inker Rick Ketcham, and colorist Christina Strain would have made this arc one of the highlights of the series even if the storyline hadn't also been the best one.  Have a look:

(Runaways has always had a mostly female cast, and this story is mostly set in 1907.  As you can see, if you like fluttery skirts, this is the book for you.)

So, yeah.  The story's called Dead-End Kids.  Check it out.  It's not Watchmen, but it's an entertaining superhero yarn with heart and even a little food for thought.  I was pretty awesomed by it.

reply via
comment on
return to the
Calendar page