The point is, Generation X had believably characterized teenage superheroes with incredibly creative superpowers. Jonothon Starsmore, a.k.a. Chamber, had accidentally blown half his face off and replaced it with a coruscating ball of psionic energy. Paige Guthrie, a.k.a Husk, could strip her skin off to reveal metal, stone, tar, or any number of other substances. Penance, a.k.a., erm, Penance turned out to be a diamond-hard girl-shaped shell, capable of trapping other people’s psyches. In short, Generation X was fucking awesome. No Marvel teen title since has come remotely close to reaching that level of pathos, complexity, or intrigue.
But Runaways comes pretty damn close.
Here’s the setup: six mismatched teenagers spy on their parents during what they think is an annual business meeting, and are horrified to witness a human sacrifice. Turns out that their dear old moms and dads are secretly wizards, aliens, techno wizards, telepaths, mutants, and tactical geniuses. And they’re all members of a supervillain group known as The Pride. This is funny in and of itself--talk of world domination is deftly juxtaposed with typical soccer mom worries.
Naturally, the kids--geeky smartass Gertrude, MMORPG whiz Alex, goth punk Nico, mouthy jock Chase, hippie vegan Karolina, and tomboyish preteen Molly--decide to run away from home, in the hopes of regrouping to foil their parents’ evil plans for world domination. Along the way, they discover that Gert has a psychic bond with a dinosaur from the future, Karolina’s actually a flying alien with Dazzler-esque light powers, Molly’s a mutant with super-strength, Nico has the ability to absorb a mystic staff into her body, Chase is handy with his father’s pyrotechnic gloves, and Alex is a master strategist. It’s up to them to stop their parents--and save the world. Oh, and, psst...one of them is a mole, secretly loyal to The Pride’s evil ends.
It’s a real challenge to write teenagers who genuinely sound and act like teenagers, but Brian K. Vaughan does it with seeming ease. When little Molly, a.k.a. Bruiser, a.k.a. Princess Powerful, tells “Arsenic” and “Talkback” to “stop snogging,” you just know she learned that word from Harry Potter. “Sister Grimm” has to cut herself to use her power. And “Lucy In The Sky” has to struggle with her newfound homosexuality, as well as her newfound powers.
Whereas other superhero teams have spent the past year preoccupied with their latest outer space campaign against their leader’s long lost little brother’s new alien bride (I’m talking to you, Uncanny X-Men), the Runaways are more concerned about where to get their next taco. In a comic industry positively bloated with incomprehensible subplots, pointless annual crossover events, and increasingly unreliable continuity, they’re a bright beacon of old-fashioned superhero team fun. What’s more, Joss Whedon of Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel/Firefly/Fray/Astonishing X-Men fame recently took over as series scribe, which always means that the best is yet to come.
I admit, I’ve never fully forgiven Marvel for cancelling Generation X and scattering its wonderful characters to the four winds. But so far, Runaways is a pretty good apology.